The Shin Megami Tensei franchise has been running for 34 years now, and with the upcoming SMT V it seems the franchise isn't stopping anytime soon. Similar to bigger titles like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Most of the titles in the franchise have sold very well, and they're regarded as must-have classics to this day.
The franchise is recommended in the JRPG scene thanks to its rich world brimming with demons to recruit, deities to face, and the obscure storyline that'll leave anyone on the edge of their seat. The franchise is often criticized for its difficulty increase after further progression into the game, but it's nothing similar to Dark Souls as many have reported. Titles like Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne can get tough at times, especially if your aiming for the true ending. However, with just a bit of strategy and thinking, the game will turn into a child's play.(well not child's play, but you get the idea)
Speaking of Nocturne, it's a masterpiece of a game, and upon finishing it, anyone would feel an immense emptiness followed by the urge of looking for something similar. Luckily, there's one similar game to it. It's called Digital Devil Saga. A spin-off to the Megami Tensei series that harkens back to the original story the franchise is based upon and seriously needs to make a comeback through a remaster.
The latter emulates the same alarming atmosphere of Nocturne while sacrificing a crucial mechanic in the franchise to introduce a new mechanic that relies on strategy and balance of abilities in order to progress into the game and thwart any danger. If you're interested, come read all about Digital Devil Saga down below.
The game kicks off with a fascinating introduction that showcases the main character and his team fighting against another tribe in the Junkyard. Basically, the Junkyard is a chaotic world dominated by scattered urban environments that surround a large building called the Karma Temple. Each city is controlled by a tribe, and every tribe must engage in a fight with one another.
These tribes have to fight each other to gain the right to reach Nirvana; A place where everyone's dreams will be fulfilled and they'll live a life of peace and prosperity. With that being said, let's roll back to the introduction of the game. As I said, the game kicks off with an epic introduction that showcases the main character and his tribe fighting against another one. However, during their conflict, a strange artifact bursts open, firing an array of lasers that penetrates every character in the game. As a result, everyone is granted the power to transform into bloodthirsty demons that feed on one's flesh to survive.
Shortly after the incident, Serph, the main character, and his teammates will come upon a girl called Sera that was inside the artifact itself. At this moment, the player would get no clues of her identity, or the reason she was there in the first place until further progression. However, the player will immediately learn that the Karma Temple has ordered that the tribes must devour one another, and the winner must bring the girl with him so that he'll be granted the right to head on to Nirvana.
Similar to Nocturne, you have the freedom to navigate through the whole map, and converse with NPCs scattered around the corners. Most of the NPCs are useless and few of them offer something valuable. But unlike Nocturne, it's easy to know where's your upcoming objective by just checking the world map select screen shown above.
After you choose the first objective, walk around and watch a couple of cutscenes, the action ignites when Serph and his comrades turn into demons. It is at that moment when they will realize that what happened back in the Junkyard wasn't an ordinary incident.
In the beginning, the game starts teaching you the basics such as how to attack, use magic, utilize items, and how to exploit your enemies' weaknesses. One thing to note is that without analyzing your foes' weaknesses, you'll have a hard time as this feature is extremely crucial for your triumph against every challenge.
While you can't recruit demons and level them up in Digital Devil Saga, you can spend the " Atma" points you receive upon devouring your enemies to unlock new abilities in the Manta Data. The Mantra is basically a group of demonic powers that enable the character to learn elemental spells ( like lightning, fire, ice, wind..etc), as well as new physical attacks and magic to enhance your abilities.
You unlock this system after you're done with the first boss fight, and the game pretty much explains everything to you on the get-go. You get your hands on these mantras by spending Macca, the official currency in the game. The best Mantra's cost a lot of money, so make sure you grind for it. The only way to level up your mantra is, like I said, by spending Atma points.
Thankfully, all the characters can learn the same attacks, but as a rule of thumb, make sure you don't forget their elemental weakness. For example, Serph is vulnerable to fire attacks, so you'll have to grind your way and get a skill that nulls fire attacks on him. The same could be said about other characters too.
The combat is identical to Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. As I previously said, exploiting your enemies' weaknesses is a crucial feature in the game. By doing that, you'll get an extra turn to attack, and if you do that again, you'll get another extra turn until all the blue icons on the top right vanish off-screen. Likewise, enemies are also capable of exploiting your weakness, which gives them an extra turn to grind you to powder.
That is why, it's highly recommended to work on your weaknesses because it can sometime help you avoid all the desperate situation you'll find yourself in.
The enemies are challenging in the beginning, and they require a bit of planning to defeat them. So, spamming the X button isn't very recommended here as sometimes a couple of enemies possess a skill that reflects your physical attacks. As a result, you'll have all of your attack turns gone. That's what makes Digital Devil Saga a fun turn-based JRPG, it's the level of tactical prowess from your computer-controlled opponents.
Bosses are on a whole new level, especially if you've not come fully prepared for the battle. If you didn't, then you will get rekt duh. You'll find yourself dying a couple of times in Digital Devil Saga until you figure out the gist of it.
Similar to previous SMT titles, after you've accumulated enough EXP you can upgrade your stats (strength, vitality, magic, agility, and luck), and unlock other abilities that may or may not help you much. However, in Digital Devil Saga, you can keep all of the skills you've earned unlike Nocturne where they'll be cast away.
I've spent some time talking about the combat and upgrading skills, so let's talk about the soundtracks as well. Shoji Meguro has once again done a great job at making memorable soundtracks that'll haunt your Youtube playlist for ages. The ones you'll find yourself jamming to most of the time are boss fight musics and a couple of dungeons once. However, I'm pretty sure " Hunting: Comrades Soundtrack " will easily find its way through your soul as it makes the boss fights worth every second. Shoji Meguro never disappoints.
The overall atmosphere and the world design are simply well done. Kazuma Kaneko's artstyle brings Digital Devil Saga to life. From the detailed corners of the Embryon, to the dungeons, and the Karma temple, the world is just magnificent and it feels unique running all around.
Final Verdict: Recommended
In the end, Digital Devil Saga is a wonderful JRPG that shouldn't be missed by anyone who's looking for a challenging, yet memorable video game. We will be doing the sequel as well, so wait for it.