Today's generation of gamers are spoiled by the rapid advancements in technology. In order for a game to be worth purchasing it must have ultra-realistic graphics and a countless number of advanced controls. So what does Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne bring to the table? Anime-inspired visuals! Been there. Turn-based battle system! Done that. So what's appealing about the game? Even though Megaten, as known in gaming circles, follows the mold of most classical console RPG, Atlus manages to develop yet another diamond in the rough. This Japanese import proves that a game's entertainment value cannot be based on its appearances.
The first 30 to 45 minutes of Megaten are very basic, almost to the point where you want to stop playing and return the game. This is simply because none of the menus are available to you at first. The developers utilize this time to provide elements of a story that will unfold according to the choices you make during the game. Set in the modern city of Tokyo, you play an unnamed student on your way to visit your teacher at the Shinjuku Hospital. A series of random events lead you to discover that the world will enter a renaissance and that you will be one of the survivors of the old world who will shape the future of the new world. However, in order for the rebirth to occur, the world must first face judgment day. This doomsday, known as 'The Conception', is the backdrop to a game that combines a conventional battle system with intriguing characters and a wealth of other unique gameplay options.
The battles are turn-based, meaning that you and your enemies alternate turns and attacks without an allotted time limit per turn. Although this archaic battle system lacks the intensity apparent in real-time battles, it does not take away from the overall game. Through a concept called the 'press turn' system, you can lose turns by whiffing on attacks and gain extra turns by stunning your enemies with critical hits or by exploiting their weaknesses. This leads us to what should be your main area of concern in terms of strategizing for battles.
Although there are no weapons of any sort in the game, all the characters have distinctive attacks and spells, along with susceptibilities and strong suits according to their elemental class. For example, an ice-class demon will suffer severe injuries from fire attacks; on the contrary, ice attacks will either replenish the health of your character or be nullified. The battles are testing if you do not prepare properly, which means that RPG players who enjoy mindlessly leveling-up and plowing through the game will not fare so well in Megaten. You must learn the strengths and weaknesses of the different characters and their elemental classes, be shrewd about teammate selection, and attack according to the information you have gathered. However, the art of war does not stop there.
The lack of weapons to equip was offset by an alternate combat/weapon structure. By ingesting demonic parasites, known as Magatama, your character will attain an elemental affinity unique to that Magatama along with corresponding special attributes and attacks. However, none of the other demons in the game have this ability so you will have to do some clever recruiting and fuse certain demons together to attain characters with the elemental affinity you desire. It is rather simple once you learn each character?s elemental affinities. The hard part is that when you first enter a new area, there is no way for you to know the elemental properties of the demons; as a result, you will have to do some trial and error and strategize accordingly.
One notion of the game that is similar to the Pokemon RPG games is the ability for your protagonist to recruit enemies to fight for your team. You cannot recruit demons of a higher level and sometimes they will not understand your language. However, if you do encounter an enemy willing to negotiate, they will demand money, items, or health in exchange for their services. Occasionally these demons will ask you a philosophical question. Depending on whether or not your answer is in accord with their views, the demon will join you, give you an item, or simply leave.
As your monsters progresses and earns more experience, their form and abilities evolve as well. However, it takes a long time to level-up your characters and with only eight available slots for recruits, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the fusion process. Fusion is very practical because it allows you to free up slots for new recruits by merging two of the weaker members of your party. The result is a higher-level demon of a specific elemental class with the combined powers of its predecessors. This allows you to generate characters with specific elemental properties to battle certain bosses. Many times your fusion will produce a monster which you will only encounter later in the game or even some that you may not have otherwise encountered. With the numerous demons available in the game, you would think that keeping track of the possible fusions would be mind-boggling. Fortunately you can see the resulting demon's new elemental property and attributes before fusing, eliminating almost all the guesswork.
The movie sequences in Megaten are impressive and work themselves seamlessly into the game. The post-apocalyptic environments and futuristic touches, while lacking in detail, provide an intriguing setting for your protagonist and demons to do battle in. The different races and character designs are also very unique as you will surely notice the Japanese anime-inspired graphics, which are achieved through the process of cel-shading. The demons are somewhat polygonal in shape and rather peculiar-looking; nonetheless, they are still very appealing as you will find yourself searching incessantly for new demons to recruit and fuse together. The possibilities are nearly endless between these two gameplay options and will definitely keep you busy for a while.
One nouveau-feature present in many of today's RPGs but absent from Megaten is voice-acting. However, even though reading is required during movie sequences, it does not ruin the fluidity of the game. While it may not win any awards, the soundtrack effectively sets the mood for various game-situations ranging from heavy-metal rock tracks that accompany fight sequences to jazzy melodic scores to supplement more emotional or dramatic scenes. Even the sound effects for each character?s commands are very fitting, with pixies that giggle and reptilian creatures that croak.
The controls are functional and the simple interface follows the traditional theme. The menus are well organized, easy to navigate, and will surely be nostalgic for those who enjoy the user-friendly interfaces of typical 90s console RPGs. My only complaint would be that it is difficult running in a straight line by using the right analog stick to control your movements and the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons to adjust your camera view. It would have been nice if the camera automatically followed behind your character, even though the controls become second nature after several hours of playing.
Though Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne lacks an extraordinary story and more developed characters, the game still provides more than 50 hours of solid gameplay. Yes, the uninspiring graphics, ancient battle system, and absence of voice-acting may lead people to believe that this game should have been released in the mid-90s. However, the overall classical presentation and countless gameplay options, not to mention the lightning-quick load times, more than compensate for this. There are also six possible endings, numerous side-quests, and tons of other goodies to discover, all of which add to the replay value of Megaten. The ultimate fate of new-Tokyo and every soul within it lies in the decisions you make throughout the game. Will you support a Utopia where every individual believes in equality and pursues happiness? Or will you lean towards a Darwin-inspired world where might makes right? The choice is yours.
For more information on Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and other great Atlus titles, visit www.atlus.com/smt/main.html