Release Date: April 5, 2005
Pre-order 'SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI: Digital Devil Saga': PlayStation 2
It is almost here: Digital Devil Saga, a fresh take on the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series. While last year's Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne was a full-fledged MegaTen (the affectionate Japanese shorthand for the Shin Megami games) game, Digital Devil Saga is a new direction for the series, putting it up along with the likes of other spin-offs that have seen release over the years: Persona (Playstation), Maken-X (Dreamcast), Revelations: Demon Slayer (Gameboy), Demi Kids (Gameboy Advance). Like each of these releases, Digital Devil Saga separates itself from the main series by taking on a different angle - or, more accurately, a different scope.
Usually, one would expect a spin-off to have lesser production values than the main series. Digital Devil Saga smashes all pre/misconceptions as to what it is supposed to be. In fact, the game might not exist at all, having no place being released so close to Nocturne, if not for the money involved in its creation. After spending some hours with the game, this has been made very clear.
MegaTen games normally focus on collecting and perfecting teams of demons. Digital Devil Saga, on the other hand, is more about storytelling than anything else. Long, involved, artistically impressive cutscenes serve as the bond that keeps this game together and sticks it in a very distinct place within the Shin Megami franchise; at least, distinct when paired up with any release from the rogue's gallery of games released so far. Digital Devil Saga is more your usual big-budget RPG than any MegaTen game before it, which is clearly why it is not being billed as a part of the main series.
The only real anomaly one might notice when taking a look at Digital Devil Saga is one that permeates the whole game, separating it from even the most well-funded of its peers, including Final Fantasy X: Quality voice acting. Even Grandia II, which was consistently praised for its uncommonly good voice actors, cannot compare to what we've heard in Digital Devil Saga so far. That's right, an Atlus-published RPG – meaning, a game without the words "metal," "gear," and "solid" in its title – will be coming out soon that doesn't rouse flashbacks of famous videogame quips such as: "You were almost a Jill sandwich!" and the terribly contrived squelches of the Final Fantasy crowd once voices were introduced to that series.
Digital Devil Saga actually avoids most of the cheesiness normally considered inherent in both the genre and the Shin Megami series by combining a cult-infused narrative – the watermark of sorts for the MegaTen games – and a new, slick preference for more colorful and anime-like visual presentation. For fans of the series, these changes might not be for the best. After all, much of the critical praise for Nocturne was for its alternative appeal.
Digital Devil Saga rejects the "feel" of Nocturne in many ways, from the change in color palette to the de-emphasis on demon collecting. So what is there for MegaTen freaks to like? The one part of the Shin Megami formula that we can only hope will never change: Tough-as-nails dungeons from start to finish. Even the biggest MegaTen purist cannot deny that, no matter how many changes are present, Digital Devil Saga is undeniably a Shin Megami game, especially once you get your hands a little dirty.
Similarities and differences aside, Digital Devil Saga looks and plays like a napoleonistic re-envisioning of Nocturne. As bad as that may sound, it is more of a necessary progression: Digital Devil Saga may be the game that finally propels the series into the eyes of the West. If it's not this one, it will be very unlikely to ever happen.
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