Preview: Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga Avatar Tuner (PS2) Hands-On

Publisher: Atlus / Developer: Atlus / Genre: RPG / Release Date: 03-08-05

Alex’s note: Please note I am writing this preview with the JAPANESE version of this game, so some translations may be off due to whatever Atlus may choose to do with names, places, monsters, and dialogue.

I know! I’m writing something in the Games Section. You should all be jumping up and down like kangaroos on speed!

We all know I’m a Megaten whore. I rated Persona 2 (both of them) the second best RPG of all time and Persona: Be Your True Mind came in at #11. So you can imagine how happy I was when Atlus USA announced it was bringing over Nocturne Maniacs and Avatar Tuner to the US. Now if only we could get an unedited BYTM (Snow Queen Quest damn you!) and both Persona 2 on a compilation. Hmmm…

Before we go into this game I should point out that there is very rarely a crossover in the Megaten Spin offs. We have Megami Tensei, Shin Megami Tensei, the Last Bible Series, Devil Summoner/Soul Hackers, IF, and the Persona Series. And the Demikids line as well. Trust me on this, there are a LOT of Megaten spinoffs. And until this point, there was only one crossover, and that was an oh so brief appearance of Philemon in the game LUNACY for the Sega Saturn which a lot of Megaten fans don’t even know about. Until now.

Digital Devil Saga is connected with the events of SMT3: Nocturne. How do I know this? Because the main character from SMT: Nocturne shows up. That’s a pretty good indication. I won’t tell you how or when, but I will say he’s there and that if you’ve ever played the original Sega CD version of Lunar: Eternal Blue, you will understand the following phrase “Borgan Bad! BORGAN BAD!”

DDS is very different from the other Megaten games. Wheras in all the others, you convince enemies to join with you in some way shape or form, in Digital Devil Saga, you eat them. Yes, that’s right. You eat them. It’s like Satanic Pac-Man. In fact there is even a mini game within DDS that mimics this. The main character, Serph/Serf (no idea how they’ll say it in English. Do they mean SERAPH or SERF ala feudal times? I’d like to think the former…) runs around in his demonic form collecting and digesting souls like power pellets. If you eat enough, a Mitama (elemental demon) appears. If you beat it, you get a ton of points to use towards stat boosting.

I’ve totally lost you haven’t I?

Then let’s start from the beginning.

You are Serf. You are quiet, like most classic RPG heroes, although you are lacking the trademark line of “…..” You’re hanging out with people like Heat and Arjela when all of a sudden this object bathes you in light and releases within you the power to turn into demons. Hungry Demons.

Look, don’t question it. Persona is one of the greatest games ever made and those kids got their powers playing a stupid pre-teen game. Just go with it.

Soon after gaining the ability to become monsters, Serf and his friends meet up with a young lady named Sera/Sarah. You end up accompanying Sera who agrees to accompany you to Nirvana, a special place that can only be reached by becoming the champions of the junkyard.

You probably STILL wish you were lost, don’t you?

And that’s just the tip of the weirdness iceberg that is this game. But I don’t want to spoil any of the plot for you.

Gameplay wise, it reminds me a lot of Persona 2 (either one). You can develop the stats of your main character, but not any of the others, as they follow a set path. I would advise pumping up Serf’s Body and Strength, then pump up Speed and Magic. Battles play out almost exactly like Nocturne (Same engine? It’s too close not to be) and so if you’ve played SMT3 at all, you’ll do just fine with DDS. At least in regards to combat. Hunting however, that is what makes Digital Devil Saga unique to the SMT world.

As your characters switch between human and cannibalistic demons (Okay, you rarely ever use the human side of your characters. Trust me on this), you need to eat your enemies to gain more power. Yes, eating is better for your characters than straight out killing. You also get Hit Points for doing so. But be careful, don’t become too much of a glutton or you will get a stomachache. Yes, you can get a stomachache in this game.

In order to hunt, your character must equip a hunt skill. And well…then hunt the enemy in combat. If your enemy is afraid of you (It’s a status condition), your hunt skill does triple damage and the quicker you can have your meal.

Yes, this is probably the weirdest (and hardest) out of all the Megaten games released. But it’s also one of my favorites. I prefer it to Nocturne, if only for the character interactions and the eating of your enemies. The graphics are top notch, the controls are easy, but they are so deep it will take you quite some time to master them, and to get the true ending (which like NO ONE will), you’re going to have to play the game twice, which means 100 hours of gaming. You’re getting a great game, that like Atlus games, will have a low print run and will double in value a few months after it’s released. Can we say Disgaea first printing boys and girls? Or Lunacy? Or a region 1 copy of Hell Night/Dark Messiah? Okay, the last one doesn’t exist (IMPORT IT FROM EUROPE YOU IDIOTS!), but I’m sure you get the picture.

I am mixed with feelings in regards to Atlus going the Working Designs route with a collector’s edition of this game (Glad I got my version paid off before the ‘upgrade’ in regards to content and price). $55 for a game that’s extra are only a collector’s box to hold the sequel, a CD soundtrack (which is often times free nowadays), and controller armour? I dunno. It just doesn’t grab me. I would have rather seen a collector’s Edition for something else, as SMT: DDS AT is probably going to be a sleeper hit at best and I’d rather have seen Atlus use their money toward something else (TRANSLATING INNOCENT SIN) as the game is good enough to be bought on its own merits.

The game is supposed to come out some time in March (meaning more than likely May-June), and I strongly suggest picking it up. ESPECIALLY if you like games with an excellent story along with a heaping dose of originality.