Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga Review

home > Playstation 2 > Reviews
Graphics: 7.5
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 9.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 8.4
Review by Andy Levine
Atlus Co.’s latest role-playing adventure, entitled Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga will instantly captivate you with its bizarre yet enthralling storyline as you slowly begin to comprehend the plot regarding the Karma Temple. With its surprisingly well-presented anime look, turn-based battle system, and depth of character development possibilities, Digital Devil Saga is a must have purchase for any RPG lover. When considering comparisons to Digital Devil Saga, the Final Fantasy series should immediately spring to mind. Both games are based on many of the same principles but, thankfully, Digital Devil Saga offers some original ideas that help distinguish it from the rest of the genre.

You travel as a part of the Embryon tribe—one of the many tribes currently at war—in order to earn the favor of the Karma Temple during your quest to seek nirvana. While at war with a neighboring tribe, a strange object appears in the middle of the battlefield. The mysterious object soon explodes, and a white light surges through the bodies of the closest combatants, possessing them with a devil spirit. With this new spirit, your crew gains skills by devouring the flesh of enemies. Each character can specialize in their own mantra, which are groups of physical, elemental, and magic boosting abilities. Different mantra can be purchased in order to expand the ability tree; the earliest mantra are found at the roots of the tree, and as skills become more advanced you will find that requirements are much harder to fulfill. Any character is capable of using all mantra types right from the start, so worrying about leveling up is never a problem in this regard. However, if building resistance and exploiting the weaknesses of enemies is your plan, then becoming thoroughly competent in at least one mantra is a must. While having a strong tree-skill system helps character growth, training in each mantra area must be applied in order to learn new skills. Instead of merely buying your way to a better character, the only way to improve mantra is through the earning of atma points. Atma points are gathered from every battle you leave victorious, and should devouring an enemy during battle be achieved then your character will receive an increased amount of atma. In this respect it isn’t too difficult to quickly amass enough mantra to attain new abilities, increase the number of skills your character can use, and, most importantly, garner an advantage over newly discovered enemies. Even though this may seem like a lot to learn, after experiencing the skill system firsthand you’ll be mixing and matching different mantras in no time.

The implemented combat system bears a close resemblance to Final Fantasy’s turn-based combat, except in Digital Devil Saga you aren’t always guaranteed a turn. At the beginning of a battle, icons are placed in the upper right hand corner of the screen to display the number of turns your team can use. If anyone on your team performs a critical hit, they will also steal a turn away from your opponent(s). Likewise, if a critical hit is pounded on any members of your team, a turn is stolen. To succeed in battle you must abuse your enemy’s weaknesses while shielding your own. Whether a foe is extremely vulnerable to ice attacks, or if a fiery inferno will bring them to their demise, you must study different groups of enemies to maintain effective attacks. Most of the time, enemies will swiftly locate your weaknesses, so it’s perhaps best to learn spells that will prevent damage from certain elemental attacks. During the game there are several puzzles requiring you to think about and study the environment in order to succeed. For instance, at the beginning of the game you must use several switches in order to trap a runaway enemy in a hallway—where he is soon thereafter devoured. As you wander through various parts of the game world, you will be bombarded with battles every few steps of the way. Luckily, however, there is a plethora of generous save stations, healing stations, and hidden items that can be used to restore health during your quest. Other than this, the exploring and battling aspects of Digital Devil Saga are similar to most of the other role-playing games available on the PS2.

Digital Devil Saga retains an authentic anime look while also integrating some impressive visual effects. The character models display smooth edges and offer animation that flows seamlessly throughout the entire adventure. In human form, characters have wide-brimmed eyes and other facial features accentuated deeply by thick graphic line work. When in their monster forms, each character looks as though they were born from your wildest nightmares. Monsters with two heads, biting appendages, and sharp claws are sure to strike fear into even the boldest of enemies. Every attack comes with a unique special effect, but they all seem to be closely interrelated to a random bursting of colors. Nonetheless, a bright explosion accompanied by a substantial vibration from the controller is bound to leave a lasting impression. The environments can be rather plain in certain areas, and when traveling through repetitive corridors it is often quite easy to become lost. But, luckily, the player has full control over the game’s camera movement; so searching rooms for doors or items normally hidden by preset camera positioning is never a problem. The cinematic sequences are, at times, breathtaking when representing fast-paced action, but the slower moving portions are lacking in detail. During more subdued points of the game, in terms of both cinematic sequences and direct gameplay, the lack of texture detail is substantially more noticeable. However, for the most part, Digital Devil Saga’s different anime visual theme successfully separates it from most of the other more generic RPG games on the market.

The voice work and narration accompanying the cinematics certainly meets with today’s standards, but the sound effects are perhaps not as powerful or effective as you’d expect. During battles, intense rock music blares in the background and makes Digital Devil Saga seem extremely intense for a turn-based strategy game. By way of contrast, soft mystical music accompanies your journey across the different lands surrounding the Karma Temple. Battle cries of the various monsters are convincingly demonic and terrifying, but each monster only has a few identifiable guttural catch phrases—for want of a better term—so the same ominous growls and roars soon become repetitive. The creative monster voices and battle sound effects easily outweigh their redundancy throughout the game.

In conclusion, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga is a solid RPG adventure that will likely keep you busy for many, many hours. Being the first episode of a two-part series, the bulk of the story is introduced here, culminating in a handful of unanswered questions leading into part two. Whether you are a follower of the Japanese anime culture, or a dedicated RPG fan, or merely an enthusiastic player looking for something of value, anyone desiring an in-depth gaming experience will love Digital Devil Saga.