What I'm Playing - No. 129
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
I only played one game this week, and my coverage on it is spoiler-free.
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (PS2)
Following Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne on PS2, Atlus released the Digital Devil Saga games, a spin-off duology with similar mechanics and graphics to Nocturne, but without some of the core SMT elements. Playing Nocturne and the recent official confirmation of Shin Megami Tensei V’s release date has me on an SMT kick, so I decided to play Digital Devil Saga next!
So I actually went into this a little spoiled on some plot reveals just by reading some of the first paragraphs from the game’s Wikipedia page. I’ve still been enjoying it, but when I do get to the part that Wikipedia spoiled it probably won’t have the same impact. I’ll avoid spoiling anything though!
Set in a war-torn world called the Junkyard, you control Serph and a close team of his allies. Serph is the leader of one of the Junkyard’s tribes, who are all endlessly at war with one another. Their world is forever changed when a strange light passes through them during battle one day, giving them and most others the ability to transform into powerful demons. With this power comes a price - they must devour their enemies in order to sustain themselves. At the same time, they rescue a mysterious amnesiac girl from the battlefield that day, Sera. Others granted the power to transform into demons soon begin to lose their minds, but Sera is able to keep Serph and his friends in their right minds by singing a strange song. Further confusing matters, the leaders of the tribes are all summoned to Sahasrara, a tower in the center of the Junkyard that ascends to the heavens. There, they are addressed by a strange voice that tells them they can learn the truth by killing the other leaders, and ascending the tower to reach Nirvana.
That’s the basic plot setup. One neat thing to note is that important cutscenes are fully voiced. For the era, the voice acting is pretty good. None of it is awful, but some characters are definitely better than others. It’s cool that this game has voice acting in its original release, whereas Nocturne, which released just a few years earlier on PS2, didn’t have voice acting until its recent HD Remaster.
Like Nocturne, gameplay consists of dungeon crawling and turn-based battles initiated through random encounters. Unlike other SMT games, you don’t recruit demons for your party though, and you don’t fuse demons or anything. Instead, it’s more like a traditional RPG, where specific characters make up your party. In this case, you control Serph’s allies. The Press Turn system from Nocturne and later SMT games is here though! Hitting enemy weaknesses gains you extra turns, and you lose turns if your attack is blocked, absorbed, or misses. The enemies you fight in battle are members of other tribes who have transformed into demons, and they take the form of familiar demons from SMT, like Succubus, Apsaras, and tons of others.
There are some notable differences in the battle system besides it not having demon recruitment. There are 2 new elemental types of attacks, “gun,” and “earth.” So far, it seems you can only use gun attacks when in human form in battle, while earth attacks work the same as the other elements, and you use those as magic spells. You can also unleash combo attacks if the members of your party know one of the required combinations of spells. These take up 1 turn per participating member, but can be quite useful to hit enemy weaknesses. The last major difference I can think of is that spells to temporarily protect elemental weaknesses are quite common. I don’t know if spells like that were even in Nocturne, but in Digital Devil Saga they’re common enough to be part of the early game tutorials, and they’re quite useful if you know what type of elemental attack an enemy will use. For example, if you’re fighting an enemy who uses ice magic, you can cast Void Ice on your turn to negate the next ice attack each member of the party takes. If the enemy then uses ice on the following turn, it will be nulled, and they’ll lose a turn. Things like that add some interesting layers to combat, even against regular enemies.
Other small improvements were made since Nocturne too, like the addition of a minimap while exploring. Stats for the main character are customized upon level up just as they were in Nocturne, but the way you customize your combat skills is different. You can master an unlimited number of skills, but you can only set a limited number of them to be useable in battle at a given time. You master skills by equipping a Mantra, which you purchase from a “skill tree” of sorts, where you can only purchase and equip higher level Mantra by first mastering the prerequisite Mantra. Anyone can purchase any Mantra though, so you could have the whole team use fire magic if you really wanted. I wouldn’t recommend it though, since you wouldn’t be able to hit any other elemental weaknesses.
Digital Devil Saga has been really good so far. Just like Nocturne, my least favorite part is probably the random encounters. Sometimes you can’t walk 3 steps without another battle starting! It’s not a big deal most of the time though, because battles are really fun. The dungeons aren’t as intense as Nocturne’s were, at least not so far. Some of Nocturne’s dungeons were brutal! Overall, it’s definitely a more approachable game than Nocturne - which is exactly what the developers set out to make, and I’d say they did a great job! I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes, and I what ends up happening to these characters. Plus, this game is just the first half of the story. It’s concluded in the sequel, Digital Devil Saga 2, and there’s a strong chance I’ll go straight into that one after this!