Wednesday 20 July 2006
The first thing to be said about Digital Devil Saga is that this is no typical RPG. There are no medieval towns, no princesses in towers, no crazy stuffed toy style characters and you most definitely will not save the world. It's already been destroyed you see?
This is a post-apocalyptic nightmare of a world known as the Junkyard, where our 'hero' Serph and the other members of the Embryon Clan that he commands fight five other tribes.
The winners will supposedly be transported to Nirvana. It all goes pear-shaped when, in the middle of a tribe battle, a weird alien organism is struck by a blinding light from the sky, causing every person on the planet to develop the ability to change into a demon and eat each other. We hate it when that happens.
The story may be sprawling and weird but it's certainly compelling enough to make you want to buy the forthcoming Digital Devil Saga 2 to see how it all turns out.
From the very start you'll find battles surprisingly easy to navigate. The enemies are interesting and smart, changing tactics, calling in reinforcements and healing each other as they go. They'll also attack your weaknesses - using a fire spell on a character with low resistance to flames and so forth.
Of course, quick changes of tactics will work wonders for your side as well. Not only will it cause great damage, but using said smart tactics will earn you extra goes in the turn-based battles. This system was used to great effect in Lucifer's Call and is no less useful here. In fact if you don't think through your moves properly, you'll find yourself in real trouble.
However, the battling is mercifully easier than in Lucifer's Call and recruiting and building a team enemy demons for your own side, a long held MegaTen concept, is now completely missing.It's been replaced with a Final Fantasy X grid sphere-type character building system which is simple to use, but unbelievably customisable.
Above: This is the transformation from human to demon. It's very impressive
You'd think the loss of the demon recruitment would let down the game, but in fact it always seemed a bit unfair the way MegaTen games tended to drop you in it and leave you with infinite options but no guidelines whatsoever.
It may work well in Japan, but in Europe a more structured battling and character system tends to curry rather more favour. Digital Devil Saga does a good job of bridging the gap between Japan's more intense RPGs and the more mainstream games that have gone down well in Europe.
The look of the game is particularly striking. There's none of your bright cartoonish cuteness going on here. Instead you'll find some massively sophisticated vistas, characters, environments and enemies all brought to pastel-shaded anime life by the great Japanese artist Kazuma Kaneko.
The decidedly creepy yet beautiful visuals really make Digital Devil Saga stand out from the crowd and the look of the characters and cut-scenes even surpasses Lucifer's Call.
Above: Working out when to fight as a demon is all part of the job
Ultimately, however, although the pared-down battle system is actually an improvement on last year's DigiTen outing, it's got little to mark it out from the other great RPGs on the shelves at the moment, despite a very individual look and story.