Also, this isn't an *extremely* recent game, although fairly recent - I picked it up when it first came out, then didn't get into it for some reason the first time. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for it? Because it's a cool game, I just must've been non-moodish or something.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
Game type: Tactics RPG, with odd "framing."
Time demand: Probably about 30 minutes or so in a chunk for battles, otherwise save whenever.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Released: 01/15/09 (JP); 06/23/09 (US)
What it is: This is the latest in the Shin Megami Tensei series, the spin-off sub-series of which, Persona, is probably a bit more mainstream. The SMT games all revolve around demons, and getting them in your party or as summons or something similar, fusing them to create still more powerful demons and so on.
This particular game is different from most though - most are fairly straight JRPGs, at least in the general gameplay mechanics, although some have additional elements (like the two latest Persona games, which throw in a school-day simulation and almost dating-sim esque relationships, of all things). But Devil Survivor instead uses a Tactics RPG format for battles, a first (I believe) for the series. It works surprisingly well though.
First things first though. Your main character is a teen, probably around high-school age, meeting the cousin that he was raised with, along with a couple of his friends. Then all hell breaks loose, demons start coming out of the woodwork, and the whole area goes into lockdown mode, with a strict time limit before everyone dies.
Your three characters (to start) end up as Devil Summoners, which means they use specially-constructed devices to summon and control demons that they've made contracts with. You can get Macca (currency) through fighting, and also eventually pick up new skills by targeting them on the enemies you defeat, then buy new demon contracts through an auction system. You can then fuse your current demons into new, stronger demons, and the demons you use in battle can occasionally get powered-up and learn new active skills.
Your summoner characters on the other hand can each equip whatever skills they want before battle from the list of what they've learned so far, although only one can equip a given skill from the list at a time. These skills are from three different categories. You can have three skills that you actively use in combat such as elemental or healing spells, three passive skills that do things like protect you against certain elements or raise your attack power, and one special skill that affects the whole team at the start a combat round, things like raising some of their stats for the round, healing them, or reviving KO'd members.
The gameplay out of combat is... well, almost adventure-sque in some ways. You are given a list of areas in the city, and each one has different things you can do in it - all interaction here is menu-driven, rather than wandering physically from place to place, you just select a location and an action. You can do some actions without taking up game time, such as fighting certain constant non-important battles, or talking to passersby or to your teammates. Otherwise a main storyline event takes one half-hour, and can involve talking to someone, fighting a storyline battle, or something similar.
Timing is important, because there are a lot of sub-stories going on alongside the main story, which is trying to find a way to escape/end the lockdown (and if necessary save the city). And if you don't do somethings, like talk to key people or make key decisions by a certain time, it'll be too late, and characters might die. You also eventually end up with more characters on your team depending on the actions you take. And, the key, your ending will be different depending on what you decide to do, and how you decide to handle things.
Really one of the main things going for this game is the feeling that you really are in control of these characters and the city's overall destiny. The order that you decide to do things in, and the decisions you make, really do affect how things turn out. In my own playthrough for instance I now have five extra characters in my team to use as needed (although you can only have four "summoners" and their supports of two demons each active at a time), and have seen one side character die because I didn't choose correctly to save him, have seen others fall by the wayside, and am going toward one specific ending for the city. But even though this is my first playthrough, I'm already pretty aware of things that I could have done differently, and different endings I could have aimed for.
The combat itself is also pretty neat, although this being a SMT game, some of the bosses can be complete and utter BRICK WALLS (which is why I haven't finished the damn game yet, it took me FOREVER to get past the latest boss). As mentioned, each summoner can have two demons out, and can switch them if needed in the fight, using the character's action for the round. You move around in a typical tactics-RPG fashion, and can use skills out of combat (once per character/demon), and you can attack (or be attacked by) enemy teams on the field, which takes you into a separate round of combat.
Once you enter a fight, each character (on both teams) has one action that they can select, be it attacking, healing, reviving, casting an elemental spell, whatever. Some characters may also have an Extra Turn, with the attacking party usually having a higher chance at these. Now, if your characters manage to hit the enemy with a critical or exploit an elemental weakness, they can take away that character's extra turn and/or gain an extra turn of their own. After the first round, all characters with extra turns act again, then the combat round ends and you go back to the tactical grid.
There are some other interesting bits, such as the Death Clock. See, each leader of a team of Devil Summoners (or each individual Summoner not working with a team) can see a number over the head of anyone they meet, which indicates how many days that person has left to live. No number means they have 10 or more days left to live, and a 0 of course means they are due to die that day. This number CAN be changed however, depending on your/their actions and decisions, so a lot of the story revolves around trying to increase your own death clocks, save people whose time has apparently run out... and figure out what impending disaster is causing almost every person in the lockdown to have a short Death Clock and either prevent that disaster, or possibly escape it.
Sorry if this is a bit scattered - I was hoping to finish the game and have some time to compose my thoughts about it, maybe even start another playthrough to see what different choices do. But as I said, some of the bosses... *shudder* evil. But you should at least be able to get some idea of the game from this.
Recommendation: I suppose if you are absolutely allergic to JRPGs and/or Tactics-style RPGs you might want to avoid it, since it is both, ditto if the thought of having anything to do with deeemons creeps you out. Otherwise though, I'd say it's worth a try if you own a DS. It's pretty fun, and straightforward (if a bit difficult in combat at times). And really you only have to do as much extraneous level-grinding as you want, since there aren't really random battles unless you specifically go find them intentionally. (Which, well, isn't very random.)