Digital Devil Saga (Volumes 1 & 2)

TheFollower - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: PlayStation 2 (Sony)
Produced by: Atlus
Price Range: $31-40
Learning curve time: 31-60 min.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Reviewed By: Aaron Ploof
VOLUNTEER GUEST REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆
Genre: RPG
Christian Rating: 2 of 5 (poor)
Gameplay: 4 of 5 (good)
Violence: 3 of 5 (mild)
Adult Content: 2 of 5 (heavy)

 

Digital Devil Saga (Volumes 1 & 2).  Illustration copyrighted.


The Shin Megami Tensei games are fairly new to American Audiences. Due to the game’s mature subject matter, most of them had trouble making their way overseas. The first game we were treated to was Nocturne, the third game in the main series. Reviews were mostly positive, yet Nocturne was criticized for its unrelenting difficulty. Atlus thus decided to ease new players until the series with a *somewhat* easier spin-off: Digital Devil Saga. They released the game in two separate volumes. Since both games are essentially part of the same story, they will be regarded as one in this review.

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Digital Devil Saga’s story occurs in the far-off future, when the population has been drastically reduced to only a handful of people. The few that are left are divided into tribes and fight for the right to ascend to Nirvana, a place that is promised to them should they succeed in destroying all the other tribes which inhabit the Junkyard, the last remaining civilization.
An extra element is added into the mix when a mysterious pod arrives in the middle of a battlefield, interrupting a skirmish between two tribes. A blinding light suddenly erupts from the unidentified object, piercing through the bodies of the combatants and transforming them into demons. Moments later, Serph, the leader of the Embryon, awakens to discover that his opponents have been slain and eaten…by his tribe. His teammates also uncover a dark-haired girl curled up naked in the crater left by the pod. She claims her name is Sera, and she has been sent to help them. She retains the power to calm the Junkyard inhabitant’s new found insatiable desire for demon flesh.
Soon after, the Karma Temple, the one that presides over the wars in the Junkyard, issues a new law: “Devour the other tribes and bring the black-haired girl to Nirvana”. It becomes clear that only with Sera by their side can the Embryon retain their humanity and reach Nirvana. Can they reach their destination? And if so, what awaits them there?

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Gameplay:
Digital Devil Saga follows the conventions of the “Dungeon Crawler RPG” fairly well. You have a set amount of characters that you level up throughout the game, you spend the majority of your time exploring dungeons, and you earn skills to help your characters defeat the obstacles that await you.
Skills are learned through the Mantra Grid, a system which highly resembles the sphere-grid of Final Fantasy X. To learn a skill, you must reach a Karma Temple (the game’s equivalent of a save point). You then must equip your characters with a specific skill. After participating in enough battles, the skill will be acquired, and the process is repeated. The skills that your characters learn can be equipped in “skill slots” that each character has readily available. Up to 8 skill slots can be used (once your characters reach level 20). Your characters will be able to swap skills off and on anytime you’re not in battle.
You’ll need to have those abilities too, as the game is known for being rather difficult. Along with navigating through extremely long dungeon mazes, you’ll encounter your fair share of enemies. This facet of the game may frustrate some players, as the number of random encounters you’ll enter into is rather high, and sometimes it becomes difficult to reach the next save point. Once you do enter a random encounter, though, you’ll notice that the battle system differs drastically from most RPGs on the market. While other RPGs can be beaten with a minimum amount of strategy, this game keeps you on your toes at all times. The game uses “the press-turn system”, which encourages you to strategize and use the appropriate skills at the correct time.

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The system is explained as so: up in the right hand corner you will notice 3 blue hexagons. These serve as counters for each character’s turn. Once a character uses a turn, the hexagon will disappear, signaling that it is the next character’s turn. Once all three characters in your party use up their turns, it’s the enemy’s turn to attack. However, while normally you characters will use up one red hexagon in each turn, if you attack an enemy with the element that they are weak against: i.e. fire, ice, wind, electricity, physical, or earth, you will only use up half of your turn. Your next character will then use the other half of your turn, and if they attack with an element that the enemy is weak against, the process will repeat. Essentially, your characters can take six turns if you strategize wisely. Unfortunately, the same rules apply to your enemies. If they cast spells which you are weak against, they will earn extra turns as well. Thus, it is highly encouraged that you organize your skills/spells to fit each specific battle. Otherwise, your characters may suffer a quick death, without ever getting a turn in.
Overall, whether or not you’ll like the way the game is structured depends on your tastes. While the hardcore may appreciate the drawn-out dungeons and difficult battles, newer RPG players may be daunted by the same elements. The game succeeds in what it sets out to do, however, and thus scores a 5/5 in the game play area.

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Content:
Digital Devil Saga is a difficult game to review content wise. The game uses elements of the occult, references demons and angels, contains cannibalism, and is dark and gritty in its style and storyline. Yet, it is ultimately an uplifting story, and its main message is one that Christians can identify with: Humans should work together to create a world of peace.
An immediate concern that comes to mind with DDS is its religious content. Characters mention “God” multiple times throughout the storyline and in the latter half of the game (DDS 2), God serves as somewhat of an antagonist. Yet this “god” is not the Christian God. He is Brahman, the ultimate reality in the Hindu philosophy. Hindus believe in the concept of reincarnation, coming back to life as another being, and this serves as a major theme in the second game. Additionally, your characters transform into demons when in battle. These demons, however, are not from the Christian religion; they are gods from the Hindu religion. The enemies that you face throughout the game are not solely drawn from the Hindu religion. You’ll see demons and angels from all belief systems, including Christian mythology. Some examples include Baphomet, Abaddon, Samael, and Lilith. The four arch-angels (Gabriel, Uriel, Michael, and Raphael) also serve as optional bosses, yet they have no impact on the main storyline. Clearly, the game centers it’s plot around Hinduism, and if one is not comfortable with said religion, or with battling demons from the Bible, the game is not recommended.
The concept of cannibalism is prevalent throughout Digital Devil Saga. With their new powers, the members of the Junkyard acquire a need to feed. If they starve themselves for too long, they’ll lose control and revert to their full demon form. What should be noted is that most of the members of the Embryon despise their need to devour others, and only employ violence as a last resort. Additionally, the concept is used as a means to bring up the games main question: Is the world a dog-eat-dog world? If so, is it best for the strong to live, and for the weak to survive? Or should human beings work together to reach their full potential? Thankfully, the game is in favor of the latter ideology.
Indeed, friendship is held in a high regard throughout the saga. The Embryon always looks out for each other, and attempt to treat their fellow beings with kindness, if at all possible. Characters sacrifice themselves for one another and learn to care and love each other. Lust for power is frowned upon. When an enemy betrays and devours his friends to gain power from them, Cielo, one of the members of the Embryon, states that “he was not worthy to call them comrades,” and that “strength is not the only way to be strong.”
For a game with cannibalism as one of its main themes, it is surprising that the violence is relatively tame. Except for a few cut-scenes, the game is devoid of blood. Thankfully, you are spared the spectacle of the demons eating one another. When characters fight in battle, they are required to eat their opponents. All you see is the enemy reverting into a ball of energy and entering into your character’s mouth.

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The sexual content in the game is minor, except for one element, which will be immediately noticeable: Argilla’s breasts. Argilla, one of the members of your tribe, has mouths on both of her breasts in her demon form. She even uses them to talk. Apart from that, some characters joke about Argillla having a lesbian relationship with Jinana, another tribe leader. There is no evidence to solidify their claims; instead their relationship just comes across as a deep friendship. This is such a small part of the game, however, that if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t even notice it.
Language is rare. Some characters use some mild language, but they never go above the level of PG-13. It does not feel gratuitous in any sense.
As seen, the game is mature in its subject, but is not immature in its representation of the themes which it addresses. Therefore the game gets a 2/5 for adult content, and a 2/5 for a Christian Rating.
Overall, Digital Devil Saga is a game that delivers an excellent story with a positive message along with well developed characters and interesting themes. On the split side, however, it also contains spiritual elements which may makes some Christians uncomfortable. I recommend it for mature gamers, but it would be best to exercise caution when playing.

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Year of Release — 2005

[tags] 3 stars, RPG, PlayStation 2 (Sony), M (Mature), Atlus [/tags]




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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