Review by Hell_fire_007
A devouring sequel
Digital Devil Saga 2 [DDS2] is a direct sequel to the first. Fortunately, it answers a lot of questions that were left open at the conclusion of the original. That's not to say that playing the first is a requirement. DDS2 can easily be picked up as a standalone title, however I do believe that playing DDS1 first will enhance the story by quite a lot, as I find that drawing links to other related games is always big plus in RPGs.
I won't explain the story in much detail because most of the plot points will give away the original, so I'll keep it brief. The story picks up where the original left off. Just when your party of demon-like warriors, the Embryon, enter a new world in hope of some sort of peace, they find themselves caught up in even more politics and end up having to save this world that they have just discovered. The plot is full of twists, turns and explanations, but I felt the game is really too short to develop a story truly engaging. The majority of this 30 hour game was spent travelling through lengthy dungeons, and levelling up. I wasn't too keen on the ending either. I expected something epic, but it was rather short, and left quite a bit open to interpretation.
The five main characters from the original make a return and all play key roles in the plot. Add another two playable main characters into the mix (Roland and Sera), and you have a decent range of personalities to keep this interesting. But that's also a problem. As with the original, I felt there wasn't enough character development. I wanted to know more about these characters, particularly after all the questions raised in DDS1, but the game did not deliver. They were good enough to fit their roles, but they could have been so much more. This was definitely a lost opportunity.
The battle system doesn't seem like anything special at first, but after playing it for a while, especially if you've played the first (which has an almost identical system) it does become quite addictive, particularly in boss fights. It's your typical turn based system. Three players can fight at a time, and the rest sit on the bench (but can be swapped in battle). The player has three turn icons but by passing a turn, only half an icon is used. This, along with the characters defined strengths and weaknesses, really makes you think about who to use in battle, and how to act. It's all about exploiting the enemies weaknesses. Once you know how to strike the enemies weaknesses, and defend against their strengths, you've basically won the battle. Because of this, it's rare to win a boss battle in one round. Victory usually requires you to lose, but learn first. It's quite amusing seeing your character get their asses kicked one round, and then a few rounds later watching them easily win, without taking much damage at all. It's all about strategy, and its fun. Below is an image of a typical battle in DDS2.
The characters get stronger by earning experience in battle. However this only raises their stats. Abilities are learned on a grid, called the Mantra grid. It operates much like the grid in DDS1 and Final Fantasy X, where you need to activate one node, to get to the next. In DDS2, activating these nodes (to learn the skills) requires money, and this is hard to come by, especially at the end of the game. You'll need to battle a lot of enemies if you want to master the strongest skills in the game. Unfortunately this is essential for not only the optional bosses, but some of the bosses late in the game, which forces you to spend time levelling up. It's not too much of a chore though as the battle system is interesting enough. Below is an image of the grid. Keep in mind that the grid does expand quite a lot once more nodes have been mastered.
Another nice little addition to DDS2 is the inclusion of rings. Through the game, your characters will find rings that can be equipped and personalised. These rings aid your characters in battle. For example, some rings may raise your stats, while others may grant you immunity to ice spells. While not an enormous impact to the battle system, it is certainly a nice addition.
DDS2 does have some extra side quests, but I felt they were horrible to initiate. For example, there are four secret bosses that you can fight before heading to the final dungeon. The problem is; the final dungeon is huge, and I wanted to progress the story a little and level up in there with monsters who grant much more EXP, before taking on these creatures. Once you enter the final dungeon, you can't go back. As a result, I didn't bother. There are also a couple of bosses in the final dungeon but these require you to defeat two certain random monsters and obtain an item that they randomly drop when defeated. The problem here is that there's like a 1/25 chance of them dropping this item. Is it really worth it? Things were done so much better in DDS1. Why did they change things?
Finally, I'll mention a few things that could use some work. The landscapes are pretty boring and very repetitive. If it wasn't for the dungeon map, navigation would be impossible because every room looks exactly like the last. They really should have put some work into this, as the original suffered from the exact same thing. The music was also nothing special. I felt it was a downgrade from the original game. There are a few decent tracks that carried the game, but other seriously lacked.
DDS2 is a good game, definitely worthy as a sequel to the first. However, I felt that, like the original, it could have done so much more. I needed more scenes to develop the characters, and to turn the story into something truly special. I recommend playing DDS1 first. If you don't like that then don't even think of giving this one a shot because story aside, it's incredibly similar. If you do like it, then you'll be a fool not to play this game and see how the story concludes.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 (AU, 03/15/07)
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