Sunday, 15 June 2014

RetroReview: Digital Devil Saga

Take the red pill you return home.......

Digital Devil Saga was the second title from the RPG series Shin Megami Tensei by ATLUS to release on the Playstation 2, it was also the first time an SMT had seen any kind of advertising and interest in Europe after the sleeper hit Lucifer's Call (Nocturne for the US). 

Praised as one of the strongest RPGs on the system and the PS2 was hardly starved in that department, Ghostlight have recently managed to re-release DDS onto the PSN store as a PS2 classic!. How well does this stand the test of time?, lets find out!.

Digital Devil Saga is set in the gloomy wastes of "The Junkyard", it's here that multiple warring factions continue the eternal struggle to enter Nirvana. The hook here is that when they are killed they are reborn with memories of the past life creating a sort of continuous loop. 
You take the part of Serph, leader of the Embryon tribe, he is accompanied by key members of his tribe like Heat, Argilla & Gale. The game starts with them fighting over a mysterious pod with The Vangards, during this battle the pod explodes open, everything fades to white and the last thing you hear are screams. You awake and find that the contents of the pod contained a black haired women (this being strange as no one in the world of DDS has black hair) and a mysterious mark on your body. 

After taking the women back to the base the team decide to head to the base of The Vangards to find out what exactly happened & why they are suffering extreme hunger. It's here they find out that the mark causes them to transform into some kind of demon giving them more power than ever & the ability/need to consume enemies. When Serph and Co return from The Vangards the women is awake and announces herself as Sera, it's at this time one member of the Embryons transforms and tries to consume someone, Sera's singing somehow soothes the monster and he transforms back. A message is then sent out for every tribe that the head must attend a meeting at the center of the Junkyard, here the mysterious Angel makes it's appearance and gives everyone the ultimatum, the team with the black haired women will enter Nirvana!. 

The story then only sky rockets from this point with a fantastic amount of twist and turns, fantastic character development and unrivaled atmosphere. One of the darker SMT titles which is quite a feat, the only issue with this is DDS is a 2 part game and this game ended on a HUGE cliffhanger, naturally at the time there was quite a wait for the second part, fortunately GHOSTLIGHT have just announced that Part 2 will be with us very soon!.   

I mentioned the character development and it's an interesting point as most people who have played the title will agree that one character in particular stands above the rest. Heat is one of the most well written characters in SMT history, he goes through several different conflicts and has some of the more outstanding moments of the series. The individual tribes are also well done with each acting differently and adding a little more to the tense atmosphere of "The Junkyard".

The Junkyard it's self is a desolate war torn world, this perfectly fits the tone they wanted to set with this game. An overbearing sense of death and depression, this is helped with the settings of war torn cities, warehouses, battlefields and temples. Nothing too colourful and looks like a fusion of modern times and buildings from biblical pictures.

Graphics for it's time are a brilliant exhibition of what the Playstation 2 was capable of, especially the character models. There is a lot of detail on all the characters not only in human form but also in demon form, the faces especially are alot more vivid than that seen in SMT III. The demon models are mostly reused from SMT III, some of these designs are still relevant today and DDS made them look brilliant!. The unique style of the denizens of The Junkyard mimics that of material such as Mad Max/Fallout and it's rendered brilliantly, ATLUS really pushed the boat out in regards to visuals.

Digital Devil Saga uses the Press Turn battle system from SMT III, brilliant design choice as I personally find it to be one of the strongest Turn based battle systems ever made. Why I liked this system so much is that it adds a deeper sense of turn management to it, plus is added a sense of achievement when used right. Basically if you hit an enemy's weakness you get awarded an extra turn, only once per character though, through these turns you can also choose to not do anything giving a different character extra time to shine. Naturally as good as this sounds it can also be used against you causing a whole world of one shot hell, all in a days work for SMT enthusiasts.

Another thing to keep an eye on is your status, during battle most of the time you'll aim to be in your "demon" form, certain ailments can stop this. When not in your demon form you can't use magic skills, you take more damage and are a little weaker. This isn't all doom and gloom though as you can equip various ammo to help out and also combo it with Demon's magic to help hit hard enough.
Unlike most SMT games you don't negotiate with demons or fuse Persona, instead you equip skills from "Mantras" you can buy. These change your stats and unlock skills for your character, so you have a greater control of how you want your team to be!.

It's a fantastic testament to ATLUS and the fine RPGs they can create & shows exactly why they are in the position they are, I personally wouldn't mind another DDS title in the future or something along it's lines. It's not perfect though, mainly the cliff hanger ending and the mind bending amounts of random encounters you will hit throughout the game knock it somewhat. Also in the PAL release of this game (as such the PSN version) it runs at 50Hz and this seems to cause problems with the audio sync, this is something that happened in the physical release & I believe would be too troublesome to correct.
Digital Devil Saga 1 is 1 part of one of the top 10 greatest Playstation 2 RPGs, i'd go as far to say that it's in the top 5. It's a little easier going than SMT III & ends just as the story explodes which is a shame but then brings us into part 2 which is just as good if not slightly better than this one!.

Who Should Buy This? 

  • Fans of Persona/Shin Megami Tensei
  • General fans of RPGs 
  • Looking for something dark? 
Who Should Avoid This?
  • If you want the social side of Persona? you may have to eat your Waifu! 
  • Looking for a happy game? 
  • If you want something you can just breeze through! 


Review code supplied by Ghostlight with thanks!

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