Throwin' shapes and improvisin' like a motherbitch

Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne

By S.A. Renegade on September 2, 2008 in Reviews

Final verdict: S
Final playtime: 128 hours

Yo. So I decided to re-replay this game again along with some friends who had never played it before (one of them Shepton). That’s why I’m reviewing it. Yes, I know the game is old, but fuck you, there are some things that need to be said. And I’m saying them right here and now for the sake of justice.

Nocturne is a niche game not liked/played by the overwhelming majority of the planet, and I’m here to explain why the planet is made out of shit eating dickheads with no taste and why Nocturne is the single best game in the history of humanity.

Where to start? This game is so unbelievably awesome I don’t even know how to-

Ok, let’s see. First of all, it’s a JRPG. The best genre and the only one with a chance of becoming my favorite game. No, that’s not up for debate, shut the fuck up already and let me talk.

Let’s start with something simple so you can see how great Nocturne is in almost every area. The graphics. Certainly, not a technical achievement even by that time’s standards. But who gives a crap about advanced graphics? Jackasses, that’s who. No, the important thing when it comes to a game’s graphics is artistic direction. And here Nocturne excels, thanks to the work of my dog Kazuma Kaneko’s character designs. Ok no, I lie. He is not really my dog. But he is one awesome artist. Same goes for the environments. Not sure if he had a hand in them too. Probably though, considering he was the creative director. But yeah. And of course, the setting. Excellent as well. Post apocalyptic Tokyo. Why have a boring medieval setting or what have you when you can have this?

In a related topic, let me throw my next praise at the protagonist’s design. The Hitoshura. In my mind, a good protagonist is a very important part of a game. After all, who wants to play as a faggot? Nobody. The Hitoshura is an awesome character who manages to look innocent but badass at the same time. Everything about him is very well done, which isn’t such an easy feat considering he’s naked except for a pair of shoes and hulk shorts. His posture, his badass looking animations on his stronger attacks, the horn on the back of his neck, the way his badass demonic tattoos give off a dim eerie glow when he’s in a dark place, the way he looks thin, frail, and weak, but at the same time his body language and especially his eyes exude a subtle confidence and strength. And so it should, as he is probably the most powerful being in the world. In short, I fucking love the Hitoshura. He is one of the few silent protagonists I love. Why be a little faggot like Link when you can be the Hitoshura? Yes, that’s right, I just dissed Link. Eat me, Gamefaqs.

Next on my list of why Nocturne is better than your soul, is the music. I mean come on, how many different battle themes does this game have? I don’t even know for sure but it’s like ten, and they’re all awesome. But it’s not just the battle themes, the music all around is great, from the intro themes to the dungeons. Oh, and speaking of which, this leads me straight into another reason why I’m a raving Nocturne fan boy: the intro, like with all SMTs, is badass. I watch it every time I turn on the game.

But now that we’ve gotten some of the fluff, or trimmings, out of the way, let’s get into the real meat of why you should throw wads of cash at Atlus for making this game.

Nocturne might have countless things it does well, but the star of the show is obviously the gameplay. That’s right. Let’s face it, this here is the best RPG battle system ever conceived. Shut up. You’re not allowed to disagree. But what’s even more amazing, is how the brilliance of the battle system is complemented by the game’s difficulty. I’ll say it right now, this ain’t yo grandma’s RPG. This game isn’t afraid to kick your ass. It is tough, and unfriendly. Just for reference, I’m talking about Hard mode here. Though Normal is definitely no pushover if you’re a beginner. I’ve probably died over a hundred times per play through on hard mode. That is a LOT for an rpg.

This is an important point because the difficulty is a crucial component of this game’s appeal to me. Nocturne demands that you care. It demands effort from you. You can’t halfass this game and hope you’ll get lucky and win. You need to care, to learn everything, to build every advantage, to think. I’m not just talking about bosses here. Every random battle in this game is potentially dangerous. This isn’t Final Fantasy where you can just use whatever and plow through enemies. In this game you have to think a tiny bit about what you’re doing. And this brings us back to the battle system. If you use whatever attack you want, you’ll most likely get your ass kicked, suffer, have a hard time, and or die. A turn in this battle system can be long or short depending on whether you know what you’re doing or not. Things like getting criticals, hitting an enemy in their weakness, or passing without doing anything uses up less of the turn than normal. Things like missing or using attacks the enemy is strong against use up more of the turn than normal. I’m oversimplifying too much but you get the idea. I really don’t feel like going into a detailed explanation of how it works. Basically, if you use the right attacks you will be able to do more things per turn, and if you do the wrong things, you will be able to do less. Sometimes a single wrong attack can effectively forfeit the turn for your entire party.

Ever played an RPG where every fight is just choosing attack over and over? Or maybe just spamming all-hitting-super-attack#47? Maybe heal every now and then? Yeah, aren’t those kinda crappy? But in this one you have to keep your eye on the ball a little bit more than usual. Do the wrong things, and you will have slow, painful, arduous fights that will have you begging for mercy. But do the right things, and you will have fast, smooth, streamlined fights, oftentimes defeating enemies on the first turn before they get a chance to hurt you. This game punishes people who are too lazy to learn and make an effort to play effectively. But if you are willing to care, and play right, it rewards you greatly. I find this to be absolutely beautiful. This makes it so that strategy is very important. It doesn’t matter how much you level. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will still lose.

Now let me make an aside, and praise yet another thing about the gameplay. The demon system. Your party members in this game are all demons that you recruit or create yourself. It’s basically a rip off of Pokemon (yes, yes, I know Pokemon probably ripped someone ELSE off, I really don’t care) but it’s even better than Pokemon. Instead of cute critters, you have over a hundred demons from real world mythologies that you can recruit in battle to join you or create yourself through a great demon fusion system that I don’t feel like explaining. But what I find to be brilliant about this Pokemon rip off, is that you grow and level at twice the speed that your demons do. That means that your demons are useful for a while, but quickly fall behind to the point of becoming obsolete. This means that you have to fuse your demons and constantly replace them with more powerful ones the higher in level you get. However, demons you create can inherit skills and attacks from the demons you fused, so you can keep the good skills that you want. This means that through fusion, you can create any demon you want with any set of skills you want (with some limitations, of course). I find this to be brilliant. In Pokemon, you got 2-6 pokemon, and had to stick with them for the entire game. Forget the other 144. Or wait, how many is it these days? 600? I don’t even know anymore, fuck pokemon with a rusty pole. 150 for life. But in this game, you actually have to keep changing your party and using a wide variety of demons. That’s way better than having to stick to a handful for the entire game! See, Nocturne beat Pokemon at its own game.

Let’s quickly jump back to what I was saying before I started talking about the demons. Strategy is vitally important in this game, but that doesn’t mean leveling is useless. Quite the opposite. A problem in RPGs is giving the player incentive to fight through the thousands of random encounters he’ll…uh…encounter. Again, the beautiful difficulty is a key factor in solving this problem. You know the game is hard, and so it feels like every battle is worth fighting to get the exp you need to survive. There have been games that are so easy, that I hated the random encounters because it felt like it didn’t matter how much or how little you fought, you were going to win anyway. This doesn’t happen here. But exp isn’t the only incentive you have for fighting! As another side effect of the difficulty, shit in this game is HELL of expensive. And that’s how it should be. I hate games where you can buy everything easily and then you get stuck with tons of cash that you don’t know what to do with anymore. Money should be scarce. You should always be in need of it, because it gives you a second incentive to fight battles. And two incentives are better than one.

That’s not all though. Another great thing about the leveling system is how the game makes it so you’re always looking forward to your next level up. Ever played any of those rpgs where the level ups just come at you and you don’t even notice? Yeah, fuck ’em. Bad design. Leveling is important in rpgs. It shouldn’t be something that just happens in the background. Even small things that make it have a bit more significance make a difference. Like letting you choose which stat to increase upon level up. Is that anything special? No. Is it unique? No. Does it work? Yes. Nocturne adds something else on top of this though. The fact that you can learn a new skill almost every single time you level. Not to mention your level dictates which demons you can recruit or fuse. Like I said, a game should strive to make the player look forward to the next level. To top it off, the leveling speed in Nocturne is just about perfect. It’s actually pretty fast. I always find myself thinking “man, it’ll take forever to get to level x” but then I find it actually didn’t take very long. If that isn’t enough, there’s a skill that streamlines leveling by not only increasing encounter rate, but also by making new batches of enemies appear without the current fight ending.

That’s enough about that though. What’s next? Right, the story. Some people care about that. Surprisingly for an RPG, the gameplay is so great that it manages to trump the story and become the star of the show. But that doesn’t mean the story in Nocturne isn’t great. Too bad I can’t just leave it at that. Explaining something like how the story works isn’t all that easy. But hey, relax. I’m not gonna talk about the actual plot.

Let’s see. Obviously, a game needs to tell its player what to do, and the player must obey. That’s the way it is. But people like having choices. They like to make decisions, and they like their decisions to affect the game world. But letting the player make choices that impact the progression of the story in a meaningful way without wasting a colossal amount of resources is almost impossible. Think of it this way: a designer creates two dungeons. Let’s say the player is given a storyline choice, and that choice dictates which dungeon he’ll go to. Assuming the difference in the dungeons isn’t something retarded like a palette swap, this is an incredible waste of resources. The player will not see one of the dungeons. Was giving the player a meaningful plot choice worth having him miss out on something as important as an entire dungeon? The answer is fuck no, bitch.

And that’s a pretty big problem with no easy solution. Different games try to address it in different ways. For example, we have the famous Oblivion solution: make every quest so generic, every place so bland, and every dungeon so randomly generated, that you waste almost no resources and give the player countless choices. Nevermind the fact that it doesn’t matter what the player chooses to do, it’ll still be more boring than an evening with grandma. At least he has choices!

Nocturne chooses to be more sensible. It accepts that, for a game to be good, it must force the player to go through what the designers have created. There’s no way around this. At least not until someone comes up with a revolutionary idea, which I highly doubt. There is no perfect solution, you have to compromise, and it’s always better to lean on the side of less choice. But like I was saying, Nocturne chooses the more sensible approach. The classic multiple endings approach. Here’s the deal: the game has six different endings, and the ending you get is determined by your choices in the game. Not that you didn’t already know that. All other consequences of your choices are small stuff like bosses.

Well no. I lie. There is a dungeon that is entirely optional, which I’ll talk about in a bit. Thing is, this dungeon is so important gameplay and plot-wise, it’s so crucial to the game, that not doing it is almost like not playing the game. This is why, to me, Nocturne, rather than giving choice, gives something more like the illusion of choice. And this is important, because real choice can’t be provided without sacrificing quality, but at the same time, there is potential in the emotions evoked by these, and if at least some of that potential can be tapped by decidedly false choices, why not go for it? After all, what matters isn’t always what is but what is perceived. Or is that how it always is? Maybe there is no objective reality.

Hahaha, just kidding. Of course there is an objective reality. And that’s whatever I say. You can take my word as law. Gospel. Axioms. Everything I say is the stone cold objective truth, bitches. So BEST RECOGNIZE!

Uh… what was I talking about again? Oh yeah. Worshipping Nocturne. Well, let me say that Nocturne does not commit the crime its close cousin Persona 3 does of having randomly generated dungeons. Just another point in its favor. But while we’re on the subject of dungeons, we can’t skip over one of the most important things the game has to offer: The Labyrinth of Amala. This is the crucial dungeon I mentioned earlier. And it’s not just any old dungeon. It is the very best dungeon in the history of best dungeons. The Labyrinth of Amala is so brilliantly designed, that Nocturne wouldn’t be what it is without it. In fact, it’s the best part in the entire game. Check it:

-It’s ridiculously long, but broken up into five floors, each of which only becomes accessible after defeating certain bosses in the main game. This means that you never get tired of it, as the dungeon is broken up into segments. You literally start the dungeon near the beginning of the game, and don’t complete it until near the end of it.

-Every floor is visually different. That means that, in a way, you get a kind of visual reward upon progression.

-The music is fucking awesome. But that’s not all. As you go deeper into the dungeon, the music gets incrementally better. For example, when you go down a floor, a drum beat gets added to the music. Then another time you go down, a sort of pipe instrument gets added to it, and so on. This means that, in a way, you get a kind of auditory reward upon progression.

-It’s technically optional, but at the same time, intimately linked with the game’s story. So much so, that I’d go as far as saying that if you didn’t do it, you haven’t actually played Nocturne. This means two things: the developers can cram all their resources into creating this amazing dungeon, with the knowledge that only faggots who don’t deserve to live anyway would forego doing it, while at the same time, the sensible people have the knowledge that they could have technically joined the faggot camp, giving their forays into the Labyrinth of Amala a certain sense of importance and choice, illusory though it may be. This sense is further expanded by the fact that throughout the dungeon, you are repeatedly warned by god not to proceed.

-This sense of importance surrounding the Labyrinth of Amala is another crucial component in its design. The place is inherently mysterious. It makes you want to explore every nook and cranny. It makes you ask “what exactly is this place?” “What secrets lie deep within, and why is god so set on impeding my progress in it?”

-Throughout the dungeon, there are many snippets of information you can gather about the story and the game world. But that’s not all. Upon the completion of every floor, you get rewarded by an awesome and massively important plot exposition. This means that you get a narrative reward upon progression.

-It is home to the most awesome boss fights in the game, complete with their own unique badass boss music.

-It allows you to get the best demons for your party.

-It’s hard. The enemies in the Labyrinth of Amala tend to be harder than anything else in the game, and as we all know, challenge = good.

So yeah. I’ve probably rambled on for long enough, but I’ve covered a lot of the reasons why Nocturne is the best game that ever was, is, and probably ever will be. Only gay nazi communists would disagree. I literally bought two copies. Seriously people, this game is better than first, second, and quite possibly even third base. Oh, screw it. This thing’s better than a home run. I sleep with it every night. I guarantee that it’s better than sex. Oh wait, I wouldn’t know. I MEAN WAIT WHAT NO YES I’M AWESOME THE LADIES ARE ALL OVER ME!

Final Verdict: S

Final Playtime: 128 hours

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