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March 12, 2012

Persona? More Like Bro-Sona! (Part 3)



Devil Survivor 1 kicked my ass.

I’d argue that it’s of the hardest games I’ve ever played; I’d make a list of the hardest games, but it’d be pretty redundant.  Outside of one game (Sin and Punishment 2), they’d all be Atlus products -- and it’d hardly behoove me to type Shin Megami Tensei four times in a row.  So let’s just say Atlus has a penchant for taking a taser to your tender bits and call it a day, yes?

Though to be fair, Devil Survivor will kick your ass in more ways than just punishing difficulty (and the occasional infuriating escort/protect the civilian mission).  Subjectivity is at play here, but I’d argue that it’s got a really great story -- not just with the asterisk “for a video game,” but as a story, period.  You know, just in case you need to prove to some skeptical parent that games have merit. 

I dare any gaming naysayer to play through this game and say otherwise.  Or more precisely, to go through a session with Atsuro and not come out with a newfound appreciation of life.

Who says bros will never amount to anything?

(Warning: you’re about to head into North Spoilerbrook, Indiana.  Read at your own risk…and be sure to have a map handy, because there are a lot of exits you’ll need to take.)



One hour.  It doesn’t even take one hour of play time for everything in the game to go to crap.  While at first you and your two pals (one guy, one girl, natch) assume that it’s because of your Nintendo DSes Communication Players, or COMPs, you uncover a plot that’s been in progress for years.  Really, it’s hard to blame anything on a handful of DSes COMPs; there’s a demon outbreak in Japan which prompts a lockdown by the Self-Defense Force, communications and power break down, and super-demons compete for the title of king of demons.  It’s all a bit troublesome, generally speaking.  Oh, and you only have seven days to find a way to end the lockdown or the world ends…in any number of nasty ways.

And who does the task fall to?  A blue-haired mute with ridiculous headphones, an improbably buxom indie fangirl, and a computer nerd with a silly hat. 

Normally I’d say “God help us all” in this situation.  But I can’t say I’m worried; after all, Atsuro is all over this shit.

Atsuro Kihara (Devil Survivor)
Broccupation: Genius Ambassador and Apocalypse Enthusiast

Fortunately, NOT improbably buxom.

I’ve been eager to get to this part of the SMT retrospective; out of the four bros available, I’d say that Atsuro is my favorite of the bunch.  Buuuuuuuuuuuut I’m getting ahead of myself.  So let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Like Yosuke before him, Atsuro is a necessary literary device.  The main character -- the MC -- is mute outside of dialogue choices, and the trio’s requisite girl Yuzu is the designated “freak out at 90% of everything” character.  Atsuro is comparatively more balanced; while Yuzu’s over-reaction (and near-breakdown) at the dark proceedings are a necessary evil, his lack of reaction is just as important.  It gives him a chance to do what he does best: get to the bottom of this mystery via incomprehensible techno-speak.

This is how you summon demons.  Rather user-friendly, no?

That’s not to say Atsuro’s brazen to a fault, or that he’s needlessly stoic, or that he’s immune to all the challenges he and his friends face.  They say that courage is acting in the face of fear, so in that regard Atsuro’s one of the bravest characters in the game.  He’s also pulling triple-duty; he’s the nerd who rationalizes all the tech talk and plot points; he’s something of the group’s spokesman when they meet other characters; he (oddly enough) is a physical fighter in battle, and can do some serious damage if you give him the right skills.  It’s a shame that physical attacks in Devil Survivor 1 paled in comparison to magic, and at times proved almost useless, but I digress.  In more ways than one, he was a valuable ally.

And -- as is the standard with SMT games -- Atsuro gets his fair share of plot threads.  As an ultra-skilled hacker, he’s linked up with plenty of fellow tech experts out there on the web, one of which you meet inside the lockdown.  Unfortunately, things don’t go too well; the friend dies before Atsuro’s eyes, but not before giving him a valued bit of information stored away on his ruined DS COMP.  It doesn’t take long for him to crack the code and get everything he needs -- namely, the chance to blow a huge government plot wide open (hint: it involves rigging every electronic device in the country with a chip that will make it exude super-magnetic death rays.  Wait, that’s an oddly specific hint…).  While it’s only tangentially related to the main plot, it does show an important part of Atsuro’s character: he’s duty-bound -- perhaps even honor-bound -- to use his skills to overcome any challenge.  He wants to see better days with his friends, and believes that technology, when used correctly, can push humans into a brighter future.  Remember this for later, because there’s a quiz.

Well, if it'll get me closer to catching Carmen Sandiego...

Atsuro also has a personal stake in the matter -- one that signals one of the darkest moments in the entire game. You meet Keisuke Takagi.

Keisuke, once upon a time, was Atsuro’s good buddy.  The former had a bit of a righteous streak, always standing up to bullies and defending the little guy.  An admirable trait, of course, but their reunion makes Atsuro worry; the passionate knight that he once knew has been replaced by a meek, stuttering pacifist.  Nevertheless, you invite him into the party and he proves to be quite useful.  That is, until he finds out that another character is going to be killed in a riot.  And then you find out just how passionate Keisuke can be.


He goes absolutely berserk.  Berserk.  He immediately leaves the party, chooses to deliver justice to the wicked, and even manages to summon a supreme demon of judgment with nothing but his thoughts.  He then proceeds to slaughter anyone that opposes him, ranging from street punks to would-be demon tamers to civilians that don’t measure up to his standards.  More than any other character, Keisuke’s fate is in your hands; pull off the right moves/dialogue choices, and he rejoins your party.  Screw up, and Keisuke gets gutted by Pazuzu and cast aside.  Onscreen.  As in, you literally see the life drain out of him.

Atsuro wants to do all he can to save Keisuke, and begs the MC (you) to do the same.  If you manage to pull it off, he’s thankful.  If you don’t…actually, he still handles it pretty well.  He shows his remorse, sure, and he doesn’t just forget about his old friend, but Atsuro shows remarkably little angst about it.  I’d argue that Keisuke’s death -- in spite of the multiple playthrough angle of the game -- is the canon outcome.  In case the demon outbreak wasn’t enough of an impetus to get it in gear, Keisuke’s death is a grim reminder of the stakes, and an underlying yet vital part of Atsuro’s development.

As is killing this guy.  Because he's ugly.

See, whether you succeed or fail in saving Keisuke, Atsuro remains loyal to the MC.  He remains loyal to you if you decide to try and escape the lockdown (which isn’t a very good idea).  He remains loyal to you if you decide to side with God and the angels, and have humanity submit to divine rule.  He remains loyal to you even if you become the king of demons and use them to bend the world as you see fit (personally, this ending made me regret completing a game for the first time in my life).  He’s with you every step of the way, ensuring that you succeed and your enemies are defeated -- perhaps, as a measure to avert the pain he felt just days earlier.  He already lost Keisuke; he won’t, lose you. 

Thankfully, you can return the favor.  All the endings in this game are tied to specific characters.  That means that if you team up with the daughter of a cult leader, you get to work towards the servant of God ending.  Hang with your dickish cousin, and you become the evil-eyed demon king.  In my first playthrough, I chose to side with the local bartender, and restored some semblance of peace in Japan and the rest of the world -- a very simple, very humble ending.

Tag-team with Atsuro, however…

Quiz time!  Atsuro campaigns with the MC and their allies -- facing off with cult members, demons made out of demons, and a supra-magical organ -- to fulfill a certain goal.  Given the evidence, what was the ultimate summation of that goal?

A) Reset the damage done to Japan
B) Seal off the demons forever more
C) Use the demons to their advantage
D) Overload the demon-summoning system with hacking
E) Upload a virus into the demon world, forcing a retreat to tend to their affairs

There’s no “all of the above” here.  There’s only one answer: and that, my friends, is C. 

I'll get you next time, Carmen.  Next time, you're mine!

 Atsuro’s ending doesn’t just restore everything to the status quo; in line with his ideal of “using technology to create a better world,” pursuing his ending has the techno-sage placing demons under the control of humans.  Their powers, once feared and devastating, are now capable of being used for humanity’s benefit.  Atsuro had been pondering it and hinting about this thread throughout more than half of the game, and acting on it lets you see just what might happen.  To wit:


The times, they are a’changin. 

I’d argue that what ISN’T shown in that clip is a lot more important than what is.  Ignoring the threat of humanity losing control of the demons if they’re not careful, there’s still the implication of all the myriad possibilities.  Atsuro almost single-handedly ensures a transformation the likes of which the world has only seen a few times before.  Nobody would ever have guessed that the Internet, for example, would change things as much as they have; the possibilities that lie in wait from using demons (and by extension, the summoning program and harnessing thought energy) are several million times more staggering and diverse.  It’s acknowledged that this COULD bring up societal and legal issues (just like the Internet), but Atsuro’s willing to make that leap for the sake of progressing humanity’s state-of-being.  Granted that was a choice forced upon the cast by virtue of a demon apocalypse, but the fact still remains that between “let’s turn everything back to normal” and “let’s make everything potentially better than normal,” Atsuro made a stand, offered his argument, and finally used his skills to make his aims a reality.

Tl;dr: Atsuro doesn’t just save the world.  He opens the door to a brave new world.

Isn’t it sad that Atsuro -- again, like Yosuke before him -- isn’t the main character?  Nor is he (as far as I can tell) ever referenced again in Devil Survivor 2.  It’s baffling, in my opinion; Atsuro proves himself to be one of the most proactive characters in a JRPG; his line of thinking isn’t just “beat the bad guys and make everything peaceful again.”  But in spite of his lofty goals, or maybe because of them, he’s still just a regular, seventeen-year-old goofball.  He pokes fun at girls.  He laughs out loud.  His eyes twinkle whenever there’s awesome tech around.  But there’s one factor that rises above all else.

Atsuro’s your bro.  And he’s fighting for your sake.

Well, that’ll do for now.  Tune in next time when I tackle alien ice cream with a cargo truck.

It's canon.

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