Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga - Review  

Warriors of Purgatory
by Derek 'Roku' Cavin

25-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   The war between the six tribes in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga has been raging for an indefinite amount of time, but the arrival of a mysterious girl and a virus that turns the world's inhabitants into demons is about to break the stalemate. Sadly, the new powers come with a horrible side effect: the soldiers must now devour the corpses of their fallen enemies in order to grow stronger and temporarily alleviate their growing hunger. While this sounds brutal and disturbing, many of the heroes feel the same way. They decide to use their new powers to end the stalemate and become the tribe to reach Nirvana with as little bloodshed as possible.

   As with most games centered on war, combat is the primary focus of Digital Devil Saga. Luckily, the battle system is the strong point of the game. The class system involves downloading, equipping, and mastering mantras, which are small collections of abilities. Mastering certain mantras will unlock similar, more advanced mantras. As there are several dozen mantras and hundreds of skills to master, there are quite a few strategies that can be used to turn the tide of battle in the player's favor. Characters can only equip four skills at the beginning of the game, but this number increases slightly as they level up. Players must select their chosen skills carefully. Mindlessly fighting in battle works early on, but strategy can greatly assist the heroes. An interesting aspect of battles is the turn system. Turns are spent in the order in which the heroes are arranged. Most actions use a full turn, but characters also have the ability to pass their turn to the next in line for only half a turn. Targeting a weakness is rewarded with an extra half of a turn, while making a mistake and hitting an enemy's shield will result in losing an extra turn. Every bonus turn can make a significant impact on the battle, so having a strategy can really pay off. While the enemy encounter rate is ridiculously high, the battle system itself is good enough to keep things from becoming very stale.

Customization Customization

   Unfortunately for those looking for a challenge, a high encounter rate also means that most normal battles will be relatively easy. Once the player becomes familiar with a particular type of enemy, exploiting its weaknesses is quite easy. Most battles can be easily won within a round or two. Of course, this is not always the case. When ambushed, the heroes will be forced to fight in human or waste time transforming. This can increase the difficulty a bit. Boss fights are also more difficult in general, especially if the wrong skills are taken into battle, but they can generally be won with only a moderate amount of difficulty.

   Digital Devil Saga includes several very useful interface features to assist the heroes in their journey. Out of battle, abilities are arranged into groups and can be sorted and equipped with relative ease. A built in map-writing feature records the terrain of the dungeons the party visits as they explore. There is even a built-in help that explains what various abilities do. There are a few minor convenience issues such as only being able to equip mantras at save points and difficulty quickly finding the item of choice in battle, but items are rarely needed in battle anyway. The story and dialogue have also received good localization.

   Surprisingly, the weak point of the game is its story. Though the story makes good use of the time given to it, it is a bit neglected. Most of the game is spent dungeon crawling instead of building up the story. It is fairly common to go for well over an hour in order to reach a cutscene that lasts a minute or two at most.

Awww, looks like someone needs a hug Awww, looks like someone needs a hug

   That ratio of time becomes even more skewed toward dungeon crawling with extras taken into account. The game itself could be finished in about twenty hours if the player ran through without exploring the massive dungeons to their fullest. Those that fully explore dungeons and explore optional areas behind sealed areas will likely spend twice as long doing so. The game can easily offer more playtime than that though as it has a replay option that allows the player to retain their mantras.

   As far as originality goes, Digital Devil Saga is somewhere in the middle. It does borrow a lot from previous titles in the series and a bit from other games, but it still manages to evolve the borrowed concepts enough to keep the game feeling fresh. The mantra system is a good example of this.

   One of the more impressive aspects of the game is its visual style. This style involves very detailed cel-shading and plenty of other beautiful visual effects that somehow manage to coexist without causing excessive load time. The visuals are a bit wasted in the dreary Junkyard setting, but they are still very impressive, especially in battle. Even better is the lack of reusing enemy models with a slight re-coloring. It does happen a tiny bit, but there are still dozens of unique and beautifully designed enemy types.

   The music, while not quite as impressive as the visuals, is still very good. Despite the length of the game, the battle theme is the only music that really begins to become repetitive by the end due to the large variety of good background tracks. The sound effects are also quite impressive considering that many of them seem to closely match the demons they originate from.

   While it does have some flaws such as a heavy focus on dungeon crawling, a needlessly high enemy encounter rate, and a slightly neglected story, the mantra system and boss battles help keep things interesting for the majority of the time. It also has its share of very good visuals and music. Overall, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga manages to be a good game, despite its flaws.

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