Editor's Note: Digital Devil Saga 2 is a direct sequel. If you have not played the first game, you have been warned that this review contains spoilers for the first game. Read at your own risk.
Humans can never be inferior to their own creations.
The Junkyard is gone. The Embryon have triumphed and entered the fabled world of Nirvana, a land said to be peaceful, unlike the rain-filled world they had just left. A black sun and petrified people destroyed their hopes. The world of Nirvana is a barren, desolate wasteland filled with the corpses of those suffering from Cuvier's Syndrome - those whom the rays of the black sun have touched are turned to stone. Only those whom are able to shift into demons - avatar tuners - are safe from Cuvier's Syndrome. A problem worse than that has befallen our heroes, however. Despite Argilla, Serph, and Gale finding each other, Cielo, Sera and Heat have gone missing. To find them, they head underground, to the city of Lokapala, only to find that Cielo is there but Sera is in the hands of the Karma Society... could it be the same as the Karma Temple?
The story in Digital Devil Saga 2 has more meat than the first game and has a better balance within the dungeons. Because the majority of this game is spent in dungeons as well, story bits will appear constantly. Even if they are not directly relevant to the main story, just having an encounter with an enemy, or a friend, in a dungeon makes the game feel that much more complete. As the story unfolds, some familiar faces from the Junkyard are found, but not exactly in the way that you'd think. Although it's possible to play DigiDevil 2 without touching the first game, as there are flashback scenes near the beginning, some points will be lost without that completion.
Aurally, the game has evolved quite a bit from the first game. The voice acting on the major characters is just as solid as the previous incarnation and most of the minor characters are impressive as well. Although there is some mediocre acting, there's nothing even close to, say, the VA of Farleen from Star Ocean 3. The music from the game is amazingly impressive, even beating out the soundtrack for Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and easily conquering the previous game's OST. The lack of a complete OST is puzzling, but at least those who pre-ordered the game will recieve a partial, 30-track CD. Just about every song fits perfectly in the game and sounds great out of the game, so if you're an OST fan, go bother your local EBGames employee especially hard when you pick up the game.
Although the battle system itself hasn't changed since the first Digital Devil Saga, there have been some additions to our beloved Press Turn System. The most prominent change is the Berserk mode. Much like an ambush or starting a battle in human form, berserk happens randomly. Unlike an ambush, however, berserk form can work to your advantage. If you hit berserk form, you start as a half-demon, unable to keep your power under control. Your attacks and critical rate are boosted by a huge factor, but your defense and accuracy are also lowered. Enemies generally come down in a single hit in berserk mode, but if you go into battle with anything but full health, there's more than a small chance that you won't end that battle alive.
The other big change is in the Mantra Grid. Instead of looking like something akin to Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid, the Mantra Grid now is a series of hexes. When a character masters a particular mantra, they then become able to learn any mantra directly adjacent to it. This means that it's possible for a character to learn, say, Mazan before Zan. A cool little part of the system is that when a combination of characters master mantra surrounding a specific space, they unlock either a special mantra or every character gains an attribute bonus. Some of these unlocked mantra can be extremely important, such as Shared Karma, which allows players to gain experience even if they're not participating in the battle. When the player masters a mantra on the outside of the initally small grid, it expands to encompass another row. This happens two or three times before the grid is fully complete. Players gain Atma Points - AP - and Karma - EXP - in the same way as they did in the first game. Hunt skills are still extremely important to power level mantra, as they allow a single character to absorb a large amount of Atma Points. Another new tool players have at their fingertips is the Karma Ring system. Characters are able to equip accessory-like rings to boost their stats. It doesn't end there, though, as monsters across the world will drop gems that have different effects when plopped inside a ring. Rings won't just do stat-ups, either, as some of them will start you off in a battle with some free buffs or drop enemies with some debuffs. It adds even more depth to the characters, so you won't have the same Serph as your friend.
Most of the skills found in the game were seen in the previous game, but players will find out that none of their skills, spells, or levels transferred over to the world of Nirvana - and with good reason, but I'll leave that for you to find out yourself. Leveling up comes quickly; by a few hours in your characters will be rocking fourth-tier spells and will be at least level 30. Because of the way the Mantra Grid is set up, players won't have the same linear characters that they ended up with in the first game. The addition of a new character, Roland, also allows for a different bit of customization with your characters, particularly against ice-based enemies. Much like the first game, combat is initially difficult, but once you learn enemies' weaknesses, battles progress fairly quickly. Battles are slightly less common than the first game, but the encounter rate is still higher than your average RPG. Because battles move relatively fast with little loading time, the higher encounter rate is a non-issue. Players spend quite a bit of time in dungeons, but because of the frequency of save points, shops in some dungeons, and the ability to teleport between larger save points, the dungeons don't feel quite as long as they are. Again, players will be happy to know that despite the fact that the length of the dungeons is still the same, they are broken up with more story elements than the first game. The game itself is around the length of the first Digital Devil Saga, but, much like the first title, there are a grip of secret bosses for you to take down.
The control in Digital Devil Saga 2 is identical to that in the first game, but I didn't find myself cancelling with triangle and going headfirst into the battle like the first game. Be it from learning from the first game or otherwise, the control in DDS2 did nothing to make me angry like the first game. Players are able to do most everything with ease, and Field Hunts are just as easy to do as they were in the first game.
Graphically, Digital Devil Saga 2 is nearly identical to its predecessor, although the environments have seen a boost outside the cold world of the Junkyard. Character designs are still excellent, and all of the characters' berserk forms look absolutely stunning.
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 is easily the finest game I've had a chance to play this year and stands to be one of the great games of this generation. DDS2's superb graphics, magnificent aural pieces, excellent, fleshed out story, and better balance makes Digital Devil Saga 1 - and just about every other game this year - look like child's play. Serph and company's tale of struggle, intrigue, and betrayal is what many RPG fans have been waiting for - an RPG that's not only out of the ordinary like the first Digital Devil Saga, but brings together all of the elements that they remember games in like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger. This game is not built for the casual gamer, but if you have the blood of a true RPGFan running through your veins, you simply must pick up this game.