Intersex Characters in Digital Devil Saga

by guest contributor Katherine O’Kelly

Katherine O’Kelly is a gender egalitarian and science fiction novelist. She specializes in writing non-human protagonists to provide social commentary from the perspective of the “Other”. She’s particularly interested in creating media that validates male submission and female dominance.

(Contains character identity-related spoilers for the Digital Devil Saga games.)

The main party of Digital Devil Saga 1. The leads, Serph (white hair) and Sera (black hair), stand in the center.

The main party of Digital Devil Saga 1. The leads, Serph (white hair) and Sera (black hair), stand in the center.

Atlus’s Digital Devil Saga is an RPG set in a dog-eat-dog post-apocalyptic world where six rival tribes struggle to literally devour one another. Humans transform into monsters and cannibalize their foes, which they believe will allow them to reach Nirvana. The gameplay is quite challenging, a better choice for veteran gamers than those new to the RPG genre. But what pleased me most was that DDS2 has two intersex characters and I can’t think of another game that even has one.

We don’t see much of the mysterious Jenna Angel during the first game. She uses the female pronoun for herself and I assumed her androgynous features were just part of the Japanese art style. In DDS2, we learn that Angel is not only a brilliant lead scientist of the Karma Society, but she is also intersex. Refreshingly, her character doesn’t revolve around her intersex body. It’s only mentioned in passing that she donated both egg and sperm to scientific research, making her both father and mother of another major character. The qualities that do define her character are her scientific brilliance, powerful leadership, and determination to save the world on her own terms. In short, she’s treated like a real character instead of an exotic. She plays the role of antagonist in both games, but her motives are sincere and understandable. She is one of three factions who have different approaches to saving the world from destruction. In that regard, she’s just as “good” as the protagonists. She’s certainly not a two-dimensional mustache-twirler like so many other RPG villains.

Austere head scientist Jenna Angel in her white lab coat.  Her demon form is a distinct duality of black and white, perhaps in reference to her intersex body or her role as antagonist with pure intentions.

Austere head scientist Jenna Angel in her white lab coat. Her demon form is a distinct duality of black and white, perhaps in reference to her intersex body or her role as antagonist with pure intentions.

The second intersex character is made, rather than born, so it would probably be more accurate to describe hir as androgyne. At the end of DDS2, the male protagonist, Serph, and the female lead, Sera, are fused into one dual-sex being by “God.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of Sera and Serph as separate characters at first. Like most Atlus games, Serph’s personality is pretty much a bland, errr, blank slate for players to insert themselves into, but he comes across as more sensitive and sympathetic than “tough guy.” Sera is more of a female stereotype–the woman who cries a lot, constantly needs rescuing, and whose demon form is pink and has frilly fins. Hmm. Not so great.

But when Serph is killed, Sera rises to the challenge of leading the party. She’s the only one in the group who can reverse demon transformation and communicate with “God.” Her role is not just that of a token being shuffled around, but an active role in deciding the fate of the world.

When these two characters fuse into one, I was already rolling my eyes, expecting the male protagonist to subsume his female counterpart and still look male. To my shock, the new dual-sex character looks more like Sera than Serph (the resulting person called “Seraph”) and is voiced by the female voice actor rather than male. I would have liked to see more of a combination of the two sexes, but if one character was to envelop the other, I was shocked and pleased to see that, for once, the woman ends up as the face of the two.

So if you’re an RPG fan who’s looking for a unique plot, strategic turn-based gameplay, and a kickass soundtrack, give this one a try. Be warned though: DDS1 ends abruptly and requires you to play DDS2 to make full sense of the story. I felt the investment of both games were well worth it, but be advised that DDS2 is out of print, and copies are a little expensive and hard to find.

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8 Responses to Intersex Characters in Digital Devil Saga

  1. Hitori says:

    “copies are a little expensive and hard to find.”

    This is not actually completely true. Amazon often has both copies available for a reasonable price. Although I guess that depends on what one considers expensive for a game this age, which I recognize is subjective.

    • I’m glad the market’s looking better right now! At the time I purchased my copy (about 6 months ago) DDS1 was readily available, but DDS2 only had used copies available starting at $75.

      • oliemoon says:

        I read a few weeks ago that the games were reprinted for Amazon. Now I’m thinking maybe I ought to snap them up. Great article and thanks for drawing attention to these two games!

  2. kateri says:

    I picked up both DDS 1 and 2 recently, just on whims, as I found ‘em cheap, so it’s great to hear they have such interesting stuff going on, looking forward to playing now! :)

  3. Alethea says:

    Thank you for writing about this topic and these awesome games. I really love DDS1&2 and I was also fascinated with the characters.

    I also thought that Seraph was a lovely and interesting character in the end. There were a lot of ridiculous transphobic comments about her/him on various game forums. So many ignorant players were completely disgusted with Seraph instead of being intrigued by the character being a great fusion of male and female. I think it made sense that Seraph had Sera’s voice though; Serph was almost entirely voiceless throughout the game and was also a blank slate for Sera. Still, as you pointed out, it’s great that they didn’t have Serph absorb and eclipse Sera.

    I’m probably fangirling a bit, but I really do appreciate the much-deserved coverage of DDS.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback! It’s great to hear from another fan of these games who enjoyed the sex-body-gender themes.

      Good point about Serph’s voice being largely absent; that’s a perfect reason to keep Sera as the voice of Seraph.

      I haven’t looked at any forums or communities for these games, so I thankfully missed the bigoted comments about Seraph. Something tells me these same gamers wouldn’t have been complained in the slightest if Sara’s spirit had been absorbed into Serph’s body and s/he remained fully male, even though that wouldn’t make sense.

  4. Doug S. says:

    When playing the game, I completely missed that comment and had believed that Jenna Angel had an ordinary female body. There were also hints of what may have been a romantic relationship with a male character before the events of the games themselves; Jenna is clearly gendered female even if her body is intersex.

    • Yeah; it’s mentioned so briefly it’s easy to miss, but that’s part of why I like this portrayal. Her character isn’t centered around her intersex body; it’s just one small aspect of an already fully-developed character. I’d love to see more characters like this where it’s mentioned, “By the way, she’s gay” or “By the way, he’s intersex” without that being the central be-all-end-all of the character.

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