Since the PS2 days, RPGs have always had a special place in my heart. I wanted to try as many of them. Obviously, RPGs require a lot of time, so it can be tricky, however during my "research", I found the gaming love of my life: the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Which brings me to the game I've chosen for #ReviewAGreatGameDay: Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne.
As a silent high school teenager, your homeroom teacher asked you to meet her at the Shinjuku Medical Center. Worried that your tutor might be unwell, you and your two friends, Isamu and Chiaki, investigate the hospital in order to find Ms. Takao. Our protagonist investigates the basement and comes across a mysterious man that threatens to take his life. Ms. Takao comes out of nowhere and makes sure the mysterious man spares the teenager's life in order to accomplish greater things. Fast forward to the roof of the hospital, your tutor reveals that you've been chosen to witness the Apocalypse and you will be responsible to shape the new world as you see fit.
Nocturne follows the JRPG genre down to a tee: dungeon crawling, turn based combat, side-quests and more importantly level grinding. What makes the 3rd numbered SMT game different is the subtle differences such as in the combat. Combat is turn based, meaning attacks alternate between you and the enemy party, but with an added twist: The Turn Press Battle system. At the top right corner of the screen, you can plan whose turn it's going to be. Exploiting one's weakness, whether it be you or the enemy, adds a turn to the attacking party. And on the other hand, use the wrong attack and you lose a turn and can end up in serious trouble. In a game where grinding is your friend, this comes really handy in order to get through battles quicker or help you chuck away a boss' HP.
Obviously, as with most RPG games, you're not alone. But unlike most RPGs where you meet up with a few badass or annoying characters, Nocturne lets you build your own party of 4 (including the mute protagonist). How? Demons. Enemies can be recruited through conversation or by bribing them, once you've successfully coerced the enemy demon into your camp, you can assign it to your party or keep them as a spare. There are however certain demons that can only be acquired through fusion and also meeting special criteria. You are, however, limited to the number of demons you can "carry".
Demons, along with helping you in battle, can also be fused at the Demonic Compendium; a wonderful cathedral where you can register, buy or fuse new demons. And not just regular demons either; bosses can be fused as well considering your level is high enough and that you've previously beaten it.
As with any game in the genre, Nocturne features a few side-quests for you to tackle. Although not plentiful, the game's additional quests require a bit more time than simply backtracking for an item. They'll have you hunt down special demons or beat bosses a second time to net special items. One of the additional quests will let you confront (and eventually recruit) Devil May Cry's Dante. It's a very interesting cameo and it makes sense. Dante is a demon hunter; unable to determine if the protagonist is a demon or human (this will be established during the story based on your decisions), the white haired antagonist will challenge the mute protagonist in order to stop him in his actions. Successfully beating Dante will give players a chance to recruit him later on. Obviously, he's the only ally that can't be fused. Also completing all side-quests will give way to a special hidden final boss which is (without spoiling anything) pretty bad ass.
Thanks to the interactions you'll have with non-playable characters (NPCs), choices made during those conversations will impact which of the game's five endings you will get. Choices made will also impact certain demons you can fuse; as some can be fused only going through a certain path of the story. Sure, it is not the same level as Mass Effect, but it still enough to determine how the protagonist will shape the post-Apocalyptic Tokyo.
Having 5 different endings, it's a great incentive in order to encourage multiple playthroughs. Or also track down side-quests you may have missed. Seeing as games from the SMT franchise have been recognized for their hard as nail difficulty, purists can also tackle a Hard mode for a tougher challenge. There's also a first person mode for old school fans.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is hands down one of the best RPGs of the PS2 era. From its dark story tone, a fitting cameo of Capcom's Dante, the demon collecting, demon fusion mechanic and multiple endings, Nocturne is sure to keep players hooked for a long time. Although the game suffers from somewhat blocky movement and lack of voice-overs, these tiny nuisances won't hinder the experience at all. A must play for RPG fans.