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Shin Megami Tensei: 'Devil Survivor 2:' Hell yeah

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'Devil Survivor 2' is one of these grid-based RPGs. I think the most common touchstone here is 'Final Fantasy Tactics,' though there are dozens of other examples that lamer (cooler) people than me could list. Basically, you move your party of dudes around on a grid and fight enemies.

So there's this boss fight that pops up once you've dug a little way into the game. There's a street lined with ruined buildings - the game is set in a currently-apocalyptic Japan - with a big weird-looking monster thing at the bottom. That's the target; you need to use your four party members to kill it.

The boss sits on the bottom and your party enters near the top. It takes maybe four turns of simply walking straight down the street to reach the boss. At the very top of the map - just above your party - there are a handful of enemies. Included in their ranks is one of the obnoxious paralysis-inducing monsters that is only weak to fire; you're best off setting one of your dudes up specifically to deal with it.

In 'Devil Survivor 2,' every enemy on the map represents a group of enemies, just like every one of your party members represents himself and the two monsters in his own little mini-party. You plan and rearrange your parties as you like: Maybe you want a fire-blasting monster along with one that can cure paralysis, to take care of one particular enemy. Maybe you want to include the otherwise-useless rabbit monster in one of your groups, so you can use its ability to move to the boss in just a couple turns.

A complication in this particular fight is that the boss immediately releases a handful of little wheel enemies which mindlessly move towards the top of the map, repeatedly defending if you challenge one to a battle on your way down. If one of them is allowed to reach one of two points in the top corners of the map, it will detonate, setting off a chain reaction and causing you to fail the level.

Now you need to defend the two points at the top of the map, and you probably need to keep at least two party members up there; the distance between the points takes two turns to cross. This also means that the monsters at the top of the map definitely need to be dealt with, and they need to be dealt with even more carefully since you need to split your groups up. It would be easier if you kept a third group at the top, but the boss has crazy health, and you probably want to kill it as quickly as possible, since every time you eliminate one of the wheel enemies the boss immediately spits out a replacement.

The street itself is five columns wide. If any member of your group is in the middle three columns, the boss fires a beam from the other side of the map, doing a huge amount of damage to everyone caught in it.

So, there you go. Pieces of a puzzle. There are tinier pieces too numerous to describe: the specific groups of monsters that come in from the top of the map; the collection of monsters you've fused together by this point in the game; the abilities you've had to pick and choose between as you've won battles. There are dozens of tiny tricks to the actual turn-based battles that are just as fascinating as the larger Rubik's Cubes that they're tucked into, and you're free to rearrange them as you wish.

If this tickles your brain at all, then hey: This game is full of these. It also has that weirdly cool sci-fi-hell Shin Megami Tensei aesthetic, a quick, dark little story, and music that, at least, you don't feel like replacing with middle period Pink Floyd albums (or whatever you jerks listen to). I'd write more about that stuff, if I hadn't already hit 700 words!

three stars out of four

Ben Hornsby is going to go play 'Fez' now.

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