Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2
Publisher
Atlus Co.
Developer
Atlus Co.
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes
 
Grade
The Good

• Dark story that really gets going later on
• Wonderful graphics and soundtrack
• Combat is challenging

The Bad

• Ridiculous enemy encounter rate
• Overlong dungeons
• Borrows too much from Nocturne

 
Grade
B-

As much as I want to, I can't help but write most of this review based on how close Digital Devil Saga is to Atlus' SMT: Nocturne. Everything from artistic style to the combat system is built upon the core established in Nocturne. Even with that said, Digital Devil Saga does offer some different aspects that is sure to keep you interested. While the story in Nocturne was more understated and the player was immersed in a gameworld that offered the story in sparse moments, DDS is a far more story-heavy title featuring a fully fleshed cast of characters. The story takes off right away: players are in command of the Embryon - one of six tribes fighting for dominance in The Junkyard - a dark, post apocalyptic world beset by constant rain. During one skirmish, Serph, leader of the Embryon, and his allies come across the young woman Sera and find themselves transformed into demons that force them to feed on their enemies to survive. It is then that they are charged with defeating the other tribes for good so they can reach Nirvana and hopefully get answers to their situation. While this initial setup may seem dry, the story manages to evolve nicely towards the end of the game.

At the core of DDS is a dungeon crawler not unlike Nocturne. In fact, most of the game is built upon the spells, abilities and combat system already fleshed out in the previous game. Combat randomly occurs, throwing players against demons in the Press Turn system, where you can gain more actions during the player's phase by exploiting weaknesses. On the flip side, though is that you can lose actions if you attack the enemy's strengths. Also, your enemy LOVES to exploit each of your character's inherent weaknesses. At the end of combat, you'll gain Macca (money), Karma (experience) and Atma. Atma points are earned through the devouring of enemies and are used in learning new abilities. Abilities are gained by purchasing ability sets from an extended skill tree which looks a lot like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. While initially, you may find learning skills just an exercise it getting more powerful MP and HP consuming skills, it won't be long before you will need to take care in what you teach each of the members of your team. As they learn skills, you'll need to Set their skills as they have a limited number that can be equipped, forcing some serious decisions on the player's behalf.

Instead of recruiting, or even conversing with, enemy demons, DDS provides you with a set team of five of which only three can be in battle. Fortunately, you can Deploy others in place of your team members for the cost of a turn, which allows you to deal with most enemies by varying your ability sets. During battle, you can use Hunt skills to Devour enemies to gain additional Atma, but you need to be careful that doing so doesn't give your character a stomach ache. In DDS, status effects, ability buffing and de-buffing attacks and skills prove to be very effective. You can't survive long without being able to render some non-damage attacks on your opponents. In fact, some battles will turn ugly without some support effort.

While not nearly as challenging as Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga is still harder than your standard Japanese RPG. Many dungeons will have you cherishing every save point you can find. Your whole party can be wiped out with a mistake and the enemies love to drop instant death spells. If you spend a lot of time powerleveling, the game may become easier, but that tends to be tedious. While most dungeons are pretty lengthy, you're often treated to some degree of puzzle solving, which keeps most dungeons from being too tedious.

When it comes to the graphics department, Digital Devil Saga shows off a world that at times is dull and drab by intention, while other times is gorgeous and glows with style. This dichotomy is what sets the art style apart from most RPGs bent on crushing the player with overly ornate landscapes. DDS features a cel-shaded type of graphics that don't beat you over the head with cartoony black lines. The characters, while stiff to some degree, exhibit a nice level of humanity in their mannerisms, especially as the story goes along and they become less dry and more emotional. Most of the standard enemies are taken straight from Nocturne, but the few that are new to the series look pretty good, though most of the best designs are from the boss battles (go figure).

Audiowise, DDS features another amazing soundtrack, this time less dark and moody and more of the techno/rock flair. Many of the tracks follow similar trends but work in really giving each location a certain feel to it. Sound effects are the standard fare. You won't be amazed by anything you hear, but they work well at carrying the game world along. When it comes to voice acting, the game starts off intentionally drab and stiff, but as the story moves along each character gets fleshed out and the voice work really shines.

Besides the fact that DDS borrows heavily from Nocturne, so much so that it proves a bit detrimental, the biggest issue with DDS is the game's pacing. You will find yourself crawling through dungeons for extended periods of time. Too long in most aspects. Throw in an encounter rate that's probably the most sadistic I've dealt with and you may be spending way too long just to get to the next story sequence.

Along with these previous statements, Digital Devil Saga suffers from the fact that once the story really gets going, the game ends, leading into the upcoming sequel. This is a shame as the slow build up starts to really feel rewarding and then... BAM! Too be continued... If you are a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei games and loved Nocturne, purchasing this one seems like a no-brainer. If you happen to have been burned out on Nocturne, you may want to skip this one as it proves to have a lot (maybe too much) similar to the previous game.

- - Vane

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