Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 11/18/2005


Right from the start of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, players are introduced to the intense story. Said story involves a heated six-way power struggle that often leads to combat between the different factions. During the first battle the players see, unexpected events lead to everyone involved with the war becoming infected by a strange virus. This has a life-changing effect on the body: an insatiable appetite for one’s enemies. Devouring enemies is now the only way to survive.

After seeing that, the game logically points to becoming very gritty and provocative in its presentation and themes. And it does. Digital Devil Saga may tell a fictional story, but its themes are stunningly relevant. While playing, it becomes easy for the player to ask, “What would I do?” We don’t fully understand what their particular “hunger” feels like, but we can relate it to other addictions and magnify appropriately (since hunger is kind of essential to survival). Would we eat each other in their situation? The thoughts disgust some of the in-game characters as much as it does you or me.

Gameplay in Digital Devil Saga is good. The dungeons are not ones that a player can simply plow through without paying attention or taking care of himself; that will result in death and/or being totally lost. The puzzles are decent. They’re not the kind you’ve seen which feature a single puzzle within a room, but the other somewhat common RPG puzzle that spreads throughout the whole of a dungeon.

Screen Shot
When monster magic fails, try busting a cap.

Battle and customization are where the game really shines. Each character has a human and a monster form. The former uses guns in combat and the other uses magic and other techniques only available when transformed. (The bigger part of the fighting will be done as a beast.) Gun attacks are used with standard shots or special ammo acquired through various means. Each chaarcter’s other abilities are laerned from a “Mantra” board similar in concept to the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X, but with much more freedom to move around. Learning a new Mantra costs a certain amount of Macca (money), and will be learned after the character gains sufficient AP (given after battles) to do so.

Even more customization lies in the main character Serph’s level-ups. After a level increase, the characters are given three points with which to increase their stats. Most characters will have their points automatically distributed, but the player chooses where to stick Serph’s growth points. This combined with the very open-ended Mantra learning make Digital Devil Saga more customizable than most RPGs and very fun to play.

What’s annoying is the high level of fights a player must go through. The battle system itself is plenty good, but just coming out of a battle and walking five steps only to find oneself in another one is bothersome. This is especially true in the game’s larger, more spread out areas. You’re trying to navigate these massive 3D zones, but have to deal with coming out of battle and saying “Okay, now where was I?” all too frequently.

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The characters are the highlight of the game’s visuals.

Matching the dark themes of the game is its dark style. Just looking around at the environments and characters in Digital Devil Saga, one can tell it’s not a game about rainbows and cotton candy. Some of the scenarios actually tell the player that the heroes don’t even know the meanings of words like “friend” or know what crying is. All of the characters are well designed, most have good voice acting, and some excellent background music is present as well. The game uses slick guitar-driven tunes for a lot of the dungeonplay music, which works very well with the overall presentation.

Finishing Digital Devil Saga is quite satisfying, though it gets no help from the story’s conclusion. But we knew a sequel was coming, so a cliffhanger such as what is seen at the end of this game was pretty much expected. The game provides a 27-40 hour play experience, an intriguing plot (with a select few scenes that are very cool to watch), and gameplay that can hold its own. Those looking for something different will probably eat this up.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Very Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Bad
The Verdict: 7