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.)
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.
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.