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.

A Thematic Analysis of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Warning: This topic contains immense spoilers for the video game, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and other Shin Megami Tensei games. The main focus will be upon SMT Nocturne but information may verge into comparisons with other SMT games. 

Notable works: SMT Essay by Sam Hatting

This work is a brilliant artistic analysis on the plot, story, and philosophical themes of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. I honestly cannot recommend it enough. The article makes a strong case for the theme and plot of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne being inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche‘s philosophical fantasy novel: Thus Spake; Zarathustra. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne uses the religious themes of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and other religious faiths to create a narrative about the player surpassing all obstacles and following their chosen “Reason” for the sake of their own existence and the world around them.

Key Terms:

Kalpa: Indian Mythology regarding Time

Hito-Shura: The more precise term would be Demi-Asura and not Demi-fiend. Demifiend becoming a “new demon” really meant Demonic God or Demonic Nature Spirit.

God’s wrath and the coming of the Anti-Christ:

Fierce Battle foreshadowing the True Demon Ending of SMT Nocturne. In this specific context, Satan could mean the Devil or the Enemy.

Lucifer and the Lady’s plan as further evidence:

The influence of Zoroastrianism in Nocturne:

Mithra, God of Divine Contracts:

Ahriman, God of Evil:

Ahura Mazda, God of Goodness (skip to 6:09):

Opinion on Demi-fiend:

From what I’ve gathered, the influence of Zoroastrianism and the Anti-Christ are purposefully placed in the game itself. It seems that Atlus Japan noted the ancient hypocrisies of devil worshipers simply being prophets of another God and used it to the full extent. Demi-fiend’s story seems to imply the struggle of the holy prophet of Zoroastrianism, Zoroaster/Zarathustra. However, Atlus is using Zoroastrianism to exemplify the philosophy of Nietzsche based on his philosophical novel. Having read the novel after reading Hatting’s review, I’m inclined to wholeheartedly agree.

The Old and Young woman, Stillness/Loneliness/Strength, Apathy, the destruction of the Manikins for being weak, emptiness, eternal occurrence, surpassing God, and being cursed with a burden are all thoroughly discussed and shown within the aphorisms of Nietzsche’s novel. It isn’t a stretch by any means to say that Atlus was heavily using Nietzsche as a persistent theme in Nocturne. Above all, Nietzsche’s novel is about fulfilling your own self-satisfaction by creating your own meaning in life beyond the strife that you suffer. That’s essentially Nocturne’s main plot and desired goal for most of the endings.

They blend this theme of overcoming and self-surpassing with the religious symbolism and imagery of the Demi-fiend becoming the Anti-Christ for the True Demon Ending. He has accepted Lucifer’s ritual, he will become the black hope of change, and will end the eternal struggle of Law and Chaos.

Opinion upon other characters of the game:

Isamu and Chiaki didn’t join the Demi-fiend and didn’t seek out his protection because they were afraid of his demonic transformation. Think about it from their perspective, they woke-up and were assaulted by demons. Even if they were able to converse with him, how could they know for sure that their former friend wouldn’t go on a murderous killing spree? Demi-fiend wouldn’t even have been able to explain how or why he became that way either. At best, he could say some strange old lady and a young blond kid gave him monstrous power and that would only further put Isamu and Chiaki on edge. There was no way of reconciling this problem either. Chiaki figures it was best to live strongly on her own because she has no other choice in the matter and Isamu just gave-up on believing in other people as a source of hope. Both are lesser known philosophical themes of Nietzsche.

Demi-fiend is taught to give-up on hope from the outside world too. The teacher fails at providing answers and the Demi-fiend can only rely on himself to solve the problems that surround him. The only one who explains anything to him is the Lady in Black. Both she and Lucifer require the Demi-fiend to lack full trust so that the Demi-fiend comes to their side based on his own volition. Kagutsuchi just wants Demi-fiend to pick a Reason and choose a future, Hikawa doesn’t care about the Demi-fiend and just wants his own goal to come to fruition, and the rest of the humans are in a more confused and horrified state than the Demi-fiend himself.
For all those reasons, I don’t think most fans adequately understood the trials that Isamu and Chiaki went through and just why they seemed to go insane for totally justifiable reasons.

Nocturne Drama CD Translation:

The Drama of Nocturne

Notable facts:

– Ryogo, a not-so-close friend of the trio in Nocturne, makes it to the hospital before the apocalypse and was a bullied kid who needed Isamu and Naoki to protect him. He has a crush on Chiaki.

– Isamu notes that Naoki (the Demi-fiend) and Chiaki are very close to becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.

– Naoki states he doesn’t respect the weak and he doesn’t respect bullies. He seems to believe people make their own destiny.

– Ryogo becomes a fiend from Lucifer giving him the demonic parasite just like Naoki in the actual game.

– During a time when Naoki was unconscious in Nocturne, Ryogo, like Naoki, turns into a fiend and attacked Isamu in the hospital. Isamu became wary of trusting anyone after that.

If someone could translate drama CDs 3 and 4, that’d be great. The most I can provide is guesswork. From what I’ve gathered, Kagutsuchi learned that Ryogo was a full fiend from the transformation that Lucifer gave him (not a demi-fiend, a full demon) and decided to kill him while he was still weak. Chiaki, or a hallucination of Chiaki, tells Ryogo about Naoki choosing the True Demon path and Ryogo becomes horrified upon learning of it. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that he thought that he could prevent it.

It seems to imply that Lucifer used Ryogo as a sacrifice so that Kagutsuchi would pay less attention to Naoki. The Pixie from the hospital seems to be implied to have been Ryogo’s.

Let me know what you think of this examination in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.