Review by RoslolianGarr

Reviewed: 08/04/09

For me, this is where the series started getting good!

Despite the great popularity of the Megami Tensei (aka Megaten) games in Japan, they apparently couldn't catch a big Western audience, save for the Persona titles. I, myself, used to know little about the actual series besides the Persona games and, while Megami Tensei I didn't seem quite pleasant to me, I must say Megami Tensei II effectively surprised me, in a good way. Even though the first game already introduced some ideas which would become trademark of the series, such as being able to talk to enemies, containing a plot which revolves around dark and mature themes, or using first-person perspective for dungeon exploration, it's only in the second one that everything seems to work together just fine, creating the atmosphere necessary for a great game.

In case you're not familiar even with Persona, I can start introducing Megaten 2 as simply as a dungeon-crawler, that is, as an RPG centered on quite a lot of wandering around first-person dungeons filled with random battles. Unlike pure dungeon-crawlers, though, (something which Megaten 1 was), you actually have towns and a world map to explore, as in your everyday console RPG. I find dungeon-crawlers quite boring myself, but I found Megaten 2 to be one of the few which I could become fond of (only other title which comes to mind now would be Phantasy Star). Now let's look at what makes this game distinguish itself from the rest.

Story: 10/10
The first Megaten game was actually based on a book, it seems, revolving around a boy who created some computer program capable of summoning demons. Obviously he can't have full control over his program, though, and some of the more powerful demons end up causing havoc upon the world. It's up to him, then, to stop the mess he himself caused. While talking to and summoning demons with his handheld computer, he sets forth to battle the offspring of Hell.

In Megaten 2 the plot is nearly the same, with some twists: the game starts by regarding the first one as really a game, which the hero you play as uses to play with his friend. You start off, then, playing a game within a game, with a lad living in a post-apocalyptical world already filled with demons for who knows what reason. The hero eventually frees a real demon inside the game he was playing, who wants to help him rid the world from any menaces, and gives him and his friend the same powers of the videogame character: talking to demons. Quite an elaborated start, I believe.

As the game progresses, questions about religion start becoming a key element to the plot, and, while I don't mean to spoil anything, I'd say the final plot twists and boss battles alone are worth playing through the whole game. For a 1990 RPG, the mature tone of the story is almost unthinkable; you'll be constantly wondering who is on the right side (this demon or that demon? Any demon at all, or only God? Or, ultimately, are humans on their own against all entities, whether they are labeled good or evil?). And what's more important, in my book, is that the game manages to step boldly over the terrain of religious discussion without ever becoming overly pseudo-philosophical, or bringing forth useless aphorisms (such as Xenogears, I would say...).

As if weren't the captivating story already enough reason to make this game distinguish itself, it also uses a lot of original ideas, such as having the hero lose one of his arms at one point in the game (forcing you to search for a cybernetic laboratory to get yourself a bionic arm replacement).

Battle System: 9/10
The most distinctive characteristic of the Megaten games' battle system is the possibility of talking to your enemies, allowing you to engage in a conversation instead of actually hacking and slashing away like a madman. As the hero's main ability is to manipulate a computer which can store demons as virtual data, to be summoned in battle, your party is primarily formed by the very demons you fight against. These demons must be persuaded and often bribed to change sides. It's quite interesting to see how different demons react when you talk to them. Some are eager to join you, while others are afraid to betray the higher demons they serve, and others will even laugh at your impudence.

While the human members of your party gain experience in battle, though, and gain levels as in any other RPG, demons do not, and it's thus necessary to constantly renew your cast of demon partners, searching for stronger ones. This can be done either by simply persuading and recruiting demons of higher levels, or by joining two or three demons together, a ritual which can be performed at some temples found throughout the game. This is quite interesting, too, as you will find yourself trying to
mix all sorts of demons in hopes of creating some otherwise "unrecruitable" foes.

Save for the option of talking to the enemies, battling works as you would expect: either by performing physical attacks or by casting spells. It's good, though, that in this game support magic is actually useful, since it works and is even recommended against stronger foes. This is no button-smasher: even though there's an option for auto-battling, which haves your whole party only performing physical attacks, this is rarely a safe thing to do. I wouldn't go as far as to say much strategy is needed, though, to defeat any of the foes you'll encounter.

Lastly, I think it was a nice idea for the weapon stores in the game to sell real, modern weapons such as PPK pistols, UZI machine guns and the like. And, still, you can also equip yourself with your usual medieval arsenal (mainly swords), so you get to use a vast array of different weapons.

Graphics : 7/10
I guess the graphics for this game couldn't possibly have been much better, given the hardware constraints, though designing a post-apocalyptical world does seem like a far easier job than creating colorful fantasy realms. Everything looks shabby, dull and depressing, in my opinion - but, then again, that's exactly what everything should look like in the first place, so it's all quite suitable.

As in almost all older RPGs, you'll find here the same palette-swapping trick to create more "different" enemies. However, seeing as how this was such a common spread trick, I won't even complain. Instead, I will say that the original demon designs are indeed quite good, and it's true there is rather a lot of unique designs made for this game. They managed to compile a cast of several well-portrayed demons, beasts or gods, taken from folklore, mythology and various religions.

Battle animations are scarce, but, in a time where they were practically inexistent, this is already a good thing. At least, every magic spell has its own animation, whether be it the casting of layers of ice rings, or the hurling of flame towers. It's great that each different type of weapon, even, has its own striking animation. Swords being used will be represented by a slash across the screen, while machine guns are fired with a spray of bullets, for example.

Sound & Music: 7/10
I always have a hard time paying attention to most sound effects from a game, and sometimes, I'd forget even the music from it altogether. The tracks for Megaten 2, though, are so fitting and pleasant to listen to, that I can still hum some of them. Despite all of the game's music sounding like just that (game music, reproduced to create some mood while you're playing), they're quite catchy. The battle music, one of the most important tracks in any RPG, since you listen to it quite a lot, stands out as the best of the catchy ones: it's energy-filled and excellent to get you into action. The short, looping suspense score which plays before every battle, when you still get to decide whether you'll talk to the enemy, run or fight, is very mood-setting as well. There are better soundtracks out there (especially for RPGs), but this one is certainly not lacking.

As for sound effects, they are usually restricted to the battles in older RPGs. In Megaten 2, what stood out the most for me was the fact that, just as every different attack or type of weapon has its own battle animation, it also has its own sound effect, which is rather a nice touch. Other than that, there's nothing much else, but I wouldn't say this is bad since I didn't feel any need for more effects either. The music alone seemed to do the job of setting the pace of the action quite nicely.

Challenge: 8/10
As I've said before, despite the fact this is not a button-smasher RPG (that is, you can't simply command everyone to attack on every battle, healing now and then, and expect to survive), it's not a game which requires elaborate strategies either. You will need support magic, making full use of all your party's abilities, in hopes of causing status ailments on your foes or increasing your own powers, and you will need to find out which kind of attack is effective against which type of demon. But, there's nothing beyond that; nonetheless, I once again give the game the benefit of the time: being not a button-smasher in 1990 was already a decent premise.

What I really like about the challenge a player of Megaten 2 will face, though, is the fact that, since your demons do not level up, pure grinding is not by far a solution to all your problems. While improving the statuses of your human characters is a must, it won't be nearly enough to help you defeat stronger enemies. For that, you'll need to constantly talk with the various demons you face, trying to persuade them to join you, and then experimenting with demon combinations to see if you can create more powerful creatures. This is a fresh approach to powering up, and a rather laudable one, seeing as it removes the emphasis on constant and boresome battling.

As for the dungeons, their layouts do not present any problem per se, since most of them are, however complex, nothing but mazes, which can be drafted into a map. No puzzles whatsoever. Nonetheless, some nice ideas were thrown into the game to create some original levels: there are traps such as holes or damage zones, areas with no visibility at all, areas where your computer gets jammed (keeping you from summoning demons) etc. With that said, it seems a good effort was made to keep the mazes from getting down right boring, as is often the case with dungeon-crawlers, I'd say.

Lasting Appeal : 8/10
This is the kind of game one should buy, though it may be quite rare to find it nowadays at a reasonable price.
I could say that, for starters, this game has two possible endings, but that doesn't really count, since both of them can be seen in a single play through (that's because the "good" ending can be ruined right before the last boss). Even so, this is one really long game, with two separate worlds to be explored, with many different levels to keep you busy for dozens of hours. For those who really enjoy monster hunting (Pokemon players, perhaps?), then, you'll most likely play it for even longer, in order to see all sorts of demons you can create. Some of the more powerful ones may take quite a while to produce.

Final Word : 8/10
I must confess I'm not very fond of dungeon-crawlers myself, but there are some games, like this one and Phantasy Star, that show themselves as quite enjoyable even for me. I won't deny there are better RPGs for the NES, in my very own opinion, such as Final Fantasy III or Dragon Quest IV, but, still, this one sure is worth a play through, if at least for the completely different universe it brings us, filled with demons and religious discussion. If you're really interested on it, I would recommend you try the SNES port of the game, released in a package along with Megaten 1, called Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei. That version seems more polished and, what's best, contains an auto-mapping function and exclusive demons and events.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Digital Devil Monogatari: Megami Tensei II (JP, 04/06/90)

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