Review by Apollocub
"Now, speaking of challenge..."
The Megaten Series has gathered a cult following over in Japan for the last decade or so. The United States has seen a few of these games, including Persona, Persona 2, Nocturne, and Digital Devil Saga. Shin Megami Tensei :Nocturne is actually SMT3 in Japan, and the United States version is actually the "Maniacs" version in Japan.
The US Version includes a massive optional dungeon, about 15 or more extra optional bosses, 2 difficulty levels, over a dozen new demons that can join your party, and a secret final boss which harnesses a secret ending. (By the way, the "Hard" Difficulty in America is actually the "Normal" Difficulty in Japan.)
The game can take anywhere from 45 to 99 hours to finish, depending on how you want to go about playing the game. If you don't do any of the sidequests and do not enter the optional dungeon (The Labyrinth of Amala), the game will probably take you close to 50 hours. If you finish the Labyrinth of Amala, get all of the Magatama, complete the Demon Compendium, Get the 4 or 5 major secret items, and fight all of the extra bosses, it could take 80-99+ hours to finish the game.
There are 6 endings, depending on what decisions you make at critical points interspersed throughout the game.
There are over 180 demons in the game.
There are a total of 25 Magatama (that includes the Final Secret Magatama).
You are The Protagonist, a silent boy with 2 best friends and a mentor teacher, all of which play crucial roles as the game goes on. In the beginning of the game, you witness the Conception, which in essence is the Apocalypse and the Rebirth at the same time. The world ends, and is born anew with several major powers/authorities trying to dictate how the new world will turn out. You are one of these people. It is ultimately up to you as to how the world will turn out in the end.
You, your two best friends, a news reporter, your teacher, and a cult leader seem to be the only human survivors. You, however, are born half-demon. You have the strength to ingest insects called "Magatama" that teach you skills and offer different resistances and stats depending on which one you ingest. As you grow stronger, you can control stronger and stronger demons to fight alongside you in battle. This is where the game begins.
There are so many things to cover that I'll have to divide them into sections...
Battle: The battle system is simple, yet effective. Like most RPGs, the battle system is turn-based. The game uses the "Press Turn Icon" System. During the battle, the top right hand corner has either a series of blue symbols, or a series of red symbols. The number of symbols represents how many turns you have. For each action your party takes, one of the symbols disappears. Once all of the symbols disappear, it becomes the enemy's turn (this applies identically to enemy parties). The blue symbols are you and your allies, the red are your enemy's.
There are several ways to gain or lose more than one turn icon at a time. One way to keep a turn icon instead of using it is to take advantage of the enemy's weakness(es). If you hit them with an element or an attack they are weak to, using that action will not take up a press turn icon, thus giving you more turns. The same happens when you deal a critical strike. The enemies can do the same to you, so keep that in mind. You lose extra turn icons if the enemy voids, repels, or drains an attack. You also lose an extra turn icon if the enemy dodges an attack. During battle, you must always think about what skills you are using. Without doing so, any random battle can turn into a disaster.
There are many different kinds of skills to be used in battle. There are magic skills (of which there are about a dozen different categories) that use MP, physical skills that use HP, conversational skills (more on that later), and the protagonist can also use items and summon and recall demons from your party.
Ah yes, during battle your party consists of your recruited demons. They have both physical and magic skills, but cannot summon other demons or use any items.
And finally, upon hitting "Triangle", the party will automatically (and quite quickly) just use physical attacks over and over until you hit "Triangle" again. This is very useful against weaker enemies.
At the end of the battle, your party gains experience (which levels them up in power after you gain a certain amount), money, and treasures.
Battles are quick-paced and fun. I personally didn't find them repetitive at all! MUCH strategy is required in the boss battles, making the game much more interesting. It's not a mindless hack and slash Final Fantasy... doing so will often lead you to a Game Over.
Magatama: Magatama are the little insects that you can ingest in order to learn skills and gain different resistances. You can find them throughout the game, and collect up to 25 different magatama (the 24 normal magatama, and the 25th secret one).
Once you level up, your Magatama will teach you a new skill. You have the option to discard the skill, or to discard another skill in its place if your skill slots are full. You can only have up to 8 skills at a time, and once you discard a skill, you can never get it back. So choose your skills with much caution and thought.
If you are not a high enough level, you will not learn some skills until you reach the required level.
Magatama have different effects on your statistics as well. Each magatama will add different points to different statistic areas, such as strength or magic. Some add no points to certain stats, some add points to all stats. It all depends on the magatama.
Finally, magatama are what make you strong to different elements and attacks, and weaker to others. For instance, if you are going against a fire-themed boss, you would ingest a magatama that indiciates it is resistant to fire in some way. That way, your protagonist will be resistant to all fire attacks, thus making the boss battle much easier. The downside is that if you ingest a fire-themed magatama, chances are your weakness will be ice.
The magatama system works incredibly well, and allows utmost customization of your character. It's genius, really. It allows for much strategy in battle. Unfortunately, you need to be CAREFUL. It's sometimes hard to tell which skills will be crucial in the end of the game and which skills are essentially useless. However, after about 10 hours of playtime, it's easy to identify which skills are useful and which aren't.
Demons: Demons can either be fused in the Cathedral of Shadows, or recruited using conversational skills during battle. Demons will often negotiate for cash and items, or ask you questions to see if you are worthy of their presence.
In the Cathedral of Shadows, you can choose two demons to combine in order to "fuse" one resulting demon. Fusing demons is CRUCIAL! Seeing as how demons require about 150% of the experience you need to level up, you will grow far ahead of your demons fairly quickly. You must constantly fuse stronger and stronger demons in order for you to have a consistently strong and effective party.
The resulting demon is often stronger than the previous two demons that you fused. It also carries over some of the skills from the 2 fused demons. However, these skills are random. In order to not inherit the useless skills, you should reselect and reselect the fusion options until the resulting demon will show to have the skills you desire. Keeping the useful skills is essential to survival through the game.
On a Full Kagatsuchi (an explanation of Kagatsuchi can be found throughout the FAQs and the game manual), you can sacrifice a third demon for their experience points in order to make the resulting fusion even stronger. However, you cannot fuse a demon that is higher than you in level. You "can't control" the demon otherwise.
Deathstones are used in order to fuse Fiends. Fiends are optional bosses found throughout the game that are directly linked to the Labyrinth of Amala. These demons have the most important resistances (ailments, expel, and death resistances), and are remarkably powerful. Deathstones are found in the Labyrinth of Amala; once a deathstone is used for one Fiend Fusion, you must find another one in order to perform another Fiend Fusion.
In the Demonic Compendium, you can "register" your demons so you can summon them again later (however, this is a REALLY expensive habit).
The conversation system can be frustrating, because half of the time demons won't join you no matter how much money you give them, or no matter how many items you give them as well. About 50 percent of them literally call you a "loser" and walk away from the battle, with both your items and your money. However, if one is persistent, one can always find a way to get the demon to join you.
However, the fusion system completely counteracts the necessity of actually using the recruited demons. By about half way through the game, you'll find yourself recruiting every demon you can just to see what kind of fusions you can come up with. Fusions are often much more powerful than the available recruitable demons. The fusion system inevitably allows you to create practically god-like demons, with amazing skills and amazing resistances. It's a great idea, and I should hope to see it again in the Megaten series.
Levelling Up: Upon gaining a level, you are told to add one point to one of your statistics (Strength, Vitality, Magic, Luck, and Agility). Again, this allows for even more personal customization.
As you can probably tell, the gameplay is quite deep and can be very addicting. I found myself powerleveling through the game so I could make stronger and more bizarre fusions for myself. The fusion system is ADDICTING and does not let you go!
Medium-Insane. The game's difficulty is adjustable, but many found that even on normal mode the game can be quite difficult. You always have to think about everything that you do. Many bosses take multiple tries to find otu how to exploit their weaknesses. Many bosses even repel physical attacks, making your normal attack essentially useless. It takes a lot of experimenting to get down to the pattern of a boss's demise, at times. The first fiend in particular gives almost everyone a run for life.
The puzzles aren't as challenging as one might expect them to be. Most dungeons can be completed with lots of wandering around and patience. The map option in dungeons actually helps a lot with remember where you are going and which areas have warp points, and such.
My main complaint with the game's difficulty is that without a guide, much of the game's direction seems vague. I had to consult to a FAQ about 4 or 5 times to find out what I was supposed to do next. Granted, you can run all over the place for hints, but that takes much time and much patience.
The game uses a cel-shading engine for its character models and a somewhat normal 3D engine for the environments. The graphics are simple, but they fit the atmosphere perfectly. The cel shading isn't bright or colorful, it's dark, washed out, and quite gloomy. The spell effects are not overdone, nor is the character animation. It's all about the style that the art directors had in mind, and in my opinion, it works.
The soundtrack is a love it or hate it. It's somewhat simple, with nothing amazing or memorable, but again, it works. It has electro-rock beats with some hints of organ music and latin chanting. It's well-composed, but no masterpiece.
The sound effects are decent, but nothing special. There is no voice acting whatsoever.
There IS a NewGame+ feature... but I won't reveal the secrets to you. If you have the patience to go through such a long and challenging game again, then it's totally for you. There are 6 different endings, so I'd think that's an incentive to go for it at least one more time.
SMT-N is definitely not for everyone. The storyline is dark and religiously controversial, and there are scenes that some would consider to be disturbing. It's rated "M" for a reason. For the heavily (read-conservatively) religious and the faint of heart and the weak stomachs, this game is SO not for you.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/05/05
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