Had I known the beta was going to end that fast, I would have been better prepared to write this (or, indeed, I might have known I was going to write it before it ended). But much like in most of the SMT series, shit happened I wasn’t ready for, and we got wiped, but we should be able to load our save data later. So let’s get crackin’!
I don’t know about the rest of you, but after the signups back in May, I completely forgot about this game up until I got an email letting me know I was in the CBT and it was starting nowish. They let us predownload the client, and the servers fired up on June 19th, last Tuesday - for all of about half an hour before going down for a half-hour emergency maintenance. That was really the only major hiccup I encountered, so it was really damn smooth for a beta!
The game starts off simply enough; after a brief taste of a high-level demon fight, it gives you a smattering of the usual garbo starter demons and pits you against similarly garbage fodder. After a bit of tutorial, everyone gets an identical, surprisingly useful demon out of a rigged first draw: Setanta.
He’s a handy physical bruiser with a healthy HP pool, better-than-average accuracy thanks to a passive skill, a strong AoE physical attack, and the ability to unlock a neat mid-level wind spell later on.The vast majority of players still had him set as their Support Demon by the end of the beta.
The story is some pretty standard JRPG plucky-protagonist bullshit, though it has a decidedly modern flair with the gang being various teenager archetypes, including a Totally-Not-YouTube star, a boy genius hacker, a maid cafe employee, a survival game enthusiast, and an underground idol, among others. It’s kind of an interesting contrast against the mass-media-employed adult badguys, if a bit heavy-handed.
The game itself uses a lot of the usual Japanese mobile game tropes: the ability to bring an extra monster on loan from someone on your friends list, a stamina bar, an earnable currency that can be purchased with real money to expedite the acquisition of stronger monsters. It does, however, bring some unique SMT flavor to a lot of it.
First of all, the gacha system is actually quite forgiving. As far as I know, there are no demons available in it that cannot be Fused normally. The only real difference is that, when you pull a demon from the Summoning Portal, as they call it, it appears with one of 5 archetypes chosen at random. (The NPC in charge of that particular interface is also randomly REALLY CREEPY.)
Each archetype has an overall tendency - the red one, for instance, tend to give offensive spells while the purple one gives ailment afflictors and resistances - but as near as I can tell, rolling up a specific archetype on a particular monster will give you the same bonus skills on it every time. (My sample size is small, as I only got 1 dupe monster with the same archetype as its sibling, so take that with a grain of salt.)
It’s got a wide swath of SMT staple demons available, many of which will join either after Talking through them in battle, or after beating them within an inch of their life so that they beg to come with you rather than be brutally murdered. (Yep, that’s SMT…) Demons earned this way have the Common archetype, which carries no bonus skills - but only Common monsters can be used for Multi-Fusions to make unique monsters with very helpful abilities, so the gacha isn’t the only path to power.
There’s also several ways to power up your demons; they gain EXP through battle and have the usual slightly-randomized(?) SMT leveling system, along with the ability to feed one monster to another for EXP, referred to as Enhancing. There’s level caps according to Rank, but these can be exceeded after reaching them through Evolving a demon, which eats others of its current Rank to increase it by 1, reset its level to 1, and raise its max level by 5. One of the doods on my friend list had a 4* Angel (it starts at 2*) which was an absolute wrecking ball even with just its simple Hama spell running off its overinflated Magic stat.
There’s also the much more involved Awakening, which requires some combination of Aethers; these come in Small, Medium, and Large varieties of 5 colors, and are obtained from a daily-rotating set of specialized dungeons with utter asshole bosses. (Yep, that’s SMT…) Awakening a monster gives it a permanent stat boost across the board, changes the color of the stars indicating its Rank, and most importantly, unlocks a new passive skill on it. At first I thought the Aethers would be a massive bitch to get enough of, but a little story progression revealed an apparatus to turn 10 smaller Aethers into a larger one, or break a larger one into 4 smaller ones.
Unfortunately, rather than through fusion, skills in this game are only transferred by a two-step process involving feeding either a duplicate of a demon’s race or several Skill Points or anything of the same rank for one skill point at a time, then eating other demons to absorb a skill from them once you have enough points; better skills cost more to move.
There’s also a funky equipment system, referred to as Brands, that have randomized properties. Each Demon has 5 Brand slots, each of which are unique (Head Brands can only be equipped in a Head Slot etc), and all demons have identical slots despite their anatomies. Also, each Brand comes in one of several greater flavors (such as Divine Brands, Life Brands, Sick Brands, etc.) that have a set bonus if you have enough of those types of Brands equipped.
There are two multi-level Brand of Sin dungeons specifically for farming up Brands, though their drop rate is fairly decent everywhere else too. Brands, Enhancement, Awakening, and Evolution are all handled in Pandemonium, which is apparently a shrine on the roof of the gang’s Hideout and staffed by… uh… a completely normal miko wearing tasteful traditional clothing. Yes.
Speaking of traditional folks, The cast is as multiracial as you can get but manages to avoid most of the usual racist caricatures anime and JRPGs like to make of foreigners. The hacker dude is Chinese, the boxer is blatantly foreign (though I didn’t catch where he’s from), etc. Even the utility NPCs have some serious variety: The Church of False Gods, used for demon fusion, is run by some blatantly Russian fuccboi I didn’t bother to get a picture of, and the quests and daily missions are overseen by some distinguished old gentleman who’s totally not a demon or indeed evil in any way, nor would he ever plot against the party, I’m sure. Then there’s this lovely lady:
Seiran is, thus far, the only person running part of the hideout that’s slated to join the party. She runs a special dungeon called the Aura Gate, a massive and surprisingly fun throwback to SMT’s dungeon-crawler roots. It’s a semi-randomly-generated dungeon with 50 floors, with a boss and a checkpoint at the end of each floor. It’s open for an hour then closed for two hours, at the same times every day. The place drops an absolute shit-ton of Magnetite, a currency you need to fuse demons - costs are laughably low for anything below 4*, reasonable at 4*, and utterly bananas to fuse together a 5*, so you may spend a lot of time here. It has its own side story, and the difficulty scales up by floors, so you’ll likely advance it at a similar rate as the main plot. There’s a quest to complete floor 50, with Seiran herself listed as a reward.
That’s one of the other twists the gameplay offers: You can pick your ‘leader’ in any given battle, though occasionally the story will mandate you use (or don’t use) specific people. Each human, including the player avatar, has a specialized set of passive skills, with points to drop into them gained as that person levels up. Each person keeps their own separate team, so you can capitalize on their strengths, but the game allows you to place the same demon on multiple teams as long as they aren’t both entering a battle. (Each story chapter’s Levelling Quest and the Aura Gate allow you to bring two humans.) The player avatar gets an EXP bonus and a boost to friends’ Support Demons, the gun girl is an all-rounder with boosts to Charge and Concentrate, the YouTuber increases chances to Talk to demons (and have them Beg for their lives), etc. In general, each story chapter introduces a new character, who joins you at the end of it, but story chapters are LONG so it feels like a while in between.
Speaking of which, each story chapter usually has a mid-boss, which tend to not be anything special, and an end boss fight, which will ABSOLUTELY RIP YOU APART if you’re not prepared for them. (Yep, that’s SMT…) Each chapter also has Hard and Hell versions one you clear them, where the enemies are higher level and often have Evolved and/or received Skill Transfers. However, the higher-difficulty Leveling Quests are really nice for bootstrapping demons up - and I believe the usual SMT formula of “level difference directly, significantly affects damage dealt and received” is in full effect here, so you want levels on everything. The higher difficulty story chapters also offer gems (the buyable currency) by the boatload as first-time clear bonuses, so that’s nice. I have no idea how much value this currency has in real money, as the interface to actually pay for gems was (perhaps wisely) unavailable during the beta.
The devs have taken a welcome page from several other popular mobile games: 3 levels of fast-forward and an Auto-Battle button - complete with each demon species having a tendency of skill types to prefer in auto mode. On top of that, there’s actually an Auto-Quest button when selecting a battle you’ve cleared at least once. It brings up a menu with checkboxes allowing you to make it stop when a) you run out of stamina, b) you run out of demon storage, c) one of your party’s demons hits max level, or d) all of your party’s demons hit max level. You can choose any combination of these, then hit go, at which point it sets itself to auto-battle, max speed, and drops the framerate to save power on your device as it blasts through the fight repeatedly, including automatically handling Talking to recruit demons. Just set your phone down and grab a sandwich. It’s great for Leveling Quests, Brands of Sin, and Strange Signals (the Aether farm fights).
Overall, the progression is pretty smooth, and the gameplay felt very solid, with combat being snappy, flashy, and often difficult, but overall quite fair. (Yep, that’s SMT…) I’m interested to see if they add in a bunch of demons at every level, since they still have plenty ‘missing’ from the usual rosters. I’d also be excited to see things like callback events to previous SMT games, especially the Persona series. Maybe have some Shadow enemies, and some major characters’ Personas pop up as demons, such as Maya, Orpheus, Izanagi, Arsene, etc. It’s got a lot of potential for growth, and there’s room in the interface for several more features in certain places, so I’m very much looking forward to both the full launch and the continued life of the game.
Supposedly, rumor has it that closed beta progress will carry over into the full launch, as long as you don’t delete the app from your device. So, hopefully I’ll see some of you in the Liberators army, and possibly even my friends list.
With any luck, I’ll find something horrible to use as my Friend Summon, like Mara or some sort of food-related demon.