DDS: Best RPG in years
I am a relative newcomer to the Shin Megami Tensei series, or MegaTen as series fans affectionately call it. This series of "grown-up" RPGs is popular in Japan, but has been slow to find a foothold in the US market. Nocturne is the first proper title we got in North America - a port of Shin Megami Tensei III. DDS (together with its companion DDS2) is a side-story, also known as Avatar Tuner, which features the same battle system and style and requires no former familiarity with the series.
Despite the obscure-sounding name, Digital Devil Saga is extremely accessible. Anyone who has played Final Fantasy X should feel right at home. The tutorial system is a big reason why it is so easy to get into this game - it's simple, direct and to the point, in stark contrast to the volumes of text in many RPG tutorials (Romancing SaGa, I'm looking at you).
DDS is a turn-based role-playing game which features characters who transform into demons. Although you can fight in either human or demon form, the human form is basically useless. I won't spoil any of the story - half the fun is watching the characters' worlds turn upside down. Objectively, the voices are delivered superbly and the writing is first-rate. After years of disappointments, Atlus has finally gotten a real feel for localization, and while it doesn't stand up to the standard of Metal Gear Solid, it is superb nonetheless.
The basic gameplay usually boils down to dungeon crawls. You go through an area, randomly fight monsters, solve puzzles, and advance the story through cut-scenes and boss fights. There's nothing revolutionary here, and it can get kind of stark and tiresome at times. What IS impressive, and what kept me playing, is the sheer amount of strategy involved in battling. Power-leveling alone will not help you win a boss battle - indeed, you may not need to level up your characters at all, if you can devise an effective strategy using the excellent elemental system. If you figure out what makes your enemies tick, the battle will swing dramatically in your favor. On the flip side, if you leave a weak spot open, then even the best preparations won't prevent the dreaded Game Over screen.
The level of challenge, then, is high by RPG standards. It's the perfect learning curve that makes the tasks not only bearable, but enjoyable and fun. Fans of RPGs who have been disappointed by Square-Enix's recent releases should look no further than Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga.Read full review