Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2
Publisher
Atlus Co.
Developer
Atlus Co.
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes
 
Grade
The Good

• Wonderful artistic style and ambiance
• Soundtrack is great
• In-battle negotiations provides a nice addition
• Tons of customization

The Bad

• Brutal challenge will turn off most
• Minimalist story and combat options

 
Grade
A-

The world comes to an end and you have no clichéd way to stop it. Even though you may come to terms with that concept, the story behind Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne will continue to twist and turn before your eyes. Set in modern day Tokyo, players are faced with the end of the world and it's demonic rebirth. The only humans left alive are a few who were within a downtown hospital at the time of the end. Before long, the main character is transformed and given demonic powers and let loose into the world that may resemble his own, but is noticeably different in many ways.

While the Shin Megami Tensei series has been hugely popular in Japan, it really has never seen much interest (and with due reason) in North America. Because of this, some RPGers may find the storytelling and gameplay approach a bit different. In fact, they both feel noticeably "old school" as both are stripped down to the bone and adorned with enough depth to make them interesting and enjoyable. Those spoiled by other Japanese role playing games may fine that lack of cutscenes every few minutes disturbing, but if you let yourself get into the game, you'll find a unique experience.

The core of SMT:N is a Japanese RPG at heart, with the player talking to NPCs, walking around various locations to reach other areas or perform certain actions, all the while getting into random battles. In battle, things play out much like every other turn based affair, but with some noticeable differences that good gamers will be sure to take note of. You can have up to four people in your party, which means that your side can initially attack four times each turn, using physical attacks or magic of one kind or another. Where things differ is that if you exploit an enemy's weakness, you gain another turn (up to four). On the flip side, though, if you strike them where they're strongest, it'll cost you dearly. This variation allows for some strategy in what attacks to perform and even when to skip an ally's turn in battle.

During battle, you'll have the option to talk with your enemies. How you conversation goes will effect whether they will join you, leave the battle or even give you items. You may think that having your enemies joining you doesn't sound too enticing, but the further into the game you get, the more you will need the help of even the ugliest demon. And, you can always sacrifice your demons to make other demons. In this process, the skills and spells the new demon earns is randomly taken from the pool of the two demons you will be giving up. While this may seem a brutal choice to perform, you'll unfortunately have to do this to get far in the game.

For the main character, learning powers and earning skills is all about the Megatama you equip. You can only equip one at a time and it affects the property of your skills and attacks, but when you hit certain levels, you learn new abilities. The drawback? You can only have eight at any time, so you'll have to dump other skills to add new ones. This brutal choice forces players to have good demon allies around to cover any holes in ability that the main character won't be able to get.

When viewing the graphics, one has realize that the graphics are not all about pushing out high polygon counts or excessive use of effects. Instead, SMT:N features an artistic style and ambiance that proves to be second to none. This artistic style is carried over well with the almost barren cell-shaded style of the graphics, which help deliver a dark, post-apocalyptic world. Before too long, you'll be consumed in the game world as the graphics do a wonderful job with the game's ambiance, despite being overly impressive on a technical scale. There are some issues with stiff character animations and the monsters designs range from amazingly unique to just plain oddball. When it comes down to it though, the character and monster design is a refreshing change from the standard.

Audiowise, SMT:N is a dark, desperate performance. For those spoiled by the likes of Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga, the complete lack of voiceovers may seem like a step back, but I honestly found it refreshing as I didn't have some misguided voice over ruining a mood well established by a soundtrack that's ominous and intimidating. The soundtrack runs a fair range between hauntingly reserved techno/industrial to hard rocking themes which, along with the ambient sound effects, flesh out a very morbid game world.

A review of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne can't go by without mentioning the difficulty level that the game presents. SMT:N is brutally challenging. So much so that the casual gamer will not get far before giving up. Even those who are dedicated to a challenge may be disheartened as an unfortunate bit of luck finds their party decimated at the hands of even the lowliest random encounters. And then there's the boss fights, where only through planning and analyzing what the bosses are weak and strong to will get you through.

I will have to say that as entrancing as the gameworld and artistic style that SMT:N presents the player is, the game itself is sure to turn some people off by its nature alone. Strip the combat down to it's core and you'll find the same "Select Attack or Magic X 1000" found in every game in the genre. The problem is that there isn't much stripping down to do to get to that realization. Also, the game does not lead people around by the nose, which will cause some people to wander about until they stumble upon their next goal. If there was even a game where you needed a walkthrough or strategy guide, this is it.

I really loved Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne for it's ability to draw my into its gameworld both with it's style and audio portions. The gameplay is pure "old school" and makes no apologies for it. Without a doubt, this is a "Love It or Hate It" game. If you can weather a challenge, then be sure to invest in this title.

- - Kinderfeld

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