If it wasnâ€™t for the gutsy little UK publisher, Ghostlight, none of the Shin Megami Tensei games for the PlayStation 2 would have made it to PAL. But thank goodness Ghostlight took the time, because we believe our RPG selection is made richer for them. The stories are thought provoking, the cell-shaded characters have style, and the music is dynamic - but itâ€™s the press turns of the turn-based combat that lift these games out of the ordinary and make them so much fun to play.
As we would expect, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga part two begins where part one left off. Our party has reached Nirvana. But itâ€™s not what they expected - not at all.
We begin with three of the five characters we had in part one: Serph, Gale and Argilla. Although you will meet up with Cielo a little way into the game, Heat will only rejoin the party depending on decisions made in part one. A new character, Roland, will join the party after a major plot twist near the beginning, and after you break her out of â€˜custodyâ€™ Sera rounds out your party. But donâ€™t think because your party is reformed (albeit with a couple of changes) that youâ€™ll simply pick up where you left off - because you wonâ€™t. A few changes have been made and we think the improvements add an extra dimension to this already excellent RPG.
Although Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 picks up the story from part one, it can be played as a stand-alone game. You will, of course, not know the characters or the background story so we do advise you play part one. Nevertheless, because your characters underwent changes when they reached Nirvana, theyâ€™ll begin again at level one with basic skills and strengths. The characters gained something interesting in return though: berserk. In this interesting, half demon / half human form, attacks and critical hits increase dramatically. Defence, however, is lowered, and magic and combos cannot be performed.
The skill list, or Mantra Grid, has also changed and is now set out as a honeycomb of adjacent hexagons, rather than the straight lines of part one. And we think this allows a greater freedom to move about the Grid to create a balanced party. Once again itâ€™s important that you work out early on who will do what in your party so youâ€™re not purchasing skills with your hard-earned Atma Points that your characters wonâ€™t use. This Mantra Grid also offers stat boosts and special skills which part oneâ€™s Grid lacked. Karma Rings, another addition, can be found as you make your way through the game. The rings give various stat boosts and added protection against some spells. They can also be made more powerful by the addition of gems which can be bought or found as the game progresses.
One thing that all the Shin Megami Tensei RPGs have in common is their gorgeous cell-shaded graphics - and Digital Devil Saga part two is no exception. Our eyes misted with admiration at Kazuma Kanekoâ€™s superb characters, spectacular foes and stunningly futuristic minimalist settings. Our ears were captivated by the rich diversity of a sublime soundtrack, from hard-driving metal to lightly tripping string quartets, and everything in between. Also in keeping with the continuity, the brilliant voice actors from part one returned for a repeat performance in part two.
Another thing that all Shin Megami Tensei RPGs have in common is turn-based combat. Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2, however, takes turn-based combat to the next level with its â€˜press-turns.â€™ Put simply, turn-based combat means that each combatant, friend and foe alike, has a turn in which to attack or defend, but with press-turns itâ€™s a little more complicated - and a lot more fun. Every character, friend and foe, also has an elemental weakness and an elemental strength. In â€˜press-turnâ€™ combat, when we attack an enemy with an elemental skill that it is weak against we use only half a turn. And the same happens when we land a critical hit. Of course, the same applies to the enemy too. If, however, we attack with an elemental skill that has no effect on the enemy we lose two turns. And if that elemental skill is reflected back on our party we lose all further turns, and itâ€™s then the enemyâ€™s turn. Naturally itâ€™s not all black and white and there are several kinds of attacks for us to use like combos, berserk, guns (when in human form), and you can devour your enemies to earn still more Atma points for use on your Mantra Grid.
Yes, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga has by far the most fun combat of any RPG weâ€™ve played. And thank goodness itâ€™s fun because thereâ€™s a lot of it. Random encounters occur frequently unless you equip an item to stop them. But we think the frequency of combat is fine because we need all the money we can earn from encounters to purchase skills from the Mantra Grid, gems for our Karma Rings, potions and ammunition. The frequent combat also, of course, means extra experience so that we were able stand up to some of the most challenging bosses, both compulsory and optional, that weâ€™ve ever faced.
Whether played as part two of a two-part game or as a stand-alone RPG, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 will keep you at your PlayStation 2 for well over a hundred hours. And although the story is fairly linear the unforeseen turns it takes and the difficult choices you face will make this one of the most exciting and challenging RPGs of the year.