I had to take a break from EO3, largely because I find the leveling and grinding somewhat unintuitive in terms of how everything works. So I started playing (for the first time since buying it at release) the other big ticket item on my DS backlog, the sequel to one of my favorite games on the platform. So I thought it might be fun to talk about some of the aspects that make this such a strong title, since it's still around for a reasonable price if anyone still wants in. -If you're unfamiliar with the Survivor system, it uses a rudimentary SRPG setting for combat, in which you have 4 humans with 2 demons apiece. You are free to add any skills you get to any human, across three categories (active/passive/auto). These demons and skills will be instantly familiar to anyone who has touched a SMT game, but almost all of the randomness is pushed aside in favor of purposeful choices that *always* feel tight. -You get more demons from fusing old ones (which tends to give you the most well designed ones) and from buying them at auction, which offers demons at a range of quality levels and prices. You get more skills from a system reminiscent of calling a shot: you assign the "crack" to a human that's eligible for the skill, and if their team kills the demon in question, you can assign the skill right away. -Demons come not only with their active and passive skills (plus whatever you fuse into their empty slots, which you can freely assign in the process from the demons that you are combining), but with a racial skill or ability that can affect the battlefield quite dramatically. They will grant you more or better movement in the battlefield, a special group heal, or ranged attacks, and as you can imagine, there's a lot of customization available there. -In between combat, you have to make choices about what you can fit before the next plot-essential moment based on who you want to interact with more (and are therefore more likely to unlock more special abilities for that human). You can do free battles in each zone that are basically opportunities to refine and level your teams and generate cash in a consequence-free fight that takes no game time. And that's pretty much all there is to it. The plot is strongly reminiscent of Nocturne in that you start off with an apocalypse and move into the discovery of your powers, and the usual caveat of the social linking having the potential to drive you a bit mad if you are into min-maxing (in most cases, just doing an event with someone is going to deliver the most upgrades, and there are no negative choices). And if a game ever needed save points at the start of major battles rather than before the cutscene/conversation preceding them, it's this one, especially since they can be sped up but not skipped. The combat and team-building is very flexible, and sits squarely in the center of a Venn diagram of tactical combat, turn based JRPG, and scenario-based puzzle solving. It is really unforgiving, despite the recurring illusion that you've out-leveled the game. Although the deaths come often and the game has a real asshole of a death screen, it's easy to keep your progress even if there's a cutscene or two to endure again. The game seems quite carefully balanced to make position and balance of teams relative to opponents much more important than more levels. I like that SMT series staples like rare consumables and weapons are cast aside altogether in favor of a much more streamlined focus on balancing weaknesses and abilities. Thanks to the team distribution and consequent pacing of combat, the streamlining doesn't feel shallow in the way that Personas (and Strange Journey) can sometimes feel "solved". Strange Journey is probably my favorite of the series in terms of story, but I'm pretty sure this hybrid is my favorite for combat on the platform. This destructoid review is pretty accurate, although the screens will probably seem confusing and busy out of context and three at a time.