Five Magics
January 25, 2005

Greetings, folks. Welcome to the first Mailbag update of the year.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking that 2005 was a fantastic year for our particular niche genre, but from what I've seen, I think 2006 may well top it. Rogue Galaxy. Elder Scrolls IV. That Devil Summoner game with a subtitle too convoluted for my gaijin mind. The list goes on and on. It's kinda rare for me to look forward to so many RPGs at one time; I hope that my expectations are met.

On a completely different note, if you haven't checked out this year's series of exclusive interviews yet, I recommend that you do so. I thought last year's batch of interviews was our most interesting project of last year, and it looks like it might be this year as well. There's only one up at the moment, but it's a good one. I especially think you guys will like the next one. :P

Anyway, before we can completely move on to the new year, we should do a bit of Q&A on the games of 2005. Luckily for me, the two games featured in this Mailbag update are two of my favorites, so I have no trouble talking about them. Let's have a discussion about the nature of direct sequels, differing opinions, and...Gilgamesh? Oh yeah, baby. :P

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E-mail Daniel, unless you're a scammer from Nigeria.
You won't even hear me tell people NOT to buy DDS2. Trust me. :P


I have started to do some research on Digital Devil Saga series and from what I have heard, the games are great. I'm having a hard time finding Digital Devil Saga 1, so I was just going to buy DDS 2 and play that first. Since DDS 2 is a direct sequel, would I be able to follow the story without playing the first game.

Indeed, the games are great...well, according to most people anyway. :P

If you have the opportunity to get Digital Devil Saga 2, I ceratinly recommend that you do so. However, you shouldn't expect to get quite as much out of the game as someone who has played the first game. With that said, most of the character development that takes place in the DDS series takes places in game number two; DDS1 serves primarily as an introduction to the characters, but you don't get exposed to the depths of their personalities until you're knee-deep in DDS2.

My advice? Buy it...and find a plot summary of the first game if you develop any storyline questions. :P

You probably should have read the last year's worth of Mailbags before sending this to me. :P

How did Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 get a 99% editor review?!

From John McCarroll's review: "...if you have the blood of a true RPGFan running through your veins, you simply *must* pick up this game."

Well, I consider myself an RPGFan, as I've played a lot of RPGs and generally agree with RPGFan's reviews, so I took John's advice and went out and got DDS2 for myself for Christmas. I played it back to back with Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, Riviera: The Promised Land, and Shadow Hearts: Covenant over my break, and had to say I was pretty disappointed with it. John's review was extremely misleading and was really a disservice to the community. It is really completely inappropriate to give a game like DDS2 the highest score of any PS2 game ever reviewed.

I understand that John may have been in some kind of euphoric high directly after completing the game, as it was in one of his favorite series. But looking back on it now, is it appropriate to say it deserves a 98% in sound/music?? The music in DDS 2 could be considered little better than average (I found the battle theme particularly grating). In any case, DDS2 certainly doesnt compare to Final Fantasy X in terms of sound/music, which the 98% score implies. Personally I also thought the battle system was pretty simplistic, the encounter rate was overly high, and level-ups were so frequent that they lost their meaning. DDS2 was also sorely lacking in, if not story, any skillful narration.

Granted, the latter points could be said to be just opinion points (I'd be hard pressed to say that DDS2's sound/music could deserve a 98% by any standard of quality). However; no other review I have read of DDS2 reflects the same impression of supreme quality that is implied by a 99% score (Gamespot 8.3/10, Gamespy four out of five stars). However adored the DDS games are at RPGFan, it would probably be appropriate to take a second, less biased look at DDS2. As of now, the editor review for DDS2 (which basically implies it is the best game for PS2 and a must-buy for any gamer) is pretty misleading; I honestly think most fans of RPGs would consider DDS2 to be just above average.

No offense intended to the reviewer,

Oh man, I'm gonna regret not taking something for my carpal tunnel this morning. :P

I don't really know why you have trouble believing someone could review a game a certain way, being that you used the magic word in your letter: opinion. As much as you may wish it were otherwise, people aren't necessarily going to share your viewpoints. That's what reviews are: viewpoints backed up by explanation. In essence, you're saying John's DDS2 is "misleading" just because DDS2 doesn't quite fit your particular definition of what makes a good RPG. I don't know about you, but I was always taught that the word "misleading" means "to lead in the wrong direction" instead of "to not be my personal opinion".

"But wait!" you say. "No other reviewers are giving DDS2 such high remarks!" You know what I say to that?:


Every time I visit the big gaming websites these days, I'm stuck by the tedious homogeny found amongst them. Reviews are practically interchangable; always drooling over the same big app to the detriment of anything else that comes along. That's why, ever since I've been on the internet, I've always gravitated towards the smaller independent gaming websites. It's nice to read some opinions that actually, you know, differ, insteading of sounding like they were written using the same public relations release as a guide.

Admittedly, the Shin Megami Tensei isn't for everyone. Even the creators of the series admit this. You either get it or you don't, so I'm sure you're not alone in feeling that the DDS games are quite your cup of tea. If you'd like to share your opinion on the game, we DO take reader reviews.

Note: this has nothing to do with veiled GFs that replace Norse gods killed by pansies. :P

I was glad to see the Ark of Napishtim got such good marks in your 2005 games list. I've wondered something since it was released. Does the word Napistim mean anything? I don't know if you would know this or not.

Believe it or not, I do know. Luckily for you, I happen to have more than a passing interest in mythology. Most folks are content with dabbling in Greek and Roman things...but I'm not most folks. :P

In order to answer this question, we need to take a trip through Mesopotamian mythology, but bits and pieces of it should sound familiar to us Westerners (assuming you are a Westerner, that is :P) regardless of whether you're familiar with mythology or not. Towards the very end of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is griefstricken by the death of his comrade Enkidu, who was cursed by the gods in order to punish Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh leaves on his final adventure, seeking a certain man and his wife, the sole people in the world who were granted immortality by the gods. The man's name was...Utnapishtim.

Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that all things die; nothing is permanent. When Gilgamesh demands to know how Utnapishtim had been given immortality, Utnapishtim tells him a familiar tale. The gods grew tired of the constant noise mankind made upon the world. The god Enlil decided to wash away all traces of humanity with a great flood. The god Enki secretly warned one man, Utnapishtim, about the coming catastrophe. Enki told Utnapishtim to gather his family, various craftsmen, and a variety of livestock, and construct something to ride out the storm in...an ark.

You see the connection? Ark? Napishtim? I knew that useless knowledge would come in handy someday. :P

Yeah, it sounds very similar to the story of Noah. People believe that either the Noah version was a Hebrewized version of the story in the Epic or that the two stories shared a common origin point.

In case you were wondering, Utnapishtim can't give the secret of immortality, but he does give Gilgamesh a plant that will revive his friend. Unfortunately, a snake comes along and steals it from him as he sleeps. Then he goes home and essentially broods to death. Mesopotamian myths are pretty dreary. :P

Closing Thoughts

And there you are, another Mailbag entry in the bank. I'm looking forward to yet another year of hearing from you fine people. Why don't you take a gander at the new topic while you're here? If you're lazy, I'll summarize: what RPGs are you looking forward to the most this year? I'll be waiting to hear from you.

~ Daniel Stringer (mailbag@rpgfan.com)


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