RPGs are pretty getting samey in the story department, aren't they. You take control of a main character, usually emo, go and meet a guy who is cooler than the main character himself, a woman who is either the last of its kind or a princess who hates being one and a villain who is either psychotic or boring.
But there have been a few RPGs that have avoided that. One of them is Shin Megami Tensei : Digital Devil Saga, which isn't about saving the world, but more or less saving yourself from hell.
The story kicks off with a nice intro about two tribes at war with each other. The Embryon, which your main character controls, is one of the 6 tribes, who have all in common, to access Nirvana, a truly happy Paradise. But there is a catch, only one tribe can access it, and to do that, they must kill any other tribe leaders.
In the Intro, The Embryon is at war with the The Vanguards. But for some odd reason, an unidentified object was spotted in the middle of the battle zone. But it exploded, before it can get removed, and a beam of light went through all the inhabitants of the Junkyard, turning them into Demons and slaughtering each other. The mysterious object have revealed a Girl, called Sera, who lost her memories. The Karma Temple, who governs the six tribes have been taken over by a new entity, Angel, who brings in a new law. Devour each other and bring the Girl to Nirvana. But as they progress, they began to learn emotions and objects they haven't even known or seen ?
Digital Devil Saga's gameplay is more forgivable than its counterpart, Lucifer's call (Nocturne in US/JP) in the ability section, but lets focus on the battle system for now.
DDS uses a battle system called 'Press Turn System'. The Press Turn system works like this. In battle, you have three turn Icons for allies. So, you get three turns, and its the enemies's turn, oh goody, another boring battle system. Nope, not like that. Out of three icons, you can get 6 turns. No, I haven't gone insane... yet. In battle, it works like this. If you land a Critical or exploit their weaknesses, you get a extra turn, YAY. But, if you use an ability against an enemies, which turns out to be immune to the magic or reflected, you lose two turns. If it absorbed the magic, you lose all turns. The same applies for the enemies.
In the traditional RPG, you have HP and MP. And you use a set of Magic, nothing new there... BUT WAIT. There is an ability which consume HP to use. That my friend is a Physical Move. There are 4 kind of abilities to use in battle. Physical Skill, which use HP. Magic Skill, which uses MP, Shield Skill, which uses MP and Auto Skills, which are automatically activated during battle. SMT fans will recognize that, as its been used in past games.
So how do we learn those abilities ? We use the Mantra Grid, which isn't too dissimilar from FFX's Sphere Grid. On the Mantra Grid, you can buy a set of Magic using Macca (SMT's usual currency). But you can't use the ability yet, you need to gain Atma (AP), which is gained by battles. You can gain more by using hunt skills on enemies, which gains more AP, ensuring fast learning. And once you learn the Mantra skill, more are open to you. Abilities aren't readily made for you in battle, you have to set them. Only 4 can bet set at the start, but pass level 20, you can set 8 skills. It can be challenging, as I don't like all the moves ready to me in my opinion.
The Dungeons are pretty good, but some of them are re-used backgrounds, making you think you've been there before. Luckly, you got a really good map to answer your question.
The Puzzles are pretty challenging, but the puzzles in the last dungeon puts you to the limit.
The Cel-Shaded graphics really suits Digital Devil Saga really well. Its a lot more sharper and brighter than Lucifer's call.
The character model are excellent, while the Demon models are on top like usual. The Environment are enjoyable to look at. But there are a few boring sceneries.
Sorry if my opinions on graphic are short, but I ain't good at them
Okay, this Serph character gonna be a emo, correct? or He'll be damn right annoying or bland. Nope, he neither, cause he never speaks, but he have more emotion for a silent character than any other silent characters I know. So lets move on to the other characters.
Agillia is an characters who doesn't believe in needless killing, and will help anyone. She never devoured anyone.
Heat is a burly guy, who will accept this new power. And believes in devouring the weak. He is very bad tempered, but seem calm in front of Sera.
We have Gale, who pretty much have no emotion. He always seem to think logically and his usual sentence "I do not comprehend". Pretty much the most boring playable character.
Cielo is the most fun character out of them all, and easily my favorite. His Jamican accent is pretty cool to listen to, and he is the most funniest character out of them all.
There are other characters, such as the Cowardly Harley, or the not so different from Agillia, Jihanna. But the best not playable character have to be Bat in my opinion, who is downright evil and seem to accept the power.
Sera is downright annoying, her voice is so cringing. And her personality is urgh... And yus, she is special in a way. Another RPG cliche kept
Music and Audio
The introductory song, which is used for Europeans and Japanese version of the game, Pray is pretty good.
In-game soundtrack are from average to pretty decent. The battle system soundtrack could've done a lot better. The boss soundtrack is pretty catchy, but the best soundtrack so far is the last dungeon of the game in my opinion.
But more J-rock and screaming music is needed for an SMT series, since that is the attitude SMT got.
DDS is really short. You can complete it in under 30 hours, but thats without doing the sidequests. So it all adds to 35 hours if played fully. So there are tons of stuff to do, such as fighting an optional boss, maxing out the Mantra Grid, and going back to the mansion (where the story of two princes and a princess) to help the hip hop brothers finding the key.
Plus doing all of this will effect the game in DDS2, if you kept the save file.
Well, Re-used backgrounds is an annoying factor of the game. The Difficulty is kind of a see-saw, its really easy at the start. But once you reach the other half of the game, its really hard. The soundtrack is mediocre compared to Lucifer's call and a few boring sceneries.
But in the end...
Its an excellent game, that should be recognized for its unique storyline, its excellent Battle system and its unique graphics.
Bored with the typical RPG of saving the world. Dive into the world of Digital Devil Saga, where everyone resort to canabilism and everyone striving for Nirvana.
8 / 10