Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is widely recognized as one of the best in Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series. It is known for its harsh, unforgiving, and mature atmosphere. The game itself delves into numerous philosophical concepts and demonstrates the desperation of the human mind in dire conditions where survival is crucial. This is an M-rated and mature game so if you have squeamish noisy parents, I don’t recommend purchasing this game. Part of the issue is that this game blatantly expresses religion in an unfavorable manner and among the six different endings; you can decide to go toward two distinct demonic paths.

Plot: Perhaps one of the most enchanting and intriguing plots in any role-playing game, ever. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is a landmark game that reaches into new innovative story elements to create a wondrous experience.

You are a human who has survived the apocalyptic end of the world and you’ve been forced into becoming a half-demon. Your goal? Reshape the world as you see fit by joining a particular philosophical belief system or abandon that to destroy the chance for the world’s rebirth for a different goal.

As you progress through the wasteland of the fallen remains of human civilization, you encounter other survivors who will eventually give you their philosophical doctrines (they’re called “Reasons” in the game) on what they believe to be the ideal utopian vision of what the new world should become. If you agree with their assessments, then new story options are open to you later in the game and you can change which side you choose to defend during different climaxes within the story.

The story itself takes a fairly linear route but you will, in the end, decide on what course of action you will take and whom you wish to side with. The game examines your choices and your ending in the final dungeon will be based on your choices and responses throughout the game. Overall, one of the best experiences that I’ve had.

Gameplay: One of the best turn-based gameplay mechanics ever created.

You, the main character, choose from different “Magatama” which change your stats, strengths and weaknesses, and what skills you can inherit. Story-wise, Magatamas’ are essentially demon cores that you ingest for different skillsets and powers. The game has twenty-five Magatamas in all.

Through the personal selection of skills and stats, that you can choose and boost at your whim, you can create any type of Hero that you like. A magic user, a physical user, or anything in between. It’s wholly up to you. However, once you delete a skill then it is gone forever. The game challenges the player to think carefully about their decisions in choosing stats and skills to maximize the main character’s performance in battle.

Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is the first SMT game to introduce press-turns. These are an innovative gameplay mechanic that gives you an extra turn if you land a critical hit or strike at the weakness of the opposing demon. Conversely, if you strike at one of their strengths then you lose a turn in battle. This holds true for your opponent too. If they strike at one of your strengths then they lose a turn but if they strike at a weakness or gain a critical blow then it can mean game over for you.

Don’t be afraid of receiving game overs. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne has no kiddy-gloves. It is a harsh and thrilling challenge to persevere through. The game pulls no punches and has a steep learning curve but not a horrendous one. You may not think the game is harsh at first if you’re playing on normal difficulty but you’ll realize early on that you need to be prepared once you face a certain surprise boss.

You can customize your party via the recruitment of over a hundred demons and fusing your demons to gain even stronger demons. During your first playthrough, you cannot have a demon stronger than your main character (unless they are one of the special demons that can evolve into another demon). Their skills are randomized so it’s a challenge to get the skills that you will want so that you can obtain the optimal efficiency in battle.

There are moon phases like all Shin Megami Tensei games. During a full moon phase, the game allows you to do special sacrifice fusions which are riskier but yield better rewards and cause demons in random battle to be slightly more punishing in their attacks. Most demons cannot be recruited during the full moon phase.

Remember, the game teaches you to learn and remember the weaknesses of opposing demons. It can be the difference between surviving and getting a game over message in many instances. But honestly, don’t feel overwhelmed by this. Speaking to NPCs and reading the game manual will be enough to get you through most of the challenges as you learn the inner tips and tricks of the game itself.

My overall experience is this gameplay is nothing short of spectacular.

Music: I personally felt that this was one of Shoji Meguro’s best works ever. My favorites consist of the normal battle music and two certain tracks near the end of the game. However, most of the musical scores are just phenomenal regardless. If you’re into Meguro, or into grim-dark guitar and drum battle music, then you’re sure to enjoy this game’s musical composition.

Characters: I honestly and truly believe that they are outstanding characters. They get a lot of hate for either their hypocrisies or extreme views later on as the game progresses but I personally felt that made them seem all the more humane. After all, can you honestly name a human being who hasn’t ever been a hypocrite in their lives? Can you name many who wouldn’t slowly lose their sense of self or their sanity after living through the end of the world and being forced to survive in a world filled with violent demons?

I think that many players became too myopic in their focus of how much of an advantage the Demi-fiend has in being able to fight back against powerful foes compared to two of the other human characters who had to survive whilst living under the constant threat of being killed on a whim by demons they had no chance of fighting back against. You see this in the early portion of the game and closer toward the end too.

It’s a story of tragedy, loss, self-destruction, excessive selfishness, and a proverbial fall from grace. That is why I cherish this game. These characters, their feelings, and their hypocrisies feel realistic.

Side notes:

– Any plotholes that players pick-up on are thoroughly elaborated and explained in the Labyrinth of Amala sidequest which leads to the hardest ending of the game.

– The overall length of the game is around 60-70 hours on your first playthrough. Subsequent playthroughs will probably take 30 hours or less unless you’re choosing to go through the Labyrinth of Amala for the most difficult ending. This is because that particular ending requires you to go through five extra dungeons which are harsh but rewarding experiences.

– Whilst some may find some endings disappointing, I felt that many plainly ignore the philosophical aspects and the story changes that you can choose to undertake if you pick a particular “Reason”.

– Dante from Devil May Cry is in this game and can be recruited very late in the game if you choose to go through the five extra dungeons.

Final Score: 10 out of 10. 10/10.

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