“The Promised Land Was Nothing But A New Hell”
Digital Devil Saga 2 picks up directly where Digital Devil Saga 2 ended. Serph and crew achieved their goal and reached what they believed to be Nirvana. What they find is not the promised land, but fresh hell. The evil Karma Association control the humans who are forced to live underground. The sun, which has become corrupted, has turned black as sackcloth and is emitting “solar data” . This turns any human who comes into contact with it’s light into human statues, what is termed the “Cuvier Syndrome”.
When they encounter Roland and the Lokapala, Serph learns that he and his allies appear to be nothing more than AI created for a complex battle simulator, created to gain research on how to make the ultimate warrior. No one seems to know how Serph, Argilla, Gale, and the rest were able to enter into the “real world”. They must uncover the secrets of their past if they are to survive the future. Serph and the remaining Embryon tribe are still “Avatar Tuners” (which was the title of the Japanese sequel), meaning that they are still have their Atma power and are able to transform into demons.
Everything which made DDS1 exceptional is in place in the sequel. Kaneko Kazuma’s anime inspired character designs are simple yet striking. The enemies encountered are what one would expect from the SMT series, in fact, exactly what one would expect. They are the same enemies encountered in SMT: Nocturne. Many have complained about this, personally, that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game, however it would be nice to see some new designs from Kazuma. The series main composer Shoji Meguro’s music drives the story, changing appropriately to fit the plot of the game. Sadly, those responsible for my favorite track Danger from DDS1, Etro Anime, are not present on the soundtrack in DDS2. The opening song Alive, is very good as well, however seems a bit too pop oriented for such a dark game. Minor quibble. The cutscenes are once again brilliant and fully, professionally voice acted. DDS2 tells the story of Serph and his friends so well that you really care about what happens to them. The writers avoided cookie cutter RPG character traits. It’s apparent they took the time to give each character a truly individual personality. The bosses even have distinct personalities. They can be nasty and disgusting, but gleefully so. The prison keeper comes to mind here. He has a human being cannery in the prison to can and preserve humans for consumption later. This is actually part of his demise, but I’ll let you figure that one out-
Now on to gameplay, which is what most would agree is the meat and potatoes of any RPG. This is an area in which the SMT series repeatedly excels. DDS2 keeps the “Press Turn Battles” used in SMT: Nocturne and DDS1. A battle system so simple yet so involving, it manages to make random battles fun. Fun? Yes, that’s what I said. Battle systems such as this can take the drudgery out of random battles required for leveling up. And in this game, I really hope you loves you some random battles because the encounter rate is insanely high (which is one of my cons in regards to this game-but I’ll discuss that later-). The battle is turn based, you begin with a turn for each of your characters. If you take advantage of the enemy’s weakness, you gain a turn. Which basically means, if you pay attention, you can survive the battle unscathed. Also, exploiting their weakness may cause the enemy to become frightened (remember the tiny blue bubbles from the DDS1?) making it much easier to devour them and gain extra points.
There are exceptions however. At times, the enemies will strike first, take advantage of YOUR character’s weakness, or have a nasty wasty instant death attack and your party will be decimated. I entered a battle in which the enemy took advantage of Serph’s weak spot-repeatedly. Not pretty-so learn a mantra as soon as possible which will allow your character to equip the Auto Skill which provides resistance to their elemental weakness.
The instant death attack/auto skill piece is a nice segue into the next aspect of the game, the Karma grid system in which you customize you characters. This can be compared to the grid system in FFX, with complete freedom of choice as to the attacks/spells, etc. your character learns, and it’s one of my favorite methods of mastering skills, because I dictate what my character can learn. The skills, or Mantras, can be purchased at Mantra terminals, then equipped to your character. Through battles, experience is gained, when you’ve gained enough experience, the Mantra is learned and all skills contained can be used/equipped. As in the first DDS..have all characters learn the Hunter skill early on, it makes eating your enemies much less painless, no stomachache! (those of you who played DDS1 know what I mean).
The best addition by far to the sequel in my opinion, is Berserk mode. Your characters begin the battle in half human/half demon form and are insanely powerful, not to mention look very very cool. Interesting that the first time I entered a battle in Berserk mode, I was warned by the game that while attack is high, defense is low, and then given the choice if I wanted to proceed with the battle. I chose yes, of course, and the battle was laughable. I smote the attacking demon with one hit from Serph. Every battle since then I’ve entered into in Berserk mode has been this way, I don’t think the enemy has even had a chance to hit me once, so I’m not sure why the game found it necessary to worry me.
At times, you also start the battle in human form, which I like quite a bit. They use weapons and while they may look weak compared to the demons, the weapon attacks that you learn are usually quite deadly and in human form, many of the demons attacks are ineffective. To begin battles in human form is a component I wish the developers had given players the option of. As it is now, you begin in demon form, you can transform into a human, but you lose a turn, and in DDS2 that is something you usually can’t afford to do.
My one and only caveat of DDS2 is the random encounter rate, which is very very high, ala Nocturne. At times, with save spot in site (DDS2 allows you to buy healing items at save terminals), I was literally hit three times before I could take 10 steps. And if you’re low on health, out of items, and need restoration, potential decimation and an hour of so of gameplay down the crapper..well-that is “The Suck.” I would prefer a system in which the encounter rate was reduced and the experience and macca for each battle increased.
All in all, DDS2 is everything a sequel to an incredible game like DDS1 should be. A continuation of an intriguing storyline, retaining all that made the first game great while adding changes to gameplay for newness and challenge.