Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2

aka Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner 2.

 

Purchase at Play-Asia

 

It’s been a long wait for Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 if you’ve completed the first game. Now that Digital Devil Saga 2 is out, the next game proves the wait was well worth it. Before we even get this playtest started be warned that there will be some spoilers below.

 

After Serph and the Embryon leave the Junkyard they discover Nirvana didn’t live up to their expectations. No paradise is found in these modern ruins, with stone statues of humans affected by the Cuvier Syndrome. Humanity has been forced to live underground to avoid the black sun above. However, the demon virus allows the holder to exist in the sunlight. Because Serph and his crew have the virus, the Lokapala and their leader Roland ask for Serph’s help to recover Sera from the grasp of the Karma Society.

 

The story delves right in with answers to questions raised by the first game. Within an hour you’ll understand where Serph is, how he got there and who Sera is. At the same time a handful of new questions will pop up, but this time you won’t have to sift through cryptic puzzles to get answers. Digital Devil Saga 2 drops major story developments one right after another. One positive note about the packing is a healthy amount of flashbacks. If you haven’t played the first the game the flashbacks explain past references you’ve missed. Does that mean you can just pick up DDS2 for the full experience? No way, but if you choose to do so you won’t be as lost in the story.

 

The overall game pace is just as fast as the story. There’s a brief tutorial about the fighting system, but beyond that you’re racing from area to area. Unlike the first game, which favored exploration, DDS2 gives players a sense of urgency to race through each dungeon. Also to be noted is that DDS2 has fewer puzzles than its predecessor. The only major time you need to use your wits is to escape the grasp of a demonic Jailer chasing you around a prison block. Dungeon layouts are simple too, not too many turns and you can actually ignore most side rooms if you’re willing to miss out on treasure.

 

It might be simpler to navigate through, but Digital Devil Saga still is part of the Shin Megami Tensei universe. Random battles are plentiful and require thought. The game continues to use the press turn system from the previous game and Nocturne. The system starts players off with three turn icons on the top right hand corner, each move takes up a turn icon. If you’re bright you can save a turn by exploiting the weakness of your foe or landing a critical hit. Pull this off and you will earn an extra chance to attack. But if you miss or even worse use a spell that is blocked you’ll use up double the amount of turns. Because of this battles require more thought than always choosing attack. To further reward players, DDS2 gives players more money if they complete the battle as fast as they can. To fully appreciate the press turn system and not rip out your hair you need to have the right skills at all times. You will want to have a diverse arsenal of elemental spells at your disposal. Shields are also important to, not only to protect your characters from their internal weakness, but for a quick depletion of the enemy’s press turns. A well placed fire shield can set up a quick comeback. If you don’t have the right skills your party will be wiped out, even by a random encounter.

 

New to the battle system is Berserk mode. When the Solar Noise meter is high you have a chance of automatically turning into half demon form. Being partially transformed has its advantages. You give heavy damage with physical attacks and have a high chance of landing critical blows. Although, you won’t be able to cast any spells and you’ll take double damage if you’re hit. If you win the battle you’ll gain a load of karma points, but as a half demon victory isn’t ensured. Miss once and you can find your party annihilated. It’s a huge risk, but the reward is usually worth it.

 

Unlike DDS1, which had a static party, DDS2 has characters coming and going on a whim. This can put players in a difficult position if say Roland is the only one with fire magic and he leaves just when there’s a boss weak against fire. To counter this problem Atlus introduced a new mantra grid system. The hexagon shaped game board allows players to learn new skills, but instead of following a linear path they can learn adjacent abilities. This means that you don’t need to move all the way down the lightning magic path to learn the spell Zionga. If you know some earth magic you can jump right over to pick electric magic. The mantra grid is a brilliant idea to counter pigeonholed characters, but since money is so limited in the game it doesn’t help too much. Building jack of all trade demons isn’t going to get you through the game. Players really need to plan what skills they want early on to avoid waste of precious atma points and money.

 

Progression through the mantra grid is fast. Making it to level 4 skills happens in a few hours, while it might have taken 10 or so hours in the first game. This is probably with good reason since you’re going to learn all the same attacks from the first game all over again. The story ties in why a level 99 demon in the first game needs to relearn a simple fire attack, but this is still likely to perturb fans looking for a new experience. Even if you are going to have to learn agi, bufu and zan all over, at least give the spells new graphics. The only new spell effects players will see are from the ultimate spells at the very end of the grid, but truthfully few players will ever make it that far along.

 

Speaking of reusing the animations and spells the DDS2 continues to borrow from other MegaTen titles. The same artwork and sprites are ripped out of Nocturne and DDS1 with only a few new designs in between. Most reused villains even maintain the same weaknesses as Nocturne. While it does make it easier for fans to play through the title, we want some new designs! Since the world of DDS2 takes place almost entirely in the Karma Society there’s more of an urban feel to it. However, this urban feel does get tiresome when you see the similar tilesets in each area. It really isn’t until the end of the game where we get into some more “creative” areas than gritty factories. Digital Devil Saga 2 picks up the same excellent English voice cast from the first game with a couple of new additions. The voiceovers still sound impressive. Matching the phenomenal voices is an equally impressive soundtrack. DDS2 continues to use a mix of rock rifts with electronic beats for battle themes. Scenery music is more atmospheric, which keeps the mysterious nature of the game.

 

The whole experience of Digital Devil Saga 2 ends faster than you would expect. To extend replay value DDS2 introduces a New Game+ mode with a bunch of optional bosses to tackle. Since most people are picking this up for the awesome story line, they won’t be disappointed by the game’s length.

 

As a series Digital Devil Saga manages to make the MegaTen universe more accessable. It isn’t that DDS is any less hardcore than another Shin Megami Tensei title. It still has a high encounter rate and boss battles that are so difficult they feel like a victory when their won. It really is the story that makes DDS for the casual RPG gamer all the way to the genre fan. The story is emotionally charged, peppered with references to world religions, and has enough surprises to keep players guessing. Digital Devil Saga set the framework and Digital Devil Saga 2 is a perfect end for a great series.

 

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0

Thankfully, Atlus has localized this game in English. Playing through DDS2 in Japanese without understanding the complex story just wouldn’t be fun.

 

US Bound?

Digital Devil Saga 2 is in stores and all over eBay now.

 

+ Pros: Superb story that concludes the saga and well thought out mantra grid.

- Cons: The series continues to borrow graphics, ideas and the hardcore difficulty from other MegaTen games

 

Overall: In a rare occasion Digital Devil Saga 2 trumps its predecessor in nearly every category. The Digital Devil Saga series is a must if you like story driven RPGs.

 

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