A solid, if similar, follow-up.
The catastrophic events of the first game notwithstanding, a potent demonic scourge once again overwhelms the Japan's cities in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2. As part of a similar gang of teens caught up in the chaos, identifying and eliminating (or at least tempering) the threat once again falls squarely on your shoulders.
Though the calamity and confusion early on mirror that of the first game, which came out in 2009 on DS and was re-released for 3DS last summer, the narrative thread of DS2 effects a few choice changes. A cryptic website hosting "death clips" of individuals' demise replaces the visible "death clocks," providing a verbatim enactment of the incident to come instead of a nebulous indicator of days remaining. The tone set by the harsher foreshadowing is accompanied by destruction of greater intensity caused by the event, and a more visibly battered Japan, shown through scene-setting glimpses of buildings, streets, and cities, and the occasional animated cut scene.
Once the group collectively gains the ability to summon their own demons to fight the invasion and defend themselves, though, Devil Survivor 2 falls back into the strong, steady rhythm of the first game. The suite of tools used as part of the game's turn- and grid-based battles remains, on the whole, relatively untouched (as evidenced in the unchanged menu structures in and out of battle), save for the helpful addition of the Demon Compendium. Absent from the first game, the deep catalogue of creatures acts as a convenient bank, making each unlocked entry available (at a price) for use in the dense and invaluable process of fusion. Once you begin accruing demons through the Demon Auction, you can chose to create a new creature from their combination, which inherits certain statistics and traits of the two demons used, as well as skills allocated on your part. The resulting cycle (gain Macca, the game's currency, through battle, take bought or held lower-level demons, and merge them into useful, powerful beings), though deeply statistical in nature, has an addictive quality not unlike catching and leveling up Pokémon, or gathering and spending loot on shiny new equipment, and I spent a good slice of the time I played cleaning house of my team's old demons by pairing and upgrading.
Even in the frequent free-battle grinding sessions (often necessary to rank up characters and demons, and gain spending money), operating inside of the game's deep and defined mechanics is satisfying. You can work all manner of offensive, defensive, and passive angles once you reach the fusion stage, tweaking, balancing, and combining to forge a suitably stacked team for battle. In most regards, little has changed on the field. In addition to the prior customization of teams, positioning characters and managing spacing remains a point of important tactical attention; in-game battle objectives often include acting on key grid spots (e.g., get here; protect this person or point; stop X from getting away via X), and marking targets for Skill Cracking (unlocking a skill by defeating a certain demon or character). In all battles, most notably those involving one of the game's formidable boss creatures, managing the positions of each character—or where they should be several turns in the future—is an absolute necessity, and a rewarding strategic complement to crafting the teams involved.
As a whole, Devil Survivor 2's story of invasion, destruction, and frequent death is admissibly volatile and branching. Moment to moment, though, the cast of repetitious, one-note characters effectively siphons away much of the human drama inherent to the situation. Each day in the story's saga requires a certain amount of pre- and post-event conversation between characters, most of which are pedestrian and needlessly expository. A handful of optional, one-on-one conversations are available between battles, largely in service of the game's Fate system, a measure of the player's relationship with a respective character. As the level increases through successive conversations, certain character-specific perks unlock.
While one of the more interesting and noteworthy additions to Devil Survivor 2's largely lifted package, the system is little more than the player massaging a character's transparent opinion or assuaging their fears for a stat boost. You either chose correctly and play the chipper, ever-encouraging friend/leader, or pick the obviously more mean-spirited response and act the callous heel. With a more non-linear approach (something along the lines of Persona 4's school-centered interactions), these relationships might come to fruition in a natural and satisfactory way, but since the game feeds only through menus, conversations, and fields of battle, the choice is far less genuine; either you do it, do it wrong, or just chose not to. Fortunately, leveling up in these cursory areas leads to some useful battle characteristics; it's worth just plowing through the stilted interactions to get to the good stuff. There's good reason to be invested more in one part of the Devil Survivor 2 (the battle/customization systems) than the other (story and characters), and fortunately the game's ratio naturally favors the former.
Much of Devil Survivor 2 is a close replication of a handful of solid concepts. Losing time in its fundamentals and the sheer amount of subsequent content—a package structured across dozens of hours—is as easy as it is rewarding, but enjoyment of that concept will likely vary depending on how long and how many times you've traveled that road.