Videogame Review: SMT: Digital Devil Saga

Shin Megami Tensei Digital Devil Saga is an RPG with a linear storyline for the Playstation 2 released by Atlus.  The voice acting is top notch featuring Steve Blum and Crispin Freeman among others.  And in turn, the story is fantastic as well.  The game uses the engine from Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne.  If you like RPG’s and don’t mind a well written, well acted linear story that doesn’t make much sense towards the end, then this game will be awesome for you.  Its extremely hard to write an intro for this game so I’ll just leave it at this: Dude, demonic cannibals.

Digital Devil Saga (DDS) was the first game released in English after Nocturne was released in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise.  DDS is actually previewed on the Nocturne disc but the preview doesn’t actually tell you anything about the story.  And the story and characterizations is where the goods are at in this two part game.

The story starts by introducing you to the Embryon tribe who is a combat group that resides in a world known as “the Junkyard”.  The characters start out with singular purpose and no human emotion what so ever.  The goal in “the Junkyard” is to defeat all the other tribes and receive the prize: Nirvana.  But during one routine battle with the opposing tribe known as The Vanguard, a pod lands between the two factions, hitting everyone person in The Junkyard with a light.  The result is all the Junkyard inhabitants now turn into demons that devour each other to gain power.  When the Embryone wakes up, a naked woman is left in the crater where the pod landed.  This is where the game starts.

Every character in the game except for possibly the naked girl is fleshed out (ironic pun intended) extremely well.  Each new section of the same is devoted to introducing a new member of the team.  And as the story progresses, each character starts to feel emotions for the first time, which is incredibly well thought out and fascinating.

The catch with this review is I can only tell you about the story from the first game.  The first game ends leaving the player with a million questions.  The second game’s stories is based entirely on giving you the answers every minute of the way while still raising a few questions of its own.  The second game’s story is not as good as the first’s, but they are a package.  And DDS2’s story is extremely original and thought provoking be it good or bad.  But at the same time, if you disliked Akira, Xenogears, Casshern, or really any Japanese story with a massively confusing ending, then you’ll probably want to skip over DDS.

Gameplay wise, the Turn Icon system is imported from SMT: Nocturne, weaknesses and all.  Each character starts battle in their demon form.  Skills are obtained by purchasing Mantra and then gaining enough experience from battle to use that Mantra’s particular skill.  All the skills should sound familiar as most are directly taken from Nocturne and are pretty much in every Shin Megami Tensei game since with slight variation.

Instead of fusing and recruiting demons, the Embryon make up your party.  Each member of the Embryon has natural affinities and weaknesses to certain elements which can also be accented or diminished with mantras.  While the player can assign the main character’s stats as he levels up, the parties stats are automatically assigned.  At any point in combat the player can revert any of the party to human form.  The human form is equipped with various ballistic and explosive weaponry.  And once the Devour skill is learned, any of the party can consume the enemy for extra experience.

Oddly enough, there is hardly any blood or gore in the game.  When the various skills that allow the player to eat the enemy are used, the enemy is transformed in a glowing light and transmitted to the player character’s mouth.  But the lack of gore oriented visuals does not diminish the amount of character conversation dealing with the demonic cannibalism.  Some of your party, such as Heat, welcome the new found powers and eating habits with open arms.  Other team members, such as Argilla, refuse to eat for a portion of the game therefore gain no experience after battle.

The biggest con of DDS is that it is segmented into two games.  While the save game is transferable, all it gets you is various rings that give different stat or skill boosts/immunities and some extra starting cash.  The biggest disappointment of this is all the time spent earning those skills to have to do it all over again in the second game.  While the story’s reasoning for a loss in these skills works, it is still unfortunate.  But at the same time, the second game wouldn’t work as a separate game without this skill reset.

The gameplay in Digital Devil Saga is fairly reasonable for a Shin Megami Tensei game.  The first game can be beaten in around 20-30 hours and the second game takes maybe 10-20 hours.  If you want to beat all the secret bosses and max out the skill grids in both games you’ll be looking more at 50 hours a game minimum, but that certainly isn’t required.  While the game is a series of dungeon crawls none of the dungeons are particularly long and story sequences happen fairly often.  And on top of all that, the game is much, much easier than the average Shin Megami Tensei game.  Granted all this means is the game has a normal RPG difficulty as Shin Megami Tensei games are notoriously difficult.

Digital Devil Saga is an absolute blast to play and the characters are extremely well done.  The story is rich and the gameplay is just as solid as Nocturne with steady improvements.  Definitely a favorite of mine.  On top of all this, the game isn’t particularly rare and can be found for $30 new or $10-$15 used so its perfect for bargain shoppers.  Plus seriously, dude, they’re demons and their cannibals.


About MusiM
Musician, writer, Gundam model hobbyist, video game lover, host of The Carousel Podcast, and all with a day job.

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