PS2 REVIEW: SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI: DIGITAL DEVIL SAGA

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga is an enigma. Some times it begins to make sense only to throw you into the dark with more unanswered questions than before. It's a cycle that continues throughout the game. This is a prequel to another game in the Shin Megami Tensei series that will be released this summer so don't expect anything to be resolved until then, but at least you can begin the adventure now.

Digital Devil Saga takes place in a fantasy world which is overrun with occult forces which can be used for good or evil depending on your perspective. As with all games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, the atmosphere is dark, oppressive and violent. There certainly aren't too many laughs in this game which may seem inappropriate but it really does more to add dimension to a game that is otherwise so serious it's in trouble of alienating the average gamer - Goths not included.

At the epicenter of the story is the gargantuan Karma Temple which is surrounded by different factions that comprise an area called the Junkyard. These various cultures are all vying for their slice of Nirvana and consequently are not all at peace with one another. This becomes more than evident when a strange artifact arrives to bathe the population in waves of light that gives them the ability to transform into flesh-eating demons. A young girl named Sera was found in the artifact and has become sought after by the inhabitants of the temple who have commanded that only the survivors of a great Junkyard war may scale their way to the temple with the girl to attain Nirvana as their reward.

Seeing the world of the Junkyard kind of reminds me of some surrealistic combination of a trailer park and a mall, although that's not meant as a slam on the graphics which are so good one would be correct in referring to them as art. Think Heavy Metal magazine if you can go back that far. It doesn't take much to believe you're part of this environment which speaks for itself with cryptic text and images from an unfamiliar civilization carved into the stone walls.

Transforming into a demon gives each character incredible abilities and attributes. Any skills can be purchased with mantra, allowing you the freedom to customize your character any way that you want. Magical spells, elemental attacks and other skills such as the ability to counter and even reverse attacks can not only be purchased but can be traded. Certain skills are available for free as the demons do come with some standard accessories. You will even be able to access different skills when you revert to a human although you remain largely unprotected in this state so you'll want to do your damage and turn back fast.

Atma are similar to experience points. They allow your skills to become permanently assimilated into your character. They're gained by attacking and eating your enemies which is the only way you can stay alive since you've transformed yourself into a flesh-eating ghoul. You'll earn more Atma if you terrorize your victims before or while you're eating them. Keep in mind that your enemies also want to make a meal out of you since they have similar powers and needs.

Battles are turn-based but you can earn more hits and keep your turn going if you manage to exploit the enemy's weaknesses. For instance, if you attack them with a specific elemental that they are vulnerable to, you will earn more turns. Conversely if the enemy is gaining the upper hand on you they can also earn more turns to eventually devastate you and drain your energy. Fortunately there are plenty of save stations in the game which will even transport you to other locations where you can buy new upgrades.

The voiceovers are flat and uninspired. In showing the relationship between humans and demons a lot more emotion and soul could have been implemented but considering how over the top some of these games can be I suppose it's no sin to underplay it a bit. It's certainly less annoying. The music tries to narrate the mood but it only succeeds in the most shallow of veins.

Digital Devil Saga is an intriguing world steeped in mystery with plenty of action and unanswered questions. If anything, this game will create a population of rabid gamers waiting impatiently for the release of the sequel.

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System: PS2
Dev: Atlus
Pub: Atlus
Released: April 2005
Players: 1
Review by Cole
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.5
GRAPHICS
5.0
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
2.5
VALUE
2.0