Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 (DDS2) is an excellent RPG that should be played by everyone who that enjoys the genre. For returning fans, DDS2 improves on the original in every way and allows the player to import saves from the original game for some minor bonuses and minor changes to the storyline (depending on choices made in the original). In addition, Atlus wisely made DDS2 easy accessible to people who did not play the original by including some flashbacks and neatly summarizing the events of the first game in expository dialogue. Therefore, newcomers should be able to transition to this dark and beautiful world without too much confusion. Unfortunately, DDS2 is held back from becoming a true breakout game by its high difficulty due to the punishing encounter system that forces the player to engage in several battles every few steps. Due to this difficulty, the casual RPG player born and raised on Final Fantasy, or anyone new to the genre, may find himself/herself out of his/her depth and turned off after the first couple of hours. Those who are not turned off, however, are in for a wonderful ride as the game excels at everything else.
The battle system — while at first glance typical and shallow — is in actuality very deep and engaging. Atlus has dubbed it the Press Turn system, and while it is quite simple, it requires strategy on the player?s part if he/she wants to live. Every character in your party has one turn to take an action such as attacking or casting a spell. Once everyone in your party has taken a turn, it is the enemy?s turn. The twist comes in the form of the enemies? (and your characters?) weaknesses. While the concept of an enemy being weak to a particular type of spell is as old as the genre itself, the difference here is that when the player exploits the weakness of an enemy or gets a ?critical? attack he/she gets an extra turn (the enemy can do this to the player as well). Furthermore, if an enemy is immune to an attack the player loses his/her turn completely and vice-versa. This seemingly innocuous tweak to the battle system has major repercussions throughout the game. The player must find and exploit an enemy?s weakness and protect the party from it?s own weaknesses, especially in later parts of the game, or the player will find himself/herself staring at the game?s nicely designed (but not as lovely as SMT: Nocturne?s) game over screen quite often. This — combined with the very frequent encounter rate — will frustrate many a gamer used to breezing through regular encounters in other RPGs. However, on the other side of the fence, this system keeps the player on his/her toes making the battle system more enjoyable and prevents the player’s eyes from glazing over from mindlessly hitting “attack” as in other RPGs. There are a couple of additions to the battle system from the last game. These additions include a half-demon, half-human state that gives the characters very powerful physical attacks but no defense or skills. The other addition is the ability to equip Karma Rings which offer stat bonuses and special abilities during battle (i.e., Ice Immunity). Both these additions help enrich the battle system and make it more enjoyable.
The skill system is unusual (and different from the original) but engaging as well. Skills –or Mantras as they are known in the game — are obtained by accruing Atma (skill) points after battles. Once the player earns enough Atma points for a particular Mantra, the player must go the Mantra Grid (basically a grid of adjacent hexagons each representing one Mantra) and buy a new one. Each time a character learns a new Mantra the surrounding ones are unlocked and available for purchase. While at first the system may be intimidating, it becomes easier as the game progresses. The only problem that I had with it was that it is difficult to plan ahead because one cannot see the Mantras that are still locked. This causes the player to have a difficult time to finding specific skills he/she may need.
Graphically the game is gorgeous. They show a dark, ominous world that is past its prime and is falling in to ruin. While there are a lot of grays (though it’s not as drab as the original) when there is color used it is quite striking. The environments are beautiful. The character design is wonderful as always and the demons are crazy looking. Unfortunately, most of the enemies are recycled from the first game and SMT: Nocturne leaving series veterans with few new things to see.
The audio is excellent as well. The voice-acting is top notch and helps bring each character to life, exhibits their individual personalities, and compliments the character?s appearance. The excellent soundtrack ranges from eerie techno to set the mood to metal for the battles to J-Pop in the opening credits. A lot of the music is quite catchy and you may find that it sticks in your head long after you have stopped playing the game. Sound effects are good too, adding to the experience without getting in the way.
The story is the game’s strongest point, though it won’t be exposed here so as not to spoil anything, and it?s full of deeper meanings that one can read into if so inclined. But, even if the player does not wish to delve deeper into the meaning of the story, there is plenty going on at the surface that will keep them very interested. Indeed, unlike many games, the player will be looking forward to the next cut scene as opposed to suffering through the mindless clich?s that are typical in most games. Rest assured that when it comes to the storyline you will not be bored by the same old thing.
Lastly, once the game is finished it can be restarted via a New Game + mode which allows the player to keep all previously earned skills. This new mode also offers an even harder difficulty level and hidden bosses to unlock new bonuses. This affords the game modest replay value as completionists will have much to do and find once the game is finished.
DDS2 offers challenging gameplay and a compelling story that rewards those that are willing to try it. If you are looking for something that is different than the same old elves and dwarves fantasy then this is the place to go. It is unfortunate that most people will pass it over for being different and never experience the treasure that is offered by this remarkable game and series.