Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne - Review  

If this were D&D, it'd be Dungeons & Demons.
by Brian "Choco" Hagen

Hard to VERY Hard
40-80 hours


Rating definitions 

   Atlus always seems to surprise people with their game releases. Ranging from the really wacky RPGs to "pro" fishing, they have always released a colorful array of games. Their most recent PS2 release throws a different sort of wacky twist into their current catalogue of games. When it comes to dark and "mature" themes, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne leads other attempts by a large margin.

   This is the type of RPG where one actually plays as the character. That is, one's character and his persona (a pun that at least a few have to get!) are formed through dialogue selections throughout the game. The main character, hereafter referred to as 'you', doesn't talk at all except for the things choosen for him to say. That makes Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne more true to the nature of role playing games. Your decisions throughout the game shape what world you decide to create in the end, so be careful what you choose.

Caption In truth, some of that blood on the floor might be your own.

   You start out in modern day Tokyo. But after a series of events that will not be told here, you witnesses an event called "The Conception." You wake up after this event to find your appearance drastically changed. What's more is that your surroundings have changed quite a lot. You're still in Tokyo, but now it's a post-apocalyptic inner-sphere version of Tokyo where all life is situated around the bright, shining "thing" at the center of that sphere: the "Kagutsuchi". Your mission: Find out what's going on, and solve things from there.

   SMT:N's mature themes are one of the things that really sets it apart from the pack. Don't play this game near a Christian church, kids, as this game is literally demonic. But the Japanese view of demon-kind in this game is different from what you'll find in other "civilized" societies. The demons in this game are more of a collection of races, each with their own worldview and moral convictions. Even "angels" and "divine" beings in this game have been put into the "demon" category. Perhaps the flaw here is the use of the word "demon" instead of the classic Greek "daemon", which refers to inferior divinities, evil spirits, and pretty much any being between gods and mortals(though "demon" and "daemon" are exactly the same in definition, so everything here is technically in order). In fact, all the d(a)emons in this game seem to be based off of existing mythological and historical beings from all over the world. Since most of these beings have negative connotations attached to them here in the western world, those who are at least not curious as to the origins of these beings have the potential of being repulsed by this and all other Megami Tensei games.

Caption Welcome, slave.

   The premise of the game is simple, really. The events that happen from then on are also pretty simple. SMT:N is not exactly storyline heavy, but it also doesn't lack a good story. The open-endedness of your adventure really makes this game fun, but some of that fun can be ruined if the proper steps aren't taken. The game takes a lot of time to go from start to finish, and with tons of extra stuff to do like getting all five endings and exploring the Labyrinth of Amala, one might be interested in playing the game all over again just to do these optional things. Knowing when to save at the right time so the player can change the outcome to whatever you wish is the key, a piece of information that be found on the internet somewhere.

   It is impossible to judge the game's graphics properly by just looking at the screenshots on this page or on our official game page. Not even a low resolution movie could do this game justice. The graphics aren't technically advanced when it comes to modern day standards, really. Atlus's incredible use of style over hardware-intensive textures effects and high polygon models has created some awesome results, though. Colors that blend together artistically, shadowing and shading similar to cel-shading(but still retaining their own fresh feel), a steady framerate, and frame blending that creates a motion blur effect that doesn't hurt the eyes create a lot of this game's style. On PS2 hardware, it's really hard imagine how this game could have looked any better and still have run as well as it does. SMT:N gets top marks in the graphical category because of all of this.

   The control scheme of the game has no flaws. With the exception of a very few areas that have fixed camera angles, the player has complete control over the camera at all times. Camera control hardly gets annoying, either, since there are really no parts of the game that require masterful camera control. The addition of being able to move your head in various directions for a better view of your surroundings is unnecessary to gameplay; but is a nice addition to get entranced by some of the wonderful structural design in the game. Also, since the battles are turn-based, control mastery is simple because things are much less hectic than, say, many previous Final Fantasy games and their "real-time turn-based" systems.
Caption Whoever made this mess should clean it up.

   As for gameplay, well... it is certain that this game is not for everyone. If the Pokémon capture and evolve system never was fun to the player, they may not be interested in this game at all. But if Pokémon was too childish, too easy, and its system wasn't deep enough for the player, SMT:N is perhaps THE game for them. The objective of gameplay isn't necessarily to catch and collect all the demons available, though. While you can keep a catalogue of all the demons you've captured, evolved, or attained through merging demons at a Cathedral of Shadows, the true point of the capture/evolve/merging system is to prepare you for the battles ahead. This is necessary because your character levels up about twice as fast as your demon pals. All demons, then, need to be leveled up as far as you wish for the following reasons: (1) Every level up, your demons gain a specific skill, and when merging demons together, one or two of each demon's skills get transferred over to the newly created demon depending on how much the demon has been leveled up. (2) Some demons evolve into much more powerful ones if you gain all their skills. It's even possible for these evolved demons to top your character's level, if only for a short while. These evolved demons are not attainable in any other way. (3) Come on, now. If a demon is going to be of any use to you, it needs to be decently powerful and have useful skills. Don't just keep merging demons, or you'll never gain a decent array of skills at your disposal.

   There is another portion of gameplay that should be discussed, and that's demon negotiation. Inside of battle, you have the ability to "talk" to other demons, potentially recruiting them to your cause for a price consisting of items, money, or life energy(Hit Points). One can also really flesh out their ingame personality and respond to their morality-based questions in kind. When the demons ask these sorts of questions, answering contrary to their own opinions almost assuredly ruins any chance of recruiting them, but there are some strange exceptions to that. Your other demons can also participate in negotiations using their learned "seduce", "pester", "nag", etc. skills. There might be some complaints that the negotiation system has been dumbed down from the Persona games Atlus has released in the past, but with so much other demon management things to keep up with, the simplicity of the current negotiation system is definitely welcome.

Caption And yet magic still works!

   And so we arrive at the battle system. One will be battling a LOT in this game. Like most other RPG battle systems, enemies have their own strengths, weaknesses, etc. Atlus just decided to make things a lot more complex and a lot harder in the process. Instead of the common earth, water, fire, and air elements, SMT:N have the following: electricity, force, ice, fire, death, expel, physical, status, curse, and finally ALMIGHTY-type attacks. Different enemies could have pretty much any combination of strengths or weaknesses from these types of attacks, including weakness, resistance, nullification, or absorption. Before explaining the effects of attacking weaknesses or strengths, though, the action point(AP) system of the game must be explained. Each demon on your team in battle gives one action point for the player's turns(maximum of four demons at a time, thus maximum of four AP a round). By passing on a character who has a full AP to use, the point(shown at the top of the screen) will start blinking, showing that it's a half of an AP. You can attack normally with a half of an AP, but any action, including passing again, will use the AP. One can use this to their advantage by skipping demons who won't be useful that round in favour of others. Furthermore, attacking a weak spot of an enemy uses only half of an AP instead of a full one, making knowing enemy weaknesses a must for winning tough battles. On the more painful side, missing an attack or attacking a demon who can void/nullify that kind of attack wastes two AP. Even more painfully, having an attack absorbed results in complete loss of your turn, making an mistakes potentially fatal. Except for passing to save AP, all of the enemies can do exactly the same things to the player's party, creating a potentially tough balance between enemy and the player. Also, there are a bloody huge amount of skills in this game to gain, so choose wisely as one must discard one of their eight skills to learn a new one. Overall, the battle system is very deep and rarely boring.

Caption There's no doubt.

   Musically, the game is filled with dark and/or hard electronica and rock tracks on the big side, and anywhere from relaxing to downright creepy softer tracks on the smaller side. There is some music one might call bright and/or hopeful, but there's not too much of that. The darkness in most of the music lends itself to the game very well. On the negative side, the sound quality of the music in battles isn't nearly as crisp as it is on the CD soundtrack. That's really the only gripe one can have about the ingame soundtrack, though. There's very little voice acting in the game aside from the things demons say, scream, or grunt inside of battle, but what little there is is very mixed. It's difficult to tell if some of the acting was originally in English or localized that way. Sound effects are sharp and convincing, giving the feeling that the player is really doing or taking damage while in battle.

   SMT:N is damn hard. By the end of the game, it's very possible the game timer will be above the fifty hour mark, and one's demons will be over level 70. This makes the game much more an endurance test or a challenge than a laid-back treat for a mild gamer RPGamer. The satisfaction here is actually making it to the end and overcoming everything inbetween instead of a huge spectacular ending where the world is saved and some people live happily ever after. The story, while very interesting, can really be overlooked entirely without losing very much of the game. This is another reason why the game is definitely not for everyone. It's a different experience from most RPGs, and is very fulfilling if you have the right mindset about it. It would probably we wise to try this game before purchasing it(if there are even any copies left). For people who go in to the experience with the right frame of mind, though, they will definitely get their money's worth.

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