The second game in the Megami Tensei series was developed by Atlus and published for the Nintendo Famicom by Namco in 1990. It’s another Japan-only RPG featuring demon-summoning and turn-based combat and is considered by many to be much better than the first game.
Having looked around and finding two English fan translations* available for this game I realised that both were incomplete, but it is still possible to play Megami Tensei II and get a sense of its structure and general quality and playability. And, I have to say, that it looks really good – definitely a step up from the first game.
*= I have seen a third English translation on YouTube that looks even better than the two I played, although there’s no sign of it in the wild yet. I guess we’ll have to wait and see when it emerges.
The first thing I noticed about this game was that the game’s exploration sections – at the beginning of the game at least – are scrolling, overhead mazes, rather than first-person, Dungeon Master-style, tile-based movement affairs. This is a trick, though, and eventually you’ll realise that the game is pulling a fast one on you. After defeating the first boss the viewpoint reverts back to the first-person viewpoint the series is known for. At least for the indoor exploration sections. Going outside changes to an overhead, scrolling viewpoint as you wander from town to town, which was new to the series in this game but would become the standard as it progressed.
Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II, like most JRPGs, is all about random battles and building up your characters through combat. You walk around, triggering battles and destroying demons to earn experience points, money, and a ubiquitous Megami Tensei currency called ‘magnetite’. Magnetite is required for keeping your summoned demons going and is consumed as you walk around.
Thankfully in this second game combat is more refined. It’s much quicker, and less clunky than before. A simple menu system is used for choosing commands for your characters and each person can carry both a sword and a gun, and – if they’re magic users – can also cast a variety of spells that are learned as you progress. There’s an auto battle option, plus four different speeds at which battles can run, which really speeds things up if you want to play fast.
Talking to demons is essential if you want to recruit them to fight for you (necessary at certain points in the game – definitely for boss battles), and the conversation system used to persuade them is more interesting this time around. Not all demons can be recruited, though, and how they react to being spoken to depends on what kind of demon they are, and what phase the moon is in (the game tells you that demons cannot be spoken to during a full moon).
Demon fusing – the process of taking two demons and fusing them into a new, more powerful demon (a staple of the series) – is pretty much the same as previously, but with different visuals. Demons don’t level up during combat in this game (as they do in some of the later games) – you have to fuse them to level them up.
Graphically, Megami Tensei II is much better than the first game. Everything – from the way mazes look to how the demons are drawn – has been improved and it now looks more like a modern video game, rather than a ZX Spectrum or MSX prototype… Combine this with the much improved gameplay and you can see that this game is where the Megami Tensei series really started to take off.
A final word on the two available translations. The first one I played, by Darrman, was the most incomplete, but (in my humble opinion) was a better translation than the one by Dushbadge. The Dushbadge translation uses upper case characters only and uses a strange choice of words for simple commands like “fight” and “summon” (calling them “rush” and “call” instead). The Dushbadge translation has English demon recruitment dialogue (for the most part – some is still incomplete), whereas the Darrman translation doesn’t, which makes it easier to talk to demons and recruit them. There are also more complete sections of quest-based dialogue in the Dushbadge translation patch, which makes understanding quest progression easier. That said: I still prefer the Darrman translation at this point in time, because it uses upper and lower case lettering (much better in my opinion) and also because the terminology used is more appropriate for the game overall. I would really like to see the Darrman translation finished, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. At least for the foreseeable future. Darrman‘s files are on GitHub, and Dushbadge‘s files are on romhacking.net.
A remake of this game, called Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei, with enhanced graphics, sound and gameplay, was released for the Super Nintendo in 1995. It features both the first and second Megami Tensei games on one cartridge, and a complete English fan translation does exist, so if you don’t want to mess around with patch files for this version, then that one might be the one to play for you.