January 30, 2015

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensi - Ranking

Story & World

No one expects a dungeon crawler to have a deep storyline and immersive world, but that's not going to get Megami Tensei any pity points.  I will give it credit for doing a better job of it than Wizardry, certainly in the NPC department.  There are lots of quirky characters, just hanging out in their single tile rooms, ready to drop either a knowledge bomb on dat ass or spew useless musings.  The most important part of the dungeon design is whether or not it's fun to explore and MegaTen excels here.  Backtracking is never painful due to plentiful shortcuts and an elevator that unlocks in each area after the boss has been beaten.  6/20

Character Development

Every level sees the two human characters gaining a single point to add to either vitality, intelligence, strength, speed, or luck.  The choices are somewhat obvious as the male lead can't cast spells but I sunk a bunch into intelligence for myself because me aren't no dummy.  Significantly more important than stat gains are the levels themselves.  Level thresholds need to be attained before being able to recruit more powerful slaves... er, I mean friendly demonic companions.  The constant swapping between the four slots reserved for demons really gives the whole party a modular feel.  I'm going to date myself here by making an analogy to Voltron, with Gumdrop and I being the head/torso and our limbs being the various demons.  Playing this game made me think about Voltron quite a bit and I already think about Voltron all the time.

Progression of equipment followed a fairly linear path, with most upgrades being no-brainers.  However, some of the weapons had potential for multiple strikes while having lower damage than a contemporary counterpart.  Too bad I just applied my mad math skillz and chose the weapon which would dish the most damage over time.  Consumables are standard fare, duplicating certain spells and replenishing health and magic points.  One nice touch was jewels that can be found (never purchased) that completely heal a character or demon.  I tend to horde such precious shinies, which came in very handy in the battle against Lucifer.  13/20

Combat & Monsters

Initially I was quite taken with the chaotic shitstorm that is combat; I felt that I was less controlling the demons and more... unleashing them.  As the game progressed, however, it became more of an annoyance as the novelty wore off and my gamer mindset took over.  I still enjoyed the large scale random encounters with seven or eight opponents, knowing that the lack of targeting had a huge impact on the difficulty in this range.  Not only is the damage spread out amongst them, but going up against an oct-cannon of group-attacking spellcasters is going to at least ensure plenty of MP being spent on healing (we won't even mention the level-drainers).

Since most demons come with their own spells, the player really has quite a few options available during combat and doesn't have to rely solely on the babe for all their spell casting needs.  Unfortunately, a good chunk of demon spells perform poorly due to a number of factors, such a low intelligence or just being outdated right from when the demon is first acquired.

Monsters were ripped from all kinds of mythos as well as a hefty amount of originals.  One never knows what will pop up when exploring a new level or fusing some demons together.  The computer that summons and stores the demons also comes with an analyzer that shows a demon's stats but only after being in combat with one.  This made it easy to determine what demons to recruit and whether or not they could even be recruited at all.  A little too easy, in my opinion, and I ignored it for most of the game, preferring to engage in the dialogue choices.  10/20

Graphics & Sound

Beautiful wall textures make the eternal exploring a might bit easier and the monster sprites are reasonably well done.  An interesting visual for most of the sprites is this cool strobe effect going on somewhere on the demon (usually the eyes or its weapon).  It's a small touch but really gives the sprites some distinction in addition to looking badass.

Almost all the tracks in the game are excellent and never failed to pump, pump, pump me up!  Unfortunately, while each track rocks in its own right, the transition from one to another is not smooth at all and quite jarring.  16/20

Gameplay

Having two economies (macca and magnetite) to manage was simultaneously interesting and annoying.  It's a cool idea to have a mechanic in place in order to deter grinding experience and money but ends up becoming just another resource to grind on (I'm not sure if I'm complaining here or not).  The macca economy is balanced nicely for most of the game and even in the late game, macca can be exchanged for magnetite or expensive HP and MP replenishers (which restore hardly anything, making it even more costly).

Replayability really depends on how much one likes playing with the demons.  For me, the demons don't function differently enough (as compared to the classes in Wizardry) to really warrant it.  New demonic acquisitions drop off significantly as the end of the game approaches, due to the high number of unrecruitable evil demons; fusion likewise slows down considerably because of this.

Like most crawlers that came out after Wizardry, the parallels in design are numerous.  From the group combat to the unlockable elevators to the pit traps and spinner tiles, Megami Tensi plays very much like Wizardry except that it doesn't hate your fucking guts.  For example, the usually hella irritating spinner tiles are often put in places where there is complete asymmetry in the surrounding area, making it quite easy to reorient oneself (and even if this wasn't the case, the automap can always be used).  This game would serve nicely as babby's first dungeon crawler instead of trying to cut one's teeth on the mean ol' granddaddy of the genre.  15/20

Final Ranking:  60/100

January 26, 2015

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei - End Game

Digital Devil Story is a lot like the Wizardry series in many ways, including the number of posts that get done for each game.  The lack of story and repetitious nature of gameplay severely limits the amount of content that I can make fun of... er, I mean rationally discuss.

Neener-neener, rational pumpkin eater.

Getting access to the floating city of Bien proved to be a little strenuous as guards wouldn't let us enter.  They were having issues with a Ms. Medusa who was having a good time turning people to stone (hellooo Boss #2).  One of the guards, Gar, would allow us access if we retrieved his shield for him.  Figuring we'd stumble upon it eventually (since we explore every tile), we pressed forward and ran into a wall of difficulty that had me reminiscing back to the days of ye ole Wizardry.  The problem lay in the magnetite; there wasn't enough of it to go around.  If I kept my bestest monsies out in the field, the drain would be too much for my cheap ass to handle.  On the other hand, if I reduced magnetite usage by keeping my big guns stored away, we'd get served during battle.  Keep in mind that most of the demons I'm using are the same ones that we're fighting against.  A single random encounter can bring as many as eight foes versus our six.  It probably didn't help that my demon morale was at an all-time low due to my constant berating of their abilities and stupid faces.  I would often compare this batch of new demons to the previous, far more awesome, group of demons.  Gone were the days of deep philosophical discussion as the entire party fought battle after battle in a heavy silence.  I tried talking with Gumdrop but her mouth was stuffed with dark chocolate 98% of the time.  Our only hope was to get me to a high enough level to allow for the fusion of some really great demons.  We'd also need to find a magnetite source and exploit the heck out of it.  Both of these required heavy grinding but I tried to get a little exploration done as well.  Gummers had picked up a warp spell, so the party could push further ahead without having to worry so much.  I was just thinking about how much pain and suffering I was going to deliver to Medusa for all of this when...

Med... ummm... me-Medusa?

Yep, I had bumbled across Loki, aka Boss #3.  In our confusion, Loki had his way with most of us but we managed to just barely get a victory in.  Unfortunately, on the same turn we killed him, Gumdrop fell prey to Loki's vicious claws.  After looking up into the sky, fists clenched, and screeching one of my best "NOOOOOOOOOes!", I decided then and there to commit seppuku and invoke my protagonist-death-equals-reset rule.  And it wasn't just about her losing out on the 10K+ experience that Loki gives, but it was mostly about that.  Well, this little run-in showed why I was having such a difficult time in this area.  Backtracking, I picked up Gar's shield at the tower of Daedalus in a location directly referenced to by a NPC.

Huh?  The ceiling?  You must some
kind of crazy person.  Ignored.

Seriously, I did check out the area one level about this guy (I'm not that stuppit) and, at the time, there was just a pile of old weapons and armour.  Gar's shield only appeared there after talking with Gar and it was this pile of armaments that I had forgotten about.  But it's not my fault!™  It's this damn remake's fault.  You see, while normally I'd be using grid paper to map and note areas of interest, this remake includes an auto-mapper which only shows major locations (stairs, elevators, healers, fusion dudes).  I did take screenshots of some areas in a lazy attempt to mark them for later exploration, but I only started doing that after Daedalus tower.

Don't judge me!  You'd do the same!

Finally getting access to Bien, the exploration was swift and sure due to the overpowered nature of the party (I even had to cut the number of demons down from 4 to 2).  Medusa was no match for us and, after destroying her, the city changed back to normal and a recreation area opened up.  Recreation in DDS means gambling on pure luck-based games.  With macca to spare, I tried my hand at the ol' one-armed bandits, each spin costing 50 macca.  Many of the symbols on the reels matched the fantasy atmosphere of the game: demon heads, swords, rings, and orbs.  I managed to get three orbs in a row a bunch of times and was "rewarded" with a measly 200 macca.  It was obvious that the orbs were the just the base payout symbol.  However, the other symbols intrigued me and I envisioned getting a rare demon or powerful sword if I could just get them to match.  Thousands of macca later...

Well, fuck me running.

Things went smoothly after Bien until reaching the Sea of Flames, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Every step damages everybody for one point, ensuring a constant drain on healing resources.  Luckily, or perhaps I should say "Of course", there were healers and shops kickin' around in the burning wastelands, so it was manageable.  Another boon of this area was a magnetite dealer who only appeared in one spot every half-moon phase.  This guy actually made sense being here; I can only assume that all these demons we've been murdering also need magnetite to exist.

Is this shit uncut?  Cuz I gots burned last time, yo.

NPCs in the area had been talking about the legendary arms and I had already found the armour portions and just needed the sword, Hinokagutsuchi.  One NPC told me that the sword could be found in "a place that I know well".  I thought he meant the casino so I went back and spent thousands more macca attempting to get three swords, with predictable results (note: star symbols are wild).

Ugh, what comes after fuck me running?

I wasn't far off, however, as it was in the city of Bien.  I just needed the assistance of a demon in a bottle named Ruth that I had recently acquired.  She can detect hidden doors and I had noted some suspicious places in previously explored locations.  With her aid, I gained the fabled sword of legend and then was immediately disappointed after comparing it against my current sword, which did slightly less damage but had more chances to hit.

There's a reason they don't
design real swords like this.

The final two areas were thankfully free of flames but dreaded level-drainers became more frequent, forcing the use of attack magic to get them beat ASAP.  Even if a level did get drained, it wasn't such a big deal at this point; I was high enough level to command the most powerful demons I was able to fuse.  How powerful were said demons?

EVEN THE GODS THEMSELVES BEND
TO WILL OF NUNG!  Bwahahahahaha!

One might be wondering why I included a mere werewolf amongst such divine royalty.  Well, that humble little fur-face was of great help for those random encounters where there are 6+ opponents.  Wolfie's Roar ability has a decent chance of paralyzing most or all foes when used in combat.  That is, when he decides to use it (i.e. not freakin' often enough).  But when it does go down, it makes the remaining battle a cinch.  I had a similar experience happen early on in the game with Cerberus (who also had the roar ability).  I kept both these howlers around far longer than their stats should dictate otherwise purely because of this special ability.  The same thing happened in the early game with demons who could heal, but after macca became less of a problem, I could just summon a healer outside of combat, use up its MP, and send it on back (yes, you have to pay macca each time you summon a demon).  At any rate, these powerhouses helped us push through the final tower until we were just outside the door to the final boss.  The only problem was that there were unresolved quests in previous areas.  There was an elevator that I hadn't unlocked which meant there was an undefeated boss somewhere.  I had found the trapped goddess Izanami but had not figured out how to release her.

Replace Izanami with every woman
in my life (before the wife).

Did I really want to go back and tie up these loose ends?  I looked at my demonic posse and got nothing but a bunch of shrugs so we decided to just screw it and fight Lucifer.  If we had missed something crucial to defeating him, I'm sure we'd find out soon enough.  The battle was a tough one but it did seem like we were inflicting damage.  Since I had all the big guns out, Gumdrop was the only healer in the group, which she had to do every turn since Lucifer's melee attack hit everyone in the party for massive damage.  Fortunately, my horde of healing items gave us a bonus healer, though it meant me giving up a turn to attack (only Gums and I can use items).  There were a few dicey situations where Lucifer's constant pummelling almost got one of us but we managed to recover nicely.  Eventually the embodiment of pure evil fell to our mighty blows of righteousness.

"All I ever wanted was a huuuuuggggg..."

With his death, Izanami's soul still gets released so I guess I didn't have anything to worry about.  As part of his dying speech, Lucifer tells us to remain ever vigilant for there is still a demon more powerful than he.  The game ends with the most breathtaking end screen I have ever seen before fading to "However..." and then immediately kicking into the intro of Megami Tensei 2, which I'll do after completing a few other games first.  Hopefully, the bonus content that's unlocked by completing the first game isn't reliant on me releasing Izanami on my own.