SMT:DDS came to me in what I feel is a time of sameness in the world of RPGs. However, for those of you already familiar with Atlus and their long running Shin Megami Tensei series, you’re familiar with their choice of unusual and original (and sometimes considered controversial) choice of character design, story, setting, and gameplay.
As this is the first in a two parter, Digital Devil Saga sets up the story for the sequel, Digital Devil Saga 2, which is due Q4 2005. This is not a complaint, so for all of you ADHD monkeys who need story closure in under 20 hours, this is not the game for you.
However for those of you with the patience for a complicated storyline and deep game play, SMT:DDS certainly doesn’t disappoint. The story is one of the most original I’ve come across in my many years gaming. The story is set in a futuristic, lovely, and somewhat gritty place called the Junkyard. Different tribes, each named for a charka, vie for the chance to climb the Karma temple and reach nirvana. Yes, DDS is chock full of references to Indian religion, however those of you familiar with the series will be completely at home. Serph, the leader of the Embryon tribe, is battling with an enemy tribe, when they encounter an artifact that gives each the ability to transfer into a hungry demon, bent on the the feeding upon others for sustenance. They encounter a mysterious girl named Sera who has the ability to calm their cannibalistic desires. The Sera/Serph, which is at heart here, is hinted at throughout the game.
This is the point where DDS forgoes the recruiting of demons in Nocturne for the ability to upgrade each party member’s abilities and talents (Mantras). You can upgrade each member to your liking; however you must remain mindful of each member’s individual strengths and weaknesses. Argilla is a talented healer, while Gale is the master of wind magic. The characters gain points (Karma) for upgrade by devouring enemies, and the Hunting skill is in place to allow the characters to do this more efficiently, so it is wise to have each character learn this skill early. At times, the characters begin the battle in their human form, which at first seems to be a disadvantage, however I quickly learned this to be a distinct advantage, as the firepower your characters have is highly effective against airborne enemies, and in human form they are resistant to certain enemy attacks.
The battle is turn based. The interesting aspect of DDS is that if your character plays upon the weakness of the enemy, your party gains more turns before the enemy has a chance to act. If you continually play upon your enemy’s weakness, they become frightened (little bubbles will appear before their heads) making them fodder for you to devour easily, this brings the Hunting Skill into play. Keep in mind, this also works to the advantage of the enemy, so you must be careful not to bring a fire based character into a battle with an enemy which will play upon elemental weakness of your characters.
The learning curve is gradual, DDS holds your hand in a sense throughout the first portion of the game, however if you’re not paying attention in later portions of the game, be prepared to have your ass handed to you by an enemies that will wipe out your party in two turns.
DDS contains fully voice acted cut scenes, which is nice for those of you who abhor text. The voice acting is spot on. No complaints here. The music is terrific; it carries you through each level, map, and screen. You won’t be hit over the head by annoying tracks in DDS, they move seamlessly from techno inspired tracks to moving instrumentals.
The character design is pure Atlus, each designed to represent the attributes they possess. Serph, whose demon form is Varna, is ice based. His character is cool with silver hair and eyes with a calm, cool demeanor. Heat, whose demon form is Agni, is fire based. His character has fire red hair and later eyes, and has the fiery temperament to match. The human forms are graceful, pale skinned, with dark rimmed eyes. Again, classic Atlus. The interaction between the characters shines in DDS. The personality differences, jealousy, possible vying for leadership of the Embryon, questioning their cannibalistic nature are just a few issues that rear their heads in DDS.
I found myself playing through areas just to see what would happen next. I’m ashamed to say, I called in sick to work one day to play this! This in my opinion makes an RPG, or any game for that matter, fun. Games such as this are few and far between, the perfect marriage of story, character, and game play. This game resides at the top of my Must Play list, and with 25+ years gaming experience, that’s saying something. Enough Said.
The Deluxe Box set contains the art box which can hold the first and second games, a 40 page color manual, and Official Soundtrack. Which is the reason for one of two minor gripes regarding this game. You’re told the soundtrack is included in the Box Set. Right. Most people I’ve talked to love the song “Danger” by Etro Anime, which is featured in the opening sequence. The song is NOT included in the soundtrack CD. What the hell?? I was forced to buy it from iTunes for .99. My second very minor gripe, as I knew this going in, is that the game screams “Sequel!” Which I believe has been delayed for US release until November 2005.