Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Atlus Workout

A few weeks ago, blogger and Japanese pop culture aficionado Apricot Sushi declared April to be Atlus Game-Along Month, a time for players to get re-acquainted with a few of their favorite titles from the niche Japanese game publisher. Now I realize that any random schlub can declare April the month of anything they damn well please (and here's proof!), but Apri-soosh seems like a good kid, and it wouldn't kill me to spend a little quality time with some of the Atlus games in my collection. There was just one problem, though...

What Atlus games?

If you think this is hard to look at, you should
see it on the actual hardware.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
See, Atlus caters to a very specific audience, the RPG-loving otaku, and I left my weeaboo days behind in the late 1990s. For many years, the only experience I had with the company's signature series, Shin Megami Tensei, was a few minutes with the ill-considered Virtual Boy title Jack Bros. Some introduction, huh? Even after that, I didn't think of Shin Megami Tensei as a role-playing epic with a focus on Japanese culture and Eastern mythology, but rather that game with the dick rickshaw in it. (I'll spare you the pictures; chances are you've already seen them. Then screamed yourself hoarse.)

However, after leafing through my games, I came to the conclusion that Atlus had a stronger presence in my collection than I realized. Those remakes of Double Dragon and River City Ransom on the Game Boy Advance? Both published by Atlus, along with a handful of other Million/Technos games I intend to buy in the future. The King of Fighters XIII for the Xbox 360? That was published by Atlus in the United States as well... and so was King of Fighters EX 2: Howling Blood, released some years earlier for the Game Boy Advance. 

I've seen some things, man.
And also some stuff.
(Image courtesy of
The company was also responsible for Touch Detective 2 1/2 and Trauma Center: Under the Knife, both for the Nintendo DS. I've owned Trauma Center for years now (and was stonewalled by the GUILT virus shortly after I bought it... who thought practicing medicine would be this hard?), but the latter game I downloaded free for my Android tablet. I didn't make much progress in that, either... I find the obtuse puzzles, liberated from anything resembling logic or reason, hugely off-putting. The same could be said of the creepy moon-eyed lead character, who must have also seen that rickshaw.

Then there's Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzonoha vs. The Soulless Army. I picked that one up in the late 2000s to dip my toe into the waters of the Shin Megami Tensei series, thinking that its blend of action and adventure would be more palatable to me than the straight role-playing of other Megaten titles. I didn't make it very far, and after revisiting it I understand why. Like early entries in the Resident Evil series, the characters are polygonal but the backgrounds are still images, resulting in a jarring transition when Raidou moves from one screen to the next. It's disorienting, and leaves the game feeling dated. That may have been easier to tolerate when Devil Summoner was released in 2006, but I've gotten a little spoiled by crisp playfields rendered on the fly, which have become commonplace in the eight years since.

...says the talking cat.
(Image courtesy of GamesRadar)
Both the plot and combat seem to have promise, though. Devil Summoner is a period piece, taking place in the early 20th century. The magic and myths of ancient Japan are being left behind in favor of a more modernized country... but Japan's yokai aren't ready for retirement just yet! These bizarre creatures are hidden throughout the sepia-toned city, waiting to leap for the throats of unsuspecting heroes. 

That's where the combat comes in, which feels like a more sedate version of the battles from the Devil May Cry series. Raidou is armed with both a sword and a pistol, and can swap between the two on the fly. Pressing a trigger button lets Raidou summon a monster of his own to fight alongside him. Monsters can be paralyzed with ammo they're weak against, then scooped up into a glowstick for later use, giving the game a slight Pokemon aftertaste. The collection aspect is likely what will keep me coming back to Devil Summoner even after I get annoyed with the static backgrounds and the repetitive action.

The apparent result of a tryst between
Humpty Dumpty, Bozo the Clown, and a plush
toy found in the free bin of a yard sale.
(Image courtesy of Mojo Interactive)
Finally, there's Persona 4 Arena, which I've just barely touched. Truth told, there are a lot of fighting games on the Xbox 360 I like better, including the surprisingly awesome Mortal Kombat reboot and Darkstalkers Resurrection, a rock-solid port of the last two games in the underappreciated Darkstalkers series. Nevertheless, it cost me ten dollars, and I'd hate to think that I wasted that sawbuck. Maybe I can find the appeal of this one with a little persistence...


  1. So, in the end, you spent a little time with all of them, but not a lot of time with any of them?

    BTW, you've just reminded me that I've yet to even open my copy of the first Touch Detective game. I think I'll have to rectify that as soon as I'm done with Etrian Odyssey IV...

    1. I suppose that's accurate, although I *did* spend an hour and a half playing Persona 4 Arena last night. It was decent, but not great... really button-mashy, from my experience. It doesn't help that I'm not familiar with these characters and have trouble identifying with them on a personal level. It may be time for me to break down and buy a REAL Megaten game, because all these spin-offs really aren't a proper introduction.

      Regarding Touch Detective, download a strategy guide. You're gonna need one, I guarantee it.