Review by NinjaZidt
"It just goes to show: Not all games are designed for everybody."
The first things that come to when somebody mentions an RPG are: great storyline, superb graphics, memorable characters, grand worlds, and turn-based gameplay. Now, I realize that I'm overgeneralizing, but it's probably due to the fact that I grew up with games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy that follows a similar formula of style in terms of RPGs. In recent times, my perspective on RPGs have changed. Graphics are still are the forefront due to the fact that our newer gaming systems could process it all, and storylines, though they've lost their luster and spark in recent years, continue to remain strong as usual.
The same can't be said for the gameplay, however. Though turn-based gameplay for RPGs remain popular, they're making way for different types of gameplay. Games like Kingdom Hearts and Star Ocean have incorporated real-time gameplay in order to create a masterful blend of action and RPG elements. Borderlands, Mass Effect, Fable, and Fallout 3 present the Western RPG, focusing on character customization and giving players greater freedom on how they play their games. The point is, recent RPGs have broken the standing archetype, and the genre had grown to evolve into one that incorporates many different elements that contributes to the same "Role-Playing Experience."
Now, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, on first sight, looked like a traditional RPG with a few extra twists on the side. The game reintroduces turn-based battle, has an interesting plot, and is a relatively well-know franchise know for its rather controversial themes. As a avid fan of the traditional RPG gameplay, I had high expectation: Nothing could possibly go wrong that could turn me off from this game. If it had all the essentials, then playing this game should be a relatively fun experience.
I certainly wasn't wrong. The story was the first thing that intrigued me: Unlike other plotlines, the enemy actually win to begin with. Before you could do anything, whatever the hell you're fighting against already destroyed the world. Literally. If that didn't put a damper on you, you learn that the whole world is infested with monsters, and since you're not a magical warrior but rather a normal, teenage smuck, you're practically screwed.
Well, at least you would've been if the short, mysterious blond kid accompanied by a freakish old hag didn't cram a bug into your eye.
With that said, you are now a demon, so you're now able to fend for yourself, unlike most other human survivors on the face of the planet. You also have the ability the control other demons and have them fight alongside you.
Hear that? There are no concrete party members. Your team consists of you and three other demons with their own individual stats, skills, and so forth. If you want to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, you'll have to ensure that your demons are top notch, have the best skills, have the least amounts of weaknesses, and onwards. This contributes to some of the most interesting gameplay experiences ever: you have total freedom on how you customize your team. New demons could be obtained through the "Talk" command, in which you'll engage in a conversation with an enemy demon and attempt to convince them to join your team (Only if they're alone, though, and you may need to answer some questions, pay money, give items, etc. before they'll conform). After that, at the Cathedral of Shadows, you can fuse different demons together to get a different result with different skills. It's all a matter of climbing up the power tower and making your demons as strong as they could get.
On that note, you also have the power to customize your own character. With the different Magatamas out there (eye-crawling bugs), you can learn a variety of new skills of your choosing. Every time you level up, you may get skill points to distribute. Want a pure physical fighter? Put points in strength and give him the necessary skills. Want a magic user? Give him points in magic and let him have spells. Want an all-around support ground? Give him plenty of boosting/debilitating skills.
With your team of superbly powerful demons, you travel across the continent, trying to determine what the hell is going on and what the fate of the world is from here on out.
Sounds interesting? Unfortunately, the game didn't seem to flesh out as well as you would hope it would be. Sure, demon creation is quite possibly the best part of the game, but it doesn't at all make up for the variety of problems in this game that makes it, well, less fun.
As I've said before, this game is turn-based, with an interesting twist to it. The game takes turns switching between the enemy's side and the player's side. Each side gets a certain number of press-turns, or actions that an individual can make, per side. When all the press-turns are gone, the game switches to the other side. It is possible to obtain more press-turns, however: By getting a critical or striking a weakness, you can get more turns to act upon. However, if you miss an attack, you'll lose press-turns.
Every action uses a press-turn, and depending on the speed of the demons, a certain order will be established beforehand. Each demon takes their turn acting.
Outside of the battle system, you're given an overworld map to traverse across, where random encounters are abundant. Depending on your objective, you're making your way towards different sites of interest, where you'll be pulled into a building, tower, dungeon, cavern, station still crawling with monsters.
Here's the first problem: the random encounters. The game tends to be absolutely merciless at times with random encounters. Maybe it's just my bad luck, but encounters are frequent, made worse by the humongous dungeons you're forced to crawl through. The way the dungeons are designed make this even worse: Every now and then you'll encounter a puzzle that, should you fail it, you'll get knocked back a few floors and you'll have to travel through them again. The game is intentionally acknowledging that their encounters suck and will make you suffer for it. Because of how these dungeons are set up, getting through them could take some trial-and-error. And trial-and-error is really not appreciated when you'll literally get attacked every three to five steps, if you're unlucky. After a while, this gets extremely tedious, and while the battles are particularly hard, they'll slowly wittle you down.
So that's particularly frustrating. But that's not all: when it comes to the boss battles, the game will continually punish you. It's not the fact that they're particularly difficult (They are), it's that you will often have to watch a long cutscene before the battle. Should you lose, you'll have to watch the whole damn thing again. I don't understand what Atlus thought it was a good idea to leave out a "Skip cutscene" option, but it only makes the game more annoying that in should be.
Graphics aren't anything to write home about, but though they're neither impressive nor impressive, they lack a certain "feel" that keeps you being truly immersed in the game. Perhaps it's a theme in the game, but everything seems so static and unmoving. Characters move woodenly and stiffly, and at best they seem like lifeless dolls. It is until late in the game will you see some truly epic scenes that really enthrall you and pull you in.
And the sounds! Oh, God, the sounds! They's hardly any. Granted, the battle music is some of the most unique and interesting tracks I've heard from video games yet, but they're not mind-blowingly awesome in any way. And outside of battle, all you get it ambient silence. Again, it's probably the point that Atlus was trying to make, but the game suddenly feels dull without anything to occupy you, the completely opposite of what Atlus was trying to do. With no music, no sounds, and no voice acting of any kind, the game slows down to a crawl, and it doesn't feel at all exciting.
Overall, the stilted movements, the lack of sound, the constant random encounters make this game, I'll be frank, rather boring. After about forty to fifty of trudging thorough this dreary gameplay, I had little will left. The game had so much potential: the demon fusing concept was fantastic and brilliant, but when it was surrounded by these myriad of problems, it doesn't seem quite as fun as it should be.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/11
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (US, 10/12/04)
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