Devil Children PSX impressions

[03.31.02] » What do you get when you breed a Game Boy with a PSone? If Devil Children is any indication, it's a SNES.

   The Shin Megami Tensei games not only has always featured the ability to capture, raise, and combine creatures as part of its central gameplay, but the series is also famous for creating more spin-offs than sequels. So, it was only a matter of time before Atlus offered up a Pokémon flavored version of the core gameplay. The original two Devil Children games were enough of a success to spawn a cartoon series, a collectable card game, and a sequel in Japan. Now Atlus has found an even more creative way to milk the series' success by porting the two original Game Boy Color games to PlayStation. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children: Black Book / Red Book combines both those games and adds in a few new extras.

8 year-olds + guns + demons = No US release
No, "Devilizer" is not the name of the new Rob Zombie album.

   The story and gameplay of Devil Children remains totally unchanged from the original. The separate releases on the GBC each had a unique lead character; though the two games share the same basic plot and settings, many of the side quests and all the monsters are unique to each version. The PSone release mirrors the originals by letting players chose from the main menu between the Red Book, starring Mirai and her griffin sidekick Veil, or the Black Book, which features Setsuna and his cerberus partner Cool. Both the games remain self-contained and save to a diffent data file.

   The two next-door neighbors are attendees at Harajuku Elementary School. When the neighborhood is invaded by demons, they both find themselves whisked off to another dimension, where they naturally get involved in a fight against the powers behind the invasion and do plenty of monster collecting. Both of the titular Devil Children soon come into the possession of a "Devilizer," a gun like device that allows them to capture demons and summon them in battle.

   Like the other MegaTen games, new creatures are recruited during battle by talking to them. Devil Children uses a much simplified conversation system, similar to the one used in the Last Bible games (another series of MegaTen spinoffs for Game Boy). Your monsters themselves do the talking and the enemy's reaction is shown by simple emoticons. Recruiting other demons is mostly a matter of finding a compatible match between your current menagerie and creature you hope to capture. The Devilizer can only hold six demons at a time, but others can be stored back at the Vine Center for later retrieval. A handy Pocket Computer stores and analyzes the data on the creatures you've already encountered, providing a sort of Pokédex for the game.

  I've had dreams like this.
Jack Attack

   Like the conversation system, combat is purely the devils' work in Devil Children - Setsuna and Mirai don't participate. The battle system is a simplified version of the one used in the standard Shin Megami Tensei games, but it still offers a bit more flexibility than most Pokémon-type games. Demons have access to standard attacks, magical abilities, and powerful skills that can only be used at the cost of some hit points. Though only two creatures can participate in battle, one of which must be the lead's sidekick, the others will leap in to fill a vacancy when a demon falls, or players can take a turn and swap them out manually. The battle system is serviceable for a Game Boy Color game, but doesn't carry over well to the big screen.

   This, naturally, is Devil Children's main problem - it's still just a GBC game blown up to full-screen proportions. Nowhere does this stick out more than the graphics. If readers happen to remember the Super Game Boy, the Nintendo add-on that allowed you to play Game Boy games on the SNES, then Devil Children is a bit like playing a Super Dooper Game Boy. The tile-based graphics have been resized and recolored, but the entire game still bears the legacy of its low tech origins. There's even a bit of screen tearing when the maps scroll. The battle graphics fare somewhat better with completely redrawn and adorably cute versions of the standard MegaTen creatures, plus the use of some well done, if low key, spell effects.

   A few changes, however, have been made to take advantage of the better technology of the PSone. The game now features an original animated introduction as well as cinema scenes at key points in the story. These were produced by the same studio behind the Devil Children anime series, and they add immensely to the games' charm. Devil Children also makes use of the actors from the series to provide voiceovers for all the game's major characters. The voice acting isn't too prevalent - and it seems to drop out of the games a few hours in - but, again, it helps add some personality to the otherwise low-tech game. Finally, full screen character portraits have been added for all major conversations.

I guess this would be JACKsonville.

   Altus has dropped in a few other additions for the PSone version. In addition to twenty new demons in the main game, the company has added a new battle mode which can be played using data from either the Red or Black Books. Players can assemble teams, name them, and face off against other players or against the computer. Victory in battle can earn you new items and creatures to take back to the main games.

   Beyond these small changes, Devil Children is basically what you'd expect from a GBC to PSone conversion. Though the game lacks the stylish visuals and deep gameplay of the main series games, if you're the sort of rabid MegaTen fan who gets giddy at the thought of exploring an entire town populated by Jack Frosts, there's still a lot to like about Devil Children. However, importing will likely be the only way to play Devil Children; the game's winning combination of 8-year olds with guns summoning demons and horrible graphics make it the least likely localization candidate we've seen in some time.

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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children: Black Book / Red Book
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