To avoid becoming stale, Devil Summoner, the fourth game with the Shin Megami Tensei name to be released on the PS2 in three years, had to change its focus. The other MegaTen games for the PS2, as well as the PS1 spin-off series Persona and the gameboy's Demi-Kids series, were all challenging turn-based, dungeon crawling RPGs. Devil Summoner, while retaining some of the characteristics of previous MegaTen games, has largely scrapped tradition by throwing out the strategy-heavy turn-based system for a more frantic action-oriented battle system. As the story uses a heavy 1920's detective motiff, it also incorporates elements of PC adventure games. Change is not always for the better, as Devil Summoner makes a mess of most of its attempts are innovation because the game has the absolute worst flaws of the console RPG and PC adventure game genres.
The battle system, while likely to please fans of action games, will most likely turn off MegaTen veterans as being too simplistic. Raidou, the main character's, set of skills is very limited. He can block, fire his pistol, and used 3 different sword techniques. As the screen is quite small and the game enjoys filling the screen with enemies until it overwhelms the PS2's processor,causing annoying slow-down and obstructing the player's view of what is happening on the field, most battles quickly devolve into into a mindless hackfest. The system of exploiting enemy weakpoints from previous MegaTen games is still there but the frantic nature of the battles and the fact that Raidou and its demonic allies are heavily outnumbered means that the player won't be exploiting the system so much as the enemies will be hammering away at your ally demons, who are controlled by a rather dim AI.
The best thing related to the battle system is, of course, the demon recruitment and fusion aspect. Raidou can stun and trap almost any demon he encounters in battle and make it fight along side him. Some enemies are too power to capture though, and to get the best allies, he must fuse two demons together to make a new more powerful ally. The new ally may pick up skills it normally wouldn't have from its "parents".
The story is highly entertaining. Raidou, a young devil summoner, is charged with protecting the capital of Japan by the gods of Yatagarasu. He moonlights as the detective solving all kinds of supernatural cases. One night, he encounters a school girl who claims to be possessed by a demon and begs him to kill her. Before he can react, she is kidnapped by the military. It's a very interesting tale, told in twelve chapters, that involves killer cyborgs, mutiny, and inter-dimensional travel. Easily the game's best aspect, because if the battle system doesn't put you off, the exploration system will.
This game plays out like a PC adventure game. As a detective you'll be traveling all over the city, talking to witnesses and gathering evidence. Unfortunately, most people want you do something for them before they tell you anything, so you will be going back and forth, back and forth between the various neighborhoods of Tokyo alot. These fetch quests can be utterly ridiculous at times, as the game will tell you go somewhere to talk to someone, then that person will tell you to go find something, but before you go looking for it you have to report in to Raidou's boss. It just fills like busy work. However, as Devil Summoner features very few actual dungeons, enemy encounters happen in town. And the encounter rate is high, sometimes with only a few steps between fights. That's right. Enemy attacks happen just about anywhere. Luckily, Devil Summoner is a short game. Even with all the nonsense it has to pad the play time, it should only take about 25 hours to complete.
There really isn't that much else to say about Devil Summoner. It's technical aspects are average or even a little below average. Sound and visuals aren't terrible or outstanding. It's interesting enough to play to completetion, but this is a game most people can safely live without.