The Life Demonic

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, among the most sought-after PS2 games, was recently reprinted. This means that you can get a new copy for about $40 as opposed to $200. Take a look at amazon.com or play-asia.com if you’re interested. I have no idea how long these reprints will be available.

Before you plunk down $40 just because it’s rare, I’ll talk a bit about the game.

Nocturne is the third game in the Shin Megami Tensei series, and the first to have a North American release. The story is completely stand-alone. The game takes place in near-future Tokyo, and the world ends about 10 minutes after you start playing.

You awaken in post-apocalyptic Tokyo retaining your human heart/soul, but with the body of a demon. Demon is not used in the strictly Christian sense, but as a collective term for all creatures in the game which come from various world mythologies. They include Thor, Angel, Kodama, Naga, Succubus, Pixie, Jack Frost and other mythological beings.

There are warring factions who stand for law and chaos. Your actions dealing with them and the path you choose will affect which of the game’s six endings you will see. There is a good story to this game, and it’s told in short cut scenes that are cell-shaded, highly stylized, and look like they were planned by a skilled director. Nocturne lacks the comical banter seen in many Japanese RPGs. There are no sappy romances, no epiphanies where people suddenly decide to save the world, etc. It feels more like “role-playing” than a lot of RPGs out there. Since most humans are dead, the game makes you feel isolated and alone.

You don’t have to fight alone, however. When in combat with other demons, you can convince them to join you through conversation, bribery, seduction, etc. There are well over a hundred unique monsters (not the same dozen monsters repainted five times) that all have different skills, recruitment requirements, etc. There is also a fusion system for combining demons to make new ones. The original Megami Tensei (1987 NES) basically started the monster-collecting sub-genre, long before the youth-oriented Pokemon and Dragon Quest Monsters came around.

Nocturne has the best turn-based combat system I have ever seen. It’s very fast-paced with beautiful, but short, spell animations, and a weakness exploit system that keeps things very interesting, fun, and strategic. The mindless “mash attack and heal when needed” routine is not very effective in Nocturne. The system keeps the player mentally involved and makes combat enjoyable instead of feeling like work as in many other games.

A better console RPG has not been released in at least a decade, but Nocturne is not for everybody. The isolation and above-average difficulty are turn-offs for some. However, if you think it is for you, don’t miss this reprint.

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