BADGP Retroactively Reviews: Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga

8 Years Since… Digital Devil Saga (Atlus, Atlus Co.)

Retroactive Review: Atlus Before Persona 3

Alex Linna

February 25, 2013

Atlus was busy in the PS2-era.  Reinventing their core franchise: Shin Megami Tensei (1992) and bringing it to what was then the modern era of gaming, they delivered Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2004).  A tough-as-nails classic turn-based JRPG, Nocturne began a new age for Atlus.  They expanded the Shin Megami Tensei universe with many off-shoots. Most notably Persona, despite two efforts for the PSX, the modern Persona games (3 [2007] and 4 [2008]) have been smashing critical successes for the company.  They are dungeon-based JRPGs with a strong emphasis on building relationships with the characters in the game. Atlus likes being late to the party, this is evident in their SMT: Devil Summoner series (1 [2006], and 2 [2009]), SMT: DSum2 was released well into the PS3 life cycle as a PS2 exclusive.  This should build hope that there will much more to come from Atlus in the 360/PS3/Wii generation.  They are a more action-y approach to the JRPG formula than the others. SMT:DSum: Soul Hackers is being released in 2013 on 3DS as a SEGA Saturn game that never made it to the states.  There are also the two NDS games in the SMT: Devil Survivor series (1 [2009], and 2 [2012]), number 2 of course was my second favorite game of 2012 and is a combination of turn-based JRPG and strategy.  Throw in the first-person dungeon-crawler: SMT: Strange Journey (2010) on the NDS as well, and we have almost the entire catalog of US releases in the Shin Megami Tensei universe accounted for, except for the announced SMT IV for 3DS and Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, and SMT: Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2 (1 [2005] and 2 [2005]).  Having played most of the above mentioned games, I would have said that you were crazy if there was no demon-taming in SMT: Digital Devil Saga, due every other game in the franchise having it in some form or fashion.  SMT: Digital Devil Saga carves its niche within a niche by having an elaborate upgrade and move system building to a more character focused game, instead of negotiating and fusing demons.

What SMT: Digital Devil Saga Does Right

Setting the Stage– It is impressive how quickly the player is thrust into a decrepit and confusing world and must put context clues together to figure out what is going on.  Much of this remains unclear even after SMT:DDS1, due to it being the first of two volumes.  The story is interesting and intriguing.  The world is war-torn and mysterious and discovering what happens was a pleasure.

DifficultySMTIII: Nocturne was hard. Possibly too hard, but the satisfaction of overcoming adversity is the draw to a game like that.  SMT: Digital Devil Saga evens the difficulty curve a little bit. There is still plenty of grinding, but there is good incentive to grind away.

The Upgrade Chart


The upgrade system SMT: Digital Devil Saga presents is daunting.  It is a huge chart of little lights and switches that require experimentation to maximize its effectiveness.  If a Shin Megami Tensei game is not going to have hundreds of demons to experiment with, then this is how one compensates for the complexity.  Balancing this monolithic graph between the five playable characters is probably the best part of the game.  It is deep and rewarding.

The Music

This section could simply be praise for Shoji Meguro, the composer for almost all of the Shin Megami Tensei games. Here have a listen for yourself:

This is the main battle theme. If music can be good for 20+ hours, then one knows it is good.

Here is the opening cinematic and song that has been stuck in my head for weeks:

The music in the game was generally excellent.

What SMT: Digital Devil Saga Does Wrong

Fairly Lame PuzzlesSMTIII: Nocturne possesses some truly outstanding puzzle design.  SMT: Digital Devil Saga does not.  Most of the puzzles in the game involve falling into pits and retracing one’s steps in a trial-and-error method.

Cielo’s Voice– With otherwise excellent voice-acting, one voice stands below the rest.  Cielo has an offensively bad Jamaican accent.

Concluding on SMT: Digital Devil Saga

Eight years since its release, SMT: Digital Devil Saga has aged well.  Though many of the other Shin Megami Tensei games since it have been notably better, and Nocturne is certainly better, SMT:DDS differs itself enough to justify its existence.  I would only be able to recommend the game to series veterans who want more, however.  Clocking in at just under 25 hours it was shorter than many of the other Shin Megami Tensei games.  The game ends on a cliffhanger for the sequel that was to be released six months later.  Overall, my time spent with SMT: Digital Devil Saga was worth it, and I anticipate playing the sequel.  I am not sure if it is legitimate to score a game that is eight years old. If I were to it would be an 8 out of 10, but I played it long after its release.  That ethical debate may be had at a later time, but for now Digital Devil Saga is a good game in an excellent universe.

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