Until I purchased Persona 3 last year on a whim after hearing about the series on a December 2008 podcast, I had never heard of the Shin Megami Tensei series. I wasn't even sure if I'd like it, as it had been a while since I had enjoyed a really tough RPG, and I had not played anything like Persona 3.
Fast forward to today. I now am on Atlus' e-mail list, something I typically despise, to follow as closely as I can when they release any games in this series. Every one I've played so far has been unique, interesting, and completely unlike any other games out there.
So after I had beat Persona 3 and had just gotten Persona 4, Atlus released a game called "Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor" for the DS. I picked it up, because I know how long Atlus games typically stay on shelves: not very long. The game is a strategy RPG, mostly in the vein of games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Shining Force. There is a few (okay, a lot) of twists, though. When a unit walks up to an enemy and engages it, you enter a separate screen and actually fight like in a Dragon Quest game. But you only get one (two if you fight well) rounds of attacks before the control goes back to the field as a whole.
Yeah, it's pretty weird. The game is split up into (as far as I can tell) 7 days. Your characters are trapped in a lockdown in Tokyo, and you have no idea why at first. You soon discover that your cousin has given you devices called COMPs, which can summon demons. You then set out to figure out what the hell is going on, and to survive the dangers you encounter.
When I first started playing the game, I got stuck in a late Day 2 battle where I had to protect a bunch of defenseless civilians from demons but also not let any demons leave the playing field through the northeast exit. This is a bitch and a half, and so far has been the most difficult battle for me. It doesn't help that the demons always target the civilians and the civilians always run around stupidly.
But anyway, I hated that battle and put the game down, only returning to it a few days ago because I was craving some difficult RPG action. I had started raising a new character in Etrian Odyssey to explore the last stratum that you find after the main story boss, but that was stupid and boring. So on a whim I decided to work hard on Devil Survivor.
And it has paid off. Rather than try to blow through the game without grinding (I read somewhere, likely on the GameSpite message boards, that you should never have to grind in a Shin Megami Tensei game. As it turns out, I am not an idiot savant like that guy), I have been slowing down and grinding when I need to. And, more importantly, I've shaken off a habit that I think I got from the Pokemon games: that is, I quickly get rid of old demons to upgrade to new ones that are more powerful, rather than try to raise my old ones. It took playing through both Persona games to learn that, and it still sometimes bothers me, but what are you going to do - the game is designed this way.
I'm now at somewhere around 14:00 in Day 3 and I'm loving it so far. I think I have a very tough battle coming at the end of the day, so who knows how frustrating that will be. I hope the game keeps these "protect so-and-so" battles to a minimum - they are annoying as hell and not fun at all.