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   Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 - Reader Re-Review  

A Heaven of Hell
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Variable
COMPLETION TIME
25-75+ Hours
OVERALL

4.5/5

Rating definitions 

The mind is its own place, and it itself can make Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
-John Milton, Paradise Lost

   A vagrant is wandering the streets of a deserted city, where the people have turned to stone and bask under the light of the ebony sun, seeking his lost companions. Soldiers clad in white armor come to arrest him for being an unauthorized Avatar Tuner, after which he throws off his cloak and transforms into a demon to fend them off. Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2, which saw its American release just a few months after the original, continues its predecessor's storyline and proves to be a solid conclusion to the Digital Devil Saga dilogy.

   DDS2 marks the return of the Mantra system from its predecessor, reminiscent of Espers from Final Fantasy VI, and allowing each character to gradually learn special skills for use in battle. This time, the Mantra Grid is far less linear than it was in DDS1, with all Mantras laid out together in hexagons, and once a character masters a Mantra, access to all surrounding Mantras open up. There are also special hexagons on the grid, which, when completely surrounded by mastered Mantras, open up access to special Mantras or give each characters stat gains.

Maybe using that time-traveling pendant wasn't a good idea... Max from Dark Cloud 2 makes a cameo

   The Press Turn System from the first DDS returns, as well, with characters again typically starting fights in their demon forms, up to three participating at once, and the player receiving a certain number of turn icons based on how many active characters are alive. Exploiting an enemy's weakness, getting a critical attack, or passing a turn consumes half a turn icon; normal attacks consume whole turn icons; voided attacks consume two turn icons; and reflected or drained attacks consume all the player's turn icons. These rules work for enemies, as well, and the player must also keep in mind each character's weaknesses while fighting.

   Sometimes, when enemies ambush your party, all your characters will start in their human forms, where they can only fire their guns and use gun-related combos. Combos for special skills return from the first game, as well, with characters only able to use such skills when in demon form. As with before, the number of skills each character can equip starts out at four yet ultimately increases to eight. One interesting twist to the battle system is that characters may occasionally start out in Berserk form, stuck between their human and demon forms and only able to use normal attacks or HP-consuming physical skills.

   The Devour system returns, too, with each character able to consume enemies (enemies that are "frightened," usually as a result of using skills your party deflects our your characters exploiting their weaknesses, are more easily devoured) to hasten their Mantra mastering, though doing so can occasionally result in stomachaches, easily curable with a skill and consumable item. Many of the same flaws present in the original return, as well, such as certain enemies being able to kill you easily, resulting in wasted progress at times, and that switching out active characters consume turns. Otherwise, the battle system is still fast and solid as before.

I's gots everything! Livin' in the warehouse

   Outside of battle, DDS2 is largely the same, with nicely-constructed dungeons where useful automaps keep players moving in the right direction, and different kinds of Terminals let players save their game, download Mantras, pay for healing, and such, with Small Karma Terminals allowing for rapid one-way conveyance to Large Karma Terminals, and Large Karma Terminals allowing for instant trips to other Large Karma Terminals within dungeons. Menu navigation, aside from the management and equipment of Karma Rings, basically accessories customizable with jewels, is largely easy, and a new "Recover" option allows characters to use healing skills, even when they're not equipped, to heal one another. Overall, a solid interface.

   As is expectable of any direct sequel, DDS2 can naturally feel like a retread at times, although it does contain some mildly-inventive features, such as the revamped Mantra Grid, Berserk forms in battle, new dungeons, and that data transfer from and choices made in first game can affect things such as item acquisition, your final party, and such, to make it feel fresh.

   The story picks up very nicely from where the first game left off, adding some nice backstory to the Junkyard, the characters, and the sequel's world. Even the cutscenes within the first few hours are very revealing, and there are quite a few flashbacks to the first game for those that missed out on it. There are also a few minor choices that, in conjunction with those made in the first game, will affect your party near the end of the game. The plot itself is also fairly easy to follow, and overall, the story is probably the strongest part of the game.

Gives 'pooped out' a different meaning Magical bird droppings of doom

   Shoji Meguro, responsible for the first game's soundtrack, provided the sequel's music, as well, which easily surpasses his previous work. The battle themes are very rocky, and even a few dungeon tracks are pretty catchy; some of the cutscene music is touching, as well. Unfortunately, the music has a tendency to drown out the occasional voice clips in battle, one of few RPGs to make that mistake. Still, the voice acting is just as solid as it was in the first game, easily being some of the best in the current generation of RPGs. Overall, a superb-sounding game.

   The visuals are largely the same as they were in the first game, bearing a gothic cel-shaded style with superbly-designed characters and monsters. The environments are pretty well-done, as well, and aside from the "jaggies" present in most 3-D visuals as well as the somewhat-asinine dodge animation of most enemies, the graphics are one of the game's high points.

   Though some have chastised DDS2 for being too short, I personally thought it was around the same length as the first game, around twenty-five hours straightforward, or up to around seventy-five hours depending on whether players wish to fight the extra bosses and/or master every Mantra. Digital Devil Saga 2, in the end, is a solid sequel that hits most of the right notes, and is sure to please hardcore Megami Tensei fans and those who enjoyed the original, and if you're new to the series, the DDS games would be excellent starting points.

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