Excellent RPG in line with the best.
As it turns out, I tried playing Nocturne first and was completely and utterly frustrated at some design choices in the game. Not only that, but the story didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I quit playing it. I decided to give the Shin Megami series a second chance and tried Digital Devil Saga. All of my complaints of the first game were completely addressed in this game.
Let's start with the story. Digital Devil Saga incorporates a very dark story involving demons and human nature and computers into a wonderful package. The strengths of its story not only lie in the huge events that propel it along but also in some subtle areas. Character reactions that seem a bit over the top in the beginning make perfect sense the more you think about it.
Another positive is that you are playing with static characters, humans who can transform into demons. These characters allow more a story format to follow since you have a full party that talks and acts on their own. It's also nice not to have to worry about screwing the characters up (like you could in the fusion system of Nocturne).
And this is a good thing because the combat system in DDS is exactly like in Nocturne. It's based on strength and weaknesses. Every character in the game (save for some bosses) have strengths and weaknesses and it is through manipulating these weaknesses that you can win battles. For instance, if a monster is weak against fire, you want to use fire on him not only to do more damage but to also give you an extra turn to attack. Each character gets one action but by using a weakness, the character only uses 1/2 of their action points. Conversely, enemies can use your weaknesses against you. It's here that you want to combat that. If they use an ability a character is strong against, it takes away their turns. By manipulating strengths and weaknesses, you can control the tide of battle.
I also like what they did with the abilities. Whereas in Nocturne, if you took a new ability you had to effectively forget another ability and it was lost forever, DDS fixes this by allowing you to learn abilities then giving you slots to choose which ones to equip. That way you never fret over having to "forget" an ability which might be the only key to your success later on. It seems like such a small thing, but the ability to customize your characters to battles really helps the game move along.
Speaking of abilities, DDS uses a system much like the sphere grid in FFX. Each character starts with certain abilities already learned from Mantras, and by learning beginning Mantras, you open up paths to bigger and better Mantras. You download Mantras from Terminals for Macha (the monetary system) and by winning battles you gain AP used to learn each Mantra. Afterwards, you can equip learned abilities how you see fit. This gives you a much more rewarding customization option than seen in Nocturne.
The graphic style is also like Nocturne and is real interesting to me. And the art style is also intriguing, the demon designs are inspired, especially the demon you and your friends can turn into. The music is pretty decent (you get the soundtrack album with the purchase) and the voice acting is decent. Once I realized why the characters were over-emphasizing every little emotion they have I appreciated it much more. In the beginning, it is a little jarring because they are talking about emotions in such a heightened, over the top, roll your eyes way. But it's all for a point.
I know that in my review I kept referencing Nocturne. I can't help it. The two games are so intertwined on so many levels that comparisons are impossible to miss. I also bring it up because there might be other players out there like me who couldn't really get into Nocturne and are on the fence with this game because of it. I think if you are new to the Shin Megami Tensei series and want to get your feet wet, try this game before you try (if you even want to try) Nocturne. It is more in line with a traditional RPG format. I will say that DDS is a truly exceptional RPG game with a dark and mature story that brings to life questions about humanity. And it solves all of the problems I had with Nocturne (you can see my review on Nocturne to see what I mean). Not only does it fix problems in Nocturne, but it stands in line with what are considered the pillars of the console RPG community. An excellent adventure with fun gameplay. If you like RPGs you should definitely give this one a try.