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