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Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (PlayStation 2) review

"The Shin Megami Tensei series isn't all that well known to the mainstream gamers of the United States or any other country outside of Japan. Infact, if you were to ask anyone to name one RPG franchise, the most likely response you would get would be "Final Fantasy". While no one can deny that the Final Fantasy series is one of the most popular RPG franchises, if not the most popular, the Shin Megami Tensei can hold its own in a conversation with Final Fantasy in it. To be honest, I had never eve..."

The Shin Megami Tensei series isn't all that well known to the mainstream gamers of the United States or any other country outside of Japan. Infact, if you were to ask anyone to name one RPG franchise, the most likely response you would get would be "Final Fantasy". While no one can deny that the Final Fantasy series is one of the most popular RPG franchises, if not the most popular, the Shin Megami Tensei can hold its own in a conversation with Final Fantasy in it. To be honest, I had never even heard of the Shin Megami Tensei series myself until Digital Devil Saga was pointed out to me. True that it may be a spinoff to the series, I was quite pleased with Digital Devil Saga and what it brought.

Digital Devil Saga follows the story and soap opera of a world called the Junkyard. There are six different tribes: Maribel, Solids, Vanguards, Brutes, Wolves, and the Embryon. Each of these tribes are fighting each other, a war if you will, in order to leave the hellish Junkyard and enter a paradise dubbed "Nirvana". However, during a fight between the Embryon and the Vanguards, a mysterious light appears out of an odd object in the middle of the battlefield, turning everyone into demons who slaughter each other. It is then that they also discovered a dark haired female, Sera, who has the ability to soothe rabid transformations with her voice.

You control the leader of the Embryon, Serph, and your goal with your newfound powers is to kill and devour (literally) all of the opposing tribes. Only then will Nirvana be opened after this is accomplished. I must admit that I was drawn into the story not because of how it was laid out, but I was drawn in because of the storytelling. The story is very well told, leaving in certain spots for you to try to figure out yourself, and how the tribes develop is also a real treat to anyone playing. The cast of characters each have their own set personalities, and they really shine throughout the game as their powers awaken one by one.

Digital Devil Saga sports some well done cel shading graphics. While I'm not exactly a huge fan of the cel shading art, I do believe the characters look beautifully done, as if they could've been from a pop up book. The symbols (or Atma) on each of the characters are also well drawn onto the character themselves, sort of like tattoos. Along with the characters, the environments fit in well with the game. Although the majority of the game consists of grey areas due to it always raining in the Junkyard, and dungeon walls all over the place, the theme of the game makes the environments blend in perfectly. Although the colors might not have much variety, each location sure does.

The music in Digital Devil Saga is pretty good, but I'd be lying if I were to say it's the best that an RPG game has to offer. The themes of the dungeons in the game do fit in nicely, and the battle themes are nice, but some of the tracks do feel like they're a hit or miss, but it's really nothing to worry over since the soundtrack overall is pretty strong. Digital Devil Saga also includes something Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne never included: voice acting. The voice acting in Digital Devil Saga is surely top notch, and I don't think I've ever heard a better performance from a cast of VAs in a game. Each characters personality really shines in their voices, such as Gale. Gale is the stiff of the group, always thinking about strategy. His voice has a calm, cool tune to it, which indicates that he's always calm, even in heated situations.

The real meat though for Digital Devil Saga comes from the gameplay. Digital Devil Saga is a turn based game. Just like every other turn based game, you select your characters actions, and once your turn is up, the enemies get to act next. Sounds like a traditional system, right? Well, from that, it may sound like that, but Digital Devil Saga's battle system really shines because of the Press Turn System. Whenever you enter a battle, you'll notice that there are colored icons in the corner of the screen. These represent the Press Turns. Attacking will usually consume a full turn, but if you happen to land a critical hit, or hit an enemies weakness, the icon will flash, only using up half a turn. However, if you miss an attack, or your attack is blocked, you lose an extra press turn along with the one you already used by attacking. If your attack is absorbed or reflected, you lose all of your press turns. Enemies have the same rewards and consequences with the Press Turn System. This is an excellent system which tosses in a lot of strategic value and it gives you an idea how to set up your characters for certain dungeons.

Along with the Press Turn System, you're able to customize your characters using the Mantra Grid. The Mantra Grid is basically a section you can access from a Karma Terminal. Each Mantra consists of a different set of skills, each on its own line. For example, there's a line specifically for Fire (or Agi) based spells. Weaker Mantras, such as starting ones, cost less Macca (the currency in the game) and are easy to master, whereas stronger Mantras cost more Macca and are more difficult to master. This is a great way to build characters that can have specific duties (such as a healer or physical attacker) and leaves plenty of building options for all your characters.

Leveling Mantras though is easy to do. After every battle, you earn AP points. Lower leveled Mantras require less AP to master, whereas the higher leveled Mantras require a lot of AP. You can speed up this process by equipping certain Hunting skills, such as Devour. Hunting skills are used for battle. They let you devour enemies to earn more AP. This concept is both a refreshing change of pace, and an awesome idea to boot.

Difficulty wise, Digital Devil Saga can be a hard game, depending on if you know what you're running into ahead of time. Each enemy has their own weakness and set of attacks that can exploit a characters weakness, which in the end can result in a game over quickly. However, the bosses in the game are completely trial and error based. Considering you have no clue what to expect, you can either have a smooth time with the correct skills, or you may find yourself struggling to stay alive because you lack the proper skills and lack the proper defensive skills to cover your weaknesses. I believe this was great, considering you actually have to work your way through the game. However, it may take hours to complete a dungeon, as they're very massive with a lot of twists and turns, and the random encounter rate is so high that you'll often get into battles after a few steps. I liked the dungeons being big, but I could've done without getting into a battle every 3 seconds.

Digital Devil Saga has quite a number of sidequests for you to complete, and each of them seem to be rewarding. Whether it's receiving a new Mantra from a secret boss, or just having the satisfaction of beating an extremely hard boss with a great strategic set up, there's a handful of side things to do, and the end result only makes you stronger. Digital Devil Saga also holds easily one of the most difficult side bosses in gaming history, if not the toughest, that requires a very strict set up, patience, good strategic skills, and a lot of luck. However, the game is on the short side, only lasting about 25-30 hours, depending on how much you do and how much trouble you run into throughout the game.

All in all, Digital Devil Saga is an excellent game, an excellent addition to the RPG genre, and is perhaps one of the best RPGs for the Playstation 2. Hardcore RPG fans will drool all over this game, not because of the turn based system, but the battle system executes. This game is not for the impatient and controller breakers, but if you're an RPG fan, or just looking for something different, giving Digital Devil Saga a try will certainly be worth your time.

peterl90's avatar
Community review by peterl90 (May 24, 2007)

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