I have heard it said that the second Digital Devil Saga was rushed. The four hour long final dungeon might be evidence of this, given that the whole game is still only about 25 hours long total. This makes DDS2 only a bit longer than the first one. While DDS2 maintains the solid Press combat system of the first game, in terms of scope and story, it is leaps and bounds more engrossing.
In Digital Devil Saga 1, the player would often find himself wondering what in the blazes could be going on. Each new answer brought with it two or three new questions, making for a veritable hydra of a storyline. While DDS was interesting enough on its own, DDS2 actually does answer all of these questions. It adds a few more at the end, but they are the usual questions one might expect of the genre – “What is the nature of mankind?”, “Where is society headed?”, and “Why did they wait 35 hours to reveal the cat’s name, which was a bad pun/reference anyways?”.
The battle system for DDS2 remains the same as in DDS1, making for the same strategic battles as in its predecessor. The difficulty is higher overall, making this entry somewhat tedious at times. Though I only had to grind at the very end, there were several battles I needed to re-do in order to set up the skills for my characters specifically to combat a few tough bosses. By the end of the game, fights are quite tough and save-points are spread further apart, but the difficulty overall is still tolerable (it feels more “hardcore strategy” than “the game wants to see me die”).
Another way the game increases difficulty in an unexpected way is the restriction of your current party. The first game only offered you your starting three characters for a couple of hours, but after that point you always had four or five party members from which to choose. DDS2 starts off the same way, but after a certain point (around 9-10 hours in) you go down to four party members – then three, and you’re likely forced to use the character who you thought was just comic relief and useless in combat (and unless you’d been giving him skills to level up, you’d be right). While overall this felt like a good way to get people to try new characters, it’s very easy to get screwed by not getting “Shared Karma” (which allows inactive party members to gain experience) for your B-team.
While the battle system is unchanged, the Mantra system for skill learning has been somewhat revamped. Previously it had been a linear system (you would progress through fire skills one by one, for example). In DDS2, it becomes a hex-based system where it is possible to skip the earlier skills in a tree by getting other adjacent ones. I thought this was better overall, and in a sort of revisionist-history since I just now played DDS2, I really wish that FFXII’s License system had been as balanced. By the end of this game, each of my characters had developed a specific subset of the tree. You really can’t have a jack-of-all-trades, since it excludes the possibility of getting better skills in a certain area. The balance here is really great, and it makes the game even more strategic.
There are a couple of complaints I do have about DDS2, despite how entertaining it is. Some parts of the story are inconsistent (where character X tells you that something happened because of Y), though there are good reasons for it (they don’t know what actually happened, but speak as if they did). This had me a little lost for a while. Also, the initial villain is sort of weak and unexplained – it seemed like she had a story, but it was largely shuffled aside in favor of more interesting stuff. This could also be an indicator of shortened development time – they cut out unimportant story in favor of more central elements.
If you played and enjoyed DDS1, I don’t have to tell you to get this game. You will have either gotten it already or be looking for it frantically, given the cliffhanger at the end. If you haven’t played either, I would recommend the series to anyone who enjoys strategic combat, an interesting and remarkably cohesive story, and a decent amount of difficulty. I found it to be a great combination of all three, and I’d love to see more games from Atlus like these.