So, last week I wandered downtown to get some exercise and do some shopping, and ended up picking up a number of new games … including Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Now, it’s well-known that I’m a huge fan of the Persona series, especially Persona 3 and Persona 4. Persona 2 was okay but I just wasn’t that interested in continuing with it, and so moved on to other games (I really should pick it up again at some point). So seeing a brand new copy of the game for the PS2 was something that really caught my attention, especially since with the hockey playoffs being on and my getting into watching Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek: DS9 again it would be nice to have something to play that I can play while watching TV. So Nocturne might fill that role.
Except that, so far at least, it really isn’t the sort of game that can do that, because it suffers from some common flaws that plague JRPGs.
I’ve commented in other places about my tendency to get lost. If you run random encounters like most JRPGs do — as you wander around every so often an encounter shows up and you’re sucked into a fight — then looking for the right way to go becomes incredibly annoying. You wander around for a bit, hit a crossroads, wonder if you’ve taken that one before, start towards it … and get sucked into a fight. Finish the fight, and then try to remember what you were doing. Rinse, repeat. Add in the subgenre of JRPGs that make it difficult in some way to figure out where to go, and those that have save points that are far apart, and you have a recipe for annoyance.
The problem with the fights is always this: either they are simple and so no challenge, or they are actually a challenge. If it’s the former, then they’re just annoying: you get no resources from them, no XP, and they take no thought on your part. They’re boring busywork, there only because the game system generates random encounters that way. Sometimes, however, they’re actually a challenge. Which means that they drain resources — MP, potions, abilities, etc — while all you’re doing is trying to find your way to the end. Which is often an end boss. So you use up the things you’d want to save for the end boss just getting there, and not because the game seems designed to do that but because you have a tendency to get lost wandering around the place.
Nocturne has all of this in spades. The encounters vary between trivial and really hard — in the same section. So sometimes you’re using resources, and sometimes you aren’t. And you can’t predict this in advance, so if you save a medicine because the fight isn’t going to be hard you might find yourself in trouble when it suddenly is hard. The areas are often confusing and have strange barriers, and loop back in on each other. There’s also a wide open city to explore and some of the new events are far away from the others, which also have some strange barriers. Random encounters are frequent, even when you’re just going somewhere. And when you exit a room, the view switches so that it is incredibly easy to end up heading back the exact way you came instead of proceeding down the hall … but you want to enter every room because that way you’ll get all the chests and spirits that you might need to advance the game. Finally, throughout the entire game I have found exactly two save points, both in the hospital … which is on the other side of the city from the park and shopping area that I’m hunting around now. I spent a long time looking for a save point, and then finally had to trek all the way back there, just to save so that I could stop for the night. Getting random encounters all the way.
So far, the story is interesting but seems a bit undeveloped. The intro was interesting but probably told too much about your relationship with your teacher, and when you finally track down one of your friends you get what amounts to a non-interactive cutscene she heads off into demon-infested areas to try to find more survivors. Maybe if I’d said something else things might have changed, but there were no obvious indications of what to say. That was very anti-climactic for such an important scene. So even the story isn’t encouraging me to play it again.
I may give it another try, but with the above annoyances it doesn’t seem like it fits as an evening game, and I already have TOR and ME1 to cover off the games I want to play while there’s nothing good on TV.