Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II

In Japan in 1987, Namco released the very first installment of its long-running Megami Tensei series for the Famicom (the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America), although gamers outside the franchise’s motherland wouldn’t see a game in the series, let alone a mainline installment, for nearly a decade. North American gamers too missed out on the first sequel in the series, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II, also released on the Famicom and like its predecessor ahead of its time with a monster-collecting focus, and towards the end of the sixteen-bit era an enhanced remake part of the collection Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei saw its release on the Super Famicom, too remaining in Japan, and a good game North American players missed out on.

The sequel opens a few decades after nuclear doomsday decimates the world and opens up a gate into the netherworld, with the player initially playing what seems to be a top-down version of the original Digital Devil Story, although the action eventually regresses back to real-life, with the male protagonist and his friend exploring post-doomsday Tokyo, a woman ultimately coming between the hero and his friend. The narrative is a slight improvement over its predecessor’s, with some occasional variations and different endings (and luckily, especially if the player is using a guide, they don’t have to play through the whole game twice just to see them), but is thinly dispersed, and lacks clear direction.

The gameplay, fortunately, is on par with its predecessor, largely being the same mechanically, except for the apparent inclusion of higher-level monsters the player can potentially fuse, and the two human characters the player has at one time able to fight with melee weapons or firearms. The protagonist can negotiate with enemies to get them to join, although since some seem to have a habit of bailing out when they’ve paid money, using the intimidate option is usually preferable and has a decent chance of working, with failure meaning all monsters of the same type will attack the player before they have a chance to input commands or retry negotiation.

The biggest issue with combat is the late-game expense of some of the stronger equipment, with gear upgrades being generally cost-prohibitive beforehand, although there are many occasions where monsters drop weapons better than any purchased from shops. There’s also the matter of the inconsistent encounter rate, which can stem to really high, especially when passing through doorways in dungeons, to minimal at best, although if the player has a demon of an encountered type, they can talk, except during full moons, their way out of combat. Despite these issues, combat serves the game well, with the auto mode making fights with weaker foes go by quickly.

The game superficially interfaces well with the player, since the menus are easy to navigate and automaps can be helpful, although there are issues such as the lack of direction at many points on how to advance, with the collection of certain MacGuffins being necessary early on, the lack of indicators of weapon and armor strength when changing gear, the lack of descriptions for spells, and so on.

As with the first game, music is the high point, with a nice variety of tracks, some from the sequel’s predecessor, among the highlights of the soundtrack being the overworld theme for the netherworld.

The graphics also look nice, with a wider variety of demon designs (albeit with some palette swaps), nice overworlds indicative of post-doomsday Japan and Hell, and so on, but fights remain first-person.

Finally, given the lack of in-game time, total playtime is indeterminate, although the second game is much longer than its predecessor.

Overall, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II is for the most part a worthwhile sequel that was well ahead of its time during its original incarnation’s release, given factors such as its demon-collecting and fusion systems, the solid audio, the pretty visuals, and so forth. There are issues such as a lack of in-game direction on how to advance the primary plotline, which itself is thinly spread out, and the lack of replayability (given that the player can possibly see both endings in a single playthrough), although those who enjoyed the first game will likely enjoy its successor, which in Japan was an important milestone in the history of roleplaying games.

The Good:
+Fast and enjoyable battle and monster collecting/fusion systems.
+Nice soundtrack.
+Good visuals.

The Bad:
-Parts are hard without a walkthrough.
-Story thinly spread out.
-Little replayability.

The Bottom Line:
A good sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Super Famicom
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: No in-game clock.

Overall: 7.5/10

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