Shin Megami Tensei II is the direct sequel to Shin Megami Tensei and was first published in Japan in 1994 by Atlus.
While the basic gameplay is essentially the same as before, with tile-based movement and first-person combat sections, overhead city map sections, and magic, occult and religious themes, the developers deliberately chose not to connect this sequel directly to its predecessor, so story-wise it is somewhat different, being set in the far-flung future.
You play the gladiator Hawk (later on you can re-name him), who gradually builds-up a team of mysterious extra characters and who join and leave the party as the story unfolds.
You encounter demons in random battles, like previously, and can talk to them to get them to give you items or money, or join you (or just leave without fighting you). You can also fuse them together to make more powerful demons, which is a mainstay of the Shin Megami Tensei series.
Human characters can carry physical weapons (swords, whips, hammers and the like), and also guns, and the ammunition you equip for the guns has a big impact on their damage. Certain parts of the body can equip pieces of armour (found or bought at shops), although male and female characters require different types of armour. Killing demons in battle awards experience points, money (aka Makka), and magnetite, which is consumed when summoning demons (each demon has a magnetite requirement per step taken). And sometimes you might also get gems or healing or combat items. There’s an ‘auto’ battle feature this time, which allows battles to play out automatically, rather than having to choose every action yourself, which is useful when you’re higher level and are fighting very low-level enemies, but less useful for later battles.
Demon-summoning is done via a COMP, which is a small computer that is fixed to your arm. The COMP also has an automap feature which thankfully works much better this time around and doesn’t rotate, so is far less disorienting.
The very beginning of the game demonstrates the sequel’s differences with a small section played inside a virtual combat simulator. These devices allow you to practise combat without the risk of being killed (if you are killed you just come out of the simulator and are fine). You still earn experience inside simulators, which is useful at the beginning of the game when Hawk is preparing for a gladiator championship fight at the nearby Coliseum.
The overhead map sections are isometric this time, which look nice but are not as interesting as those in the previous game. Wandering around the map sections will often trigger a random battle and these are not as frequent as previously. At least at the beginning of the game. Which makes grinding before the first boss fight a bit of a chore.
Shin Megami Tensei II is considered to be less difficult than its predecessor and that is true for the most part, although the game is still confusing at times. Is it better than its predecessor? Mmm. That is debatable. In some respects it is, but in others: not quite. Recruiting demons by talking to them is still a pain in the butt, but the game – and the combat – is more varied and interesting overall, so it’s a mixture. There are some refinements to the interface that help, but the overall pace of the game – and the speed at which the interface works – is possibly even slower than the original, which makes the game feel a little sluggish compared to other menu-based RPGs.
One final thing to note about the game is the English translation, which was again created by team Aeon Genesis as a fan translation/ROM hack. In my opinion it’s not as good as the translation they did in the original Shin Megami Tensei. It’s riddled with grammatical and formatting errors, and the main font they chose is too big in my opinion. A lot of the dialogue in the game is pretty dumb to be honest, and I’m not sure how much of that is down to the translation. I still appreciate that the fan translation exists, otherwise I’d struggle to be able to play the game, but I didn’t think that it was as good as the first game. A Spanish fan translation also exists.
Shin Megami Tensei II is a mixed bag overall. While it’s still fun to play (mostly because of the dark humour); is challenging, and fairly original, it’s not going to appeal to everyone.