Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 10/11/05 | Genre: RPG
Digital Devil Saga 2 is an improvement on its predecessor in many ways, but yet this demonic RPG sequel is the epitome of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". New features are added and systems are upgraded, but none in a way that breaks or massively changes the core gameplay--only improves it. If you enjoyed the previous game in the cult RPG series Shin Megami Tensei, then you already know this is must buy. For all others, maybe you just want to know if the whole package of both games is worth the price of admission. If you’re ready to find out, read on...
First off, I'm going to reveal as little as possible about the story, as any plot details may give away what happens at the end of the prequel, DDS1. Essentially, however, you start the game with Serph, Gale, and Argilla, with the knowledge that Cielo and maybe Sera are still alive and out there somewhere. Heat is the only one mysteriously missing. Eventually you gather these four fighters back together, plus one more--Roland, a man not from the Junkyard. Serph's stats, as previously, are determined by you. Argilla and Gale distribute their points similar as they did in the last game. Cielo, however, seems to put a bit more emphasis on magic then before, finally making him a viable member; he actually became my favorite magic user throughout the game. Roland seems to spread his points equally throughout all his skills, which makes him useful early on in the game, but a bit lacking in power later. As before, make sure you train them in Mantras that are tailored to their statistics.
However, your character's stats aren't quite set in stone this time around. Now you get access to "Karma Rings". You can equip one to each character, and each ring comes with stat bonuses and/or a special skill. They can also be customized with gems, which find as you progress through the game, that upgrade the rings’ stat bonuses. From early to mid-game, these bonuses are minute, but later on your rings will be an important aspect of your characters and can determine how powerful they really are, allowing you to counteract your characters' stat weaknesses.
The Mantra grid is by far my favorite of the new improvements. It is absolutely perfected in this game. Instead of a square chart going from left to right, it is a field full of hexagonal Mantras (basically skill sets). Learn one Mantra, and you unlock the six around it, eventually working your way towards the ultra-powerful skills on the edges of the grid. It's a simple concept that works very, very well. Additionally, there are locked Mantras that only open once you learn all six of their bordering Mantras, and either award stat bonuses to all your characters, or unlock miscellaneous skills. You can use multiple characters to unlock the Mantras around the secret Mantras, so it's a good idea to plan out which characters will learn which mantra well in advance to end up unlocking all of these by the end of the game.
The battle system is essentially the same as before, with one small new mode. When the solar noise is at 7 or MAX, you sometimes go into battle in Berserk mode - your characters are half transformed and can only use physical, hunt, and items to attack. Their power and critical chance goes through the roof, but the party’s defense becomes pathetic. The idea is to finish the battle quickly, in one turn if possible - if you're facing physical immune enemies you may as well run. Thankfully, you run away 100% of the time when you try in Berserk mode. If you win, you gain much more Karma from the battle than normal.
As in the previous game, the dungeons are long and the encounter rate is high. Thankfully, there are no dungeons as frustrating to navigate as the most frustrating examples in DDS1 - most are generally straightforward while still quite lengthy. The story takes a more important role this time around, and more things are explained to you - but there's still a glut of battles compared to cut scenes. But, as before, that is actually a bit refreshing in the RPG market today.
The graphics aren't really improved over the last game, which is neither good nor bad. The main character models are really unchanged except for a few attack animations, although the new character, Roland, is by far one of the coolest looking demons on your team this time around. Some of the shoddier looking demons from the previous games have been retired and a good number of new ones have been designed, but there's still a lot of content reuse as far as the enemies are concerned.
The music... Oh man, the music. I loved DDS1's soundtrack, but this game just makes it sounds bland. DDS2 has some of the best music I've ever heard in a game. The main battle theme is absolutely incredible and I never got sick of it, which is quite a feat for any RPG. All the boss music is even better, with the last boss music being the crowning glory of the whole thing. Overall, this is a masterful feat altogether.
Once again, for replay value there's a hell of a lot here. There's a good collection of optional bosses and maxing out your characters on the Mantra grid is an option, as before. Even ignoring this extra content, the game can be finished in about 35-40 hours.
Overall, if you loved DDS1, you'll adore this game. If you didn't, well, then it's just not for you. This series can be a little bit difficult to track down mainly because Publisher Atlus only prints a certain number of game disks. But with a little patience and luck, you can pick up both DDS1 and 2 new or used. I hope I've turned a few of you onto this great series by writing these reviews. Happy gaming!