This is the very first Megami Tensei game, released for the Nintendo Famicom in 1987, and it looks very basic compared to later Megami Tensei games, but was the foundation on which a successful series was built.
Based on a trilogy of fantasy novels by Japanese author Aya Nishitani, Megami Tensei was originally created as TWO distinct role-playing games. One version (this game) was developed by Atlus and published by Namco in 1987 for the Famicom. A separate version for home computers was co-developed by Atlus and Telenet Japan and published by Telenet Japan the same year.
The original game was never officially released in the West due to its use of religious themes, and Nintendo‘s sensitivity to them, but an English fan translation does exist that can be applied as a ROM hack.
Digital Devil Story establishes many of the features of the Megami Tensei series, in particular: demon recruitment and summoning via a COMP (computer); demon fusion; use of magnetite; first-person exploration; turn-based combat; use of lunar cycles, and various types of magic.
You start off with two characters, Nakajima and Yumiko, who you must build up so that they can venture further into the lower levels of a dungeon, and also so that they can summon demons to fight for them. Nakajima is the physical guy and Yumiko is the spellcaster so it’s better to put experience points into the appropriate skills for their specialities (you can choose between Strength, Wisdom, Attack, Agility, and Luck).
At first you won’t have enough money to summon demons so Nakajima and Yukiko have to do all the fighting by themselves. When you reach level ten you should then be able to fuse your first useful demons and venture into the bottom level of the initial dungeon, to fight (and hopefully defeat) the first boss: the Minotauros.
Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei is a relatively difficult game to get into, but fairly rewarding – if you’re willing to put the effort in. The first set of mazes are confusing enough (even with the simple on-screen automapper), and by the time you reach the second set of mazes you’re going to be in for a tough time without a set of maps. Either ones you’ve made yourself, or maps found online.
Visually, the game is very basic, but adequate enough for this kind of role-playing. Sound-wise, there’s not much to it apart from some simple music and spot effects. As a challenge, though, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei is long and absorbing, and is worth playing if you’re a fan of the Megami Tensei series. If you’re not a fan of the Megami Tensei series then it might be too archaic and difficult to bother with.
An enhanced port of Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, called Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei, was released for the Super Famicom by Opera House in 1995. This version might be worth playing if you find this original Famicom version to be too simple. It has enhanced graphics and sound and features the first and second games combined into one release.