With Nocturne mainline SMT games crossed into a new territory with both graphics and sound. Yet they also asked a question: what is a person without a bit of their essential humanness? Well, eventually they'll shoot plasma out of their eyes. But that's way down the line.
Nocturne is a game about the end of the world. Or the beginning of the world. Well, most of the game takes place in between. When a world ends humans can bring about a "reason" that will have an effect on the next world. See the world can't really end, once the world is destroyed it immediately starts reforming the next. So demons get to hang out and do whatever they want, slowly lining up behind various "reasons" that the few humans left decide.
As the Demi-fiend, best blank slate ever, you will have to champion one of these ideas, take it all the way up the flagpole, and decide what sort of world will be created. Will you side with law and lend a hand to the "might makes right" crowd or go for something else like a neutral ending where the world goes back exactly as it was before. Or, better yet just side with the guy who wants to end it all.
Shoji Meguro made some amazing music for this game. Really one of the main things that set the SMT games apart from rest of the RPG world was actual good music.
Music Law Theme:
Music Metatron Battle:
Notice how it connects the themes? And it goes deeper. They've been using this music for a long time. You hear hints and motifs of music made just for remakes for sega CD in SMT IV. But I feel like you can appreciate the game just as much without knowing all the history of their music. It just rocks.
Nocturne's art is fantastic. The world of an SMT games has all sorts of myths and legends and religions coexisting, so the art for all these things need to be dynamic and stand on their own. Yet, demons are just half the world. The way a hallway can look, an old medical center turned into a dark and magical place, or even just the endless sands that seem to make up the world map.
The art for characters are fairly low-key at the start, but though things change throughout the game they definitely stand out as humans in this world of demons.
The Press-Turn System
So a version kind of like this exists in the modern Persona "All Out Attack" format, but in Nocturne you hit an enemy weak point you technically use half a turn. You can get 10 attacks out of your 4 person team. It's great because it gives you a chance to get in that extra defense buff when you need it, and it has you thinking about your actions.
After playing through Nocturne all other games seem to not really care if you hit an enemies weak point. That's fine, it just leads to cookie-cutter combat and general boredom when dealing with common encounters.
The game has a lot of decisions being made, but they don't really give you insight at times that you're making it. On one hand this definitely frees the player up to play how they want, but on the other it does lead to checking out gamefaqs to figure out if your choices are going to keep you from getting certain endings.
But there is philosophy in the game. Early on you have a demon put in your character. You're now not fully a person or a demon, so this is an excellent position now to view both humans and demons. Though it would drive Kant totally nuts.
Fusion is a really interesting part of the game. Mix two demons to get a third, or three later to get a fourth. They pass on useful skills (like say buffs) but also less useful skills (like agi). With SMT IV you were able to choose which skills got on your demons, and it made the game a bit too easy. But, the only way to get similarly great demons in Nocturne was to continually reset your demon fusions until you got the one you want.
I wouldn't put demon fusion under terrible because late game your demons are going to start with great skills, and it's not likely you'll spend more than a few minutes on any particular fusion. But along the way it can lead to some wasted time if you don't get the attitude of accepting a few cruddy skills are almost always going to get added to a demon.
I love the mystery of the game, but I also kind of dislike it. I love that it parses story out slowly, and that the game wants you to learn by doing. But at the same time there are a lot of questions you see on gamefaqs boards over and over. If the game would have explained a few things better though I wonder if people would have started forming these communities around this game and trying to figure this stuff out. But even if I like it it is kind of the biggest turn off to most gamers. I guess they'll always have Pokemon though.
What a loser. Who let this guy in our SMTs?
Nocturne tends towards the older game model of not spelling everything out for the player. It's a turn based RPG from an era where Japan was actively trying to figure out how to get rid of the grindiness of their games. The team's next game, Persona 3, would really put a dent in grinding. But Nocturne also stands as one of the last great console RPGs. Most JRPGs have gone to handheld systems, but Nocturne stands head and shoulder above most with it's cinematic presentation and enjoyable difficulty.
The game is a classic and any fan of turn-based RPGs should give it a shot. While not for everyone, just like classic Dark Souls, it is still very much a classic. And a few parting protips for those of you who need help: Daisoujou is the best, strength build is also the best, and cast rakunda on every enemy until you get something better if you're stuck.
Review card by Novibear. Thanks