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Game Review: Digital Devil Saga

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Digital Devil Saga is a spinoff of the wildly popular Shin Megami Tensei series of games that has made it’s claim to fame by being an RPG that does not take place in a medieval fantasy setting, instead opting for a place much more depressing: Demon-infested, near-future Dystopian Tokyo. It’s garnered a reputation for it’s needlessly ball-stomping difficulty.

Being a spinoff, it shares a lot of characteristics with it’s parent series, and Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in particular, which was released in the US just shy of 5 months before Digital Devil Saga. So if you have had the joy of playing that sadistic hellspawn of a game, then the gameplay and visuals will look more than a little familiar.


All of the people that matter.


As for the story, I’m sure that if you are reading this then you already know the gist of it, but I’ll write up a summary anyway.

Welcome to the Junkyard, a rundown land pelted with an omni-potent sheet of rain that serves only as a battlefield for it’s inhabitants. Organized into tribes,  they mercilessly battle each other for the opportunity to ascend the colossal structure known as the Karma Temple located in the center of the world and reach the paradise called Nirvana.

The six tribes in the Junkyard are caught in a deadlock until, during a battle between the Embryon and the Vanguards, an unidentifiable pod explodes after it is struck by a beam of light from the sky, releasing trails of light that pierce through all of the soldiers of both sides. Chaos ensues as everybody transforms into bizarre creatures and begin to devour one another.

Sounds really serious business, right? Well it is. Megaten games have a history of having more heavy-handed stories than most. No save the world from evil plot here. It’s one of the game’s major points of appeal for a lot of people. I know from experience that it’s hard to keep your enthusiasm for a genre that deals with story largely by wallowing in it’s own recycled filth and bile. The ‘evil is bad’ plot was cool back when developers were limited to 8 words per text box.

Characters are a bit less unique than setting and story, but they all still ring vibrantly with the personalities they are given and the game does a good job of showing them change over the course of the game, even if some of the changes are rather sudden. that’s about all I have to say about them, you’ll meet everybody in due time, but mad props to whoever though up Cielo. The Jamaican accent worked out amazing. I’m sure he had that accent from Osaka or wherever in the original dub, but Jamaican was the way to go.

I didn’t think it was a huge deal, but some people might get their panties in a bunch over the fact the game ends in a massive cliffhanger. It was intended to run as a 2 part story from the start, and the games were released only 6 months apart. This doesn’t mean much for people today though, I guess, who can have DDS1 for around $40-$50 new, but for the sequel, need to pay a whopping $90-$100 for a like-new copy, and $55 will only get you the game disc in a generic case with no manual.


So for visuals we obviously have the same engine used for Nocturne, only predominantly in grayscale. It looks nice, and is about the only ‘cel-shaded’ game I can say that about. Cutscenes look awesome, assuming anything is happening in them, as does in-game visuals (cut from the same cloth). Battles look great, as do the battle effects, which is nice since you’ll be seeing them a lot.


Look at all of that awesome gray.

It’s doesn’t have a typical anime style art direction either. Proportions are accurate (even the faces), and all in all character models look like humans, excusing the hair, which varies in all of the neon-colored shades of the rainbow for good reason rather than garish design. Monster models are even better, with the bosses and main characters obviously getting the coolest designs. I’ll say that you probably need to judge the art based on screenshots and videos, as the number of actual illustrations of the game and characters are inversely proportional to the amount of porn on the internet.


Sound is good-ish. Tunes weren’t particularly memorable, but none of them grated. Typical assortment of battle numbers (variations for bosses/rare monsters etc), ambient techno for the slightly aggressive atmosphere (everywhere), moody atmosphere stuff (the music in the area called Coordinate 136 was probably the best in the game), and there’s even a light hearted tune thrown in there for whenever Cielo opens his mouth.

Whoever chose to replace the original opening with Etro Anime’s “Danger” gets both praise and scorn, since the original song is a tune that is somewhat pivital to the story (it’s the one that Sera sings to calm people’s demon forms), but, is only good with ambient instruments in the back,  or none at all. either way, the new song is far from inappropriate, and I actually looked into Etro Anime because of it, so I can’t exactly put it down.

The voices are surpringly good. I don’t know if it’s because of hella talented actors, or if the scenes were just animated in a way that made it easy for the actors to synch, but it works either way. Voices are appropriately lacking in emotion in the beginning and gradually gain feeling as the game progresses. Cielo is the only perfromances that will wow you, but the reast are still far above what I’ve seen as the norm. Except for Sera. Ew.


So here’s the meat and potatoes of DDS. First off, let me explain the encounter rate. It’s high. Very high. You will be fighting all of the time. You will probably spend more time fighting than all of the other portions of the game combined.

If you are looking for a relaxed walk through a dungeon, then fuck off back to your Final Fantasy or whatever because on top of the ridiculous encounter rate, the battle system is hardcore in terms of how relentlessly balls to the wall unforgiving it is. It’s only a step below Nocturne, which is praised for it’s sadistic game systems.

For those not in the know, Nocturne featured a battle system coined the “Press Turn” system, and it has been used in some form by every Megaten game thereafter.

The system is based around Press Turns, which are basically turn icons. Normal moves cost one icon, but by exploiting enemy weaknesses or scoring critical hits, you will only expend half of an icon, essentially giving you an extra attack. The same goes for your enemies, and you can lose icons for missing an attack or attacking with moves the enemy is immune to. It’s a harsh system that really encourages the player to think smart and work at finding skill sets that fit the situation. All it takes is a single whiffed attack and your entire party can be sent down. It takes some acclimation, but once you understand it the system is amazing fun to use and you always feel especially good when you get a nice string of attacks going.

DDS features this system in it’s full glory, with the only changes from the system in Nocturne being changes to accomodate the lack of demon friends and presence of permanant allies.

I loathe describing it this way because I think that they aren’t nearly as similar as everyone else thinks, but for the sake of a short explanation, the way skills are assigned is very similar to the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. Not much to say. Instead of spheres there is a skill tree. The end.

Outside of battle it’s typical movement stuff, with typical puzzles, and typical dungeons littered with chests. Not much to say. There’s a solar noise meter that is identical to the Kagutsuchi meter in Nocturne, except it doens’t do very much.


So is DDS a game you want to play? In short, probably. In length, probably if you want a game with a story that has a bit more going for it than the typical RPG fare, and don’t mind wrestling with some less than easy combat. Just be prepared to drop a nice size of cash for the sequel if you want to experience the second half of the story.


Written by PIR

June 11, 2009 at 20:56

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