Bargain Gaming – Digital Devil Saga

Posted on Nov 02 2011

All right, looks like I lost him. Hello fans, and welcome to the second review from my Megami Tensei top five games list, where we’re going to take a look at the number four game on my list: Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga. Technically this game is only the first of two, as it does end on a bit of a cliff hanger which is resolved in the sequel. However I did not know this when I first played it and I have to say that it holds up rather well by itself. And in my opinion that’s a mark of a great game, as even though it isn’t meant to stand by itself DDS doesn’t take the easy way out like a lot of modern games. Instead it closes on a note where the events of the game were, in my opinion, tied up rather nicely. Heck, if you cut out the bit after the credits then I could almost see the story ending like that, with the characters transitioning into the unknown as a sort of dramatic cliffhanger.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so what do you say we actually look at the story as a whole before I spoil it? It’s actually a fairly interesting premise, as the game opens up on a scene of your party members in a heated battle with a rival faction, when all of a sudden the mysterious object that they were fighting over activates. This has two interesting effects: one, it turns all of the game’s characters into monsters, with all of the important characters having the ability to change between their human and monster forms (to an extent), and two, it reveals a strange girl who can calm down said monsters, allowing the party to largely retain its sanity. This turns into a quest to either team up with or kill all of the other factions so that you can escape from the Junkyard, though in the end only one faction can remain.

The reason why I find this premise so interesting is because it raises so many questions in the player early on. Where is this strange wasteland where these people are fighting? Why are they turning into monsters all of a sudden? Is this world even real? How are you supposed to overcome all of the other factions? Why does no one seem to have any emotions until this event occurred? By raising all of these questions early on the game manages to draw the player in, keeping them focused on the game world right up until the end when most of the pieces finally fall into place. This is the kind of storytelling I’d like to see more of in the gaming industry, where you are just dropped into the action without warning and it is up to you to put together the pieces as you play. Flashbacks and narratives introductions may provide helpful tools for setting up a game, but they can be as much of hindrance as they are a help.

The game’s sense of mystery is only compounded by the its artistic direction, which consists almost entirely of drab and dull colors. Which makes sense, as the entire game takes place in a wasteland known only as the Junkyard, with the only real color being the demons that have been introduced. This contrast gives the game both a sense of tension and despair, as you wonder whether or not it is even possible to survive in this bleak and now thoroughly corrupted world. But the beautiful part is how the musical score counterbalances this with high energy tracks that prevent the world’s gloom from affecting the player farther than fostering the sense of mystery. I actually found myself rocking out during some of the boss fights, as I got caught up by the awesome musical score even as my party was struggling to survive.

And yes, I mean struggling. This game, while not the hardest in the Megaten roster (that honor goes to Nocturne), is by no means a cakewalk, with the majority of the boss fights putting up a respectable challenge. In fact, several of them will require more than one try in order to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are for the next time. And that’s really the trick to this game, as while all of your party members have their own strengths and weaknesses they can all be modified to have whatever abilities you choose, to the point where by end game you can switch between character types between major fights. This is a good thing, as without this ability to customize your ability layout some of the earlier bosses would be next to impossible. A great example of this difficulty is the fact that this is one of the few games in which I have not only reached max level but have also maxed out all of my characters stats, and yet some of the bosses still provided a significant challenge to me. Heck Beelzebub and the Demi-Fiend both beat me before I managed to take them down. So yes, this is a difficult game and if you’re not a fan of RPG games then this may not be a good game with which to introduce you to the genre. But the game play is solid, and by utilizing the press turn system you can shift the tide of battle your way by exploiting your enemies’ weaknesses.

And if you can overcome this difficulty curve then this is one of the more enjoyable and involved RPGs available for the Playstation 2. The game manages to combine the elements of individual character builds with fully customizable skill trees so as to give both a sense of control while still retaining the characters’ sense of self. And when you add this dynamic to the overall quality of the art direction and interesting story you have an RPG that is really worth looking into. If you’ve either played other Megaten games and are looking for more or are just looking for a quality RPG that will give you a bit of a challenge, then I cannot recommend this title highly enough. It can be a bit tricky to find nowadays, but I’ve seen a few used copies online for under twenty bucks, so if you’re interested it shouldn’t be too difficult to give this game a shot.

In any case, thank goodness for managing to blitz through this without interruption. Let’s hope our luck continues through tomorrow, when we take a look at Nocturne, shall we? Until then, this is Bargain Gamer, logging off!

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