The END DAY: Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

This year, the END DAY is going back to its video game roots.

I’d just beaten Kingdom Hearts. Light and order were restored to the universe. Mickey and his pals were living happily ever after. I was not. I’d begun frantically searching for something to wash all that cleanliness out of me when I discovered a game billed as Pokemon in hell. The game begins with the destruction of the world. So far, so good.

Like Kingdom Hearts, Nocturne has the option of selecting between two difficulty levels. I wasn’t foolish enough to think there would be a hard mode equivalency between a game titled Kingdom Hearts and a game alternatively titled Lucifer’s Call. I considered taking the easy route. Then I was taunted by the most condescending difficulty level description in the universe.

I chose to seek the thrill of death, which basically meant replacing “Zorak” with “Hard mode” in the song below.

The game started off well enough. The gameplay was like any other RPG’s, and I got through the initial bosses without much difficulty. Then came the Matador.

Calling the Matador a Wake-Up Call Boss is an understatement, unless you mean waking players up by stabbing them in the urethra while singing the Spice Girls. The Matador was the first in a long line of bosses that can only be beaten by a painful combination of grinding, party reconfiguration, and hacking the battle system to its absolute limits.

I enjoy tough games so long as they’re fair. Nocturne isn’t one of them. Everything about the game is cheap except the price tag.

— Game Over if the main character dies in battle. The other three party members could have full HP and revival skills. Tough luck. It’s hard to put an exact number on it, but I estimate this makes you about 10–100x more likely to get a Game Over.

— There are two “elements” of instant death attacks: expel and death (basically a “light” instant death and a “dark” instant death). Enemies actually use them, and they actually work. For most of the game it’s hard to protect against one, let alone both, and in some instances protecting against one actually makes you vulnerable to the other.

— You’re at a serious disadvantage if the opponent moves first. If you get back attacked, you may as well hit the reset button. Your main character can learn up to eight skills at a time. I had to waste one on an anti-back attack ability because it does more to protect you from death than any other ability in the game.

— No continue points. Each time you die, you have to load directly from the memory card (after sitting through the same annoying sequence of corporate logos). Not only does this mean you always have to start from the last place you saved, it also means the official game time includes only time spent between saving and saving, not saving and dying. While I dropped the game with about 55 hours on the official clock, I estimate I put in at least 150 hours. That’s right, I spent 2/3 of the game seeking the thrill of death.

— There are few save points and even fewer heal points. On top of that dungeons are LONG. Nothing says “fun” like fighting your way up a 150-floor obelisk.

— Random battles after bosses. Yeah, you heard me right. No automatic teleportation to safety after beating a boss. You don’t even get your health restored. You have to fight your way in and fight your way out.

— By far the most valuable skills against bosses are buffing/debuffing spells. From the Matador onward, bosses can’t be beaten without them. Your first few turns must be spent lowering the boss’s stats and/or raising your own. Oh, and all that effort can all be canceled by one move.

— Party members level up about about twice as slowly as the main character. If you don’t reconfigure your party, your power level will be too low. If you do reconfigure your party, you’ll lose many if not all the skills you trained your old party members to acquire.

— Party members gain certain skills randomly. If you fuse two members together, you don’t get to select which skills they carry over from their previous incarnations; the game just picks a few at random for you. When party members level up, they sometimes change their skills randomly, often into something completely different. A healing skill could turn into a fire skill for no reason. You have to option to stop this, but since the unknown new skill could be something useful, it’s a risk you’re often tempted to take.

Think these issues sound bad? Now think about them in combination. You’re in a long dungeon and get hit with the kind of death spell you’re not protected against. You’re near the end of a long dungeon when a party member overwrites a useful skill with a shitty skill, leaving you to either suck it up or restart all the way from the previous save point. You just used up all your strength against a boss and get back attacked in a random battle on the way out. It sucks.

Not only was I cocky enough to take on Hard mode, I was masochistic enough to aim for the True ending. Before you get on my case about how stupid this was, keep in mind that I was playing a long time ago when my eyes worked and I was much lazier than anyone who cared about his future had any business being. To get the True ending, you have to:

  • Beat eight “Fiend” bosses (all are optional after the Matador)
  • Complete an optional five-stage dungeon
  • Beat an insanely hard extra boss after the final boss

I’d taken down the Fiends, completed three of the five optional stages, and gotten up to the final dungeon of the required plot. By this point I was pretty sick of the game and thought about settling for a regular ending instead of working overtime for the True ending. Then I remembered a neat little website that was just becoming popular at the time: YouTube. Perhaps I could take a quick glance at the True ending to see if it was worth the effort.

That’s it? Are you kidding me? One minute and thirty seconds? You expect me to grind my ass off for another 50 hours so I can listen to a little kid, listen to an old man, and then walk into the darkness? DROPPED.


Six years have passed. Most of the earth has become dominated by mutated creates I’d battled in the following games since dropping Nocturne:

  • Devil May Cry
  • Devil May Cry 3
  • Kingdom Hearts 2
  • Final Fantasy XII
  • God Hand
  • God of War
  • God of War II
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
  • Metal Gear Solid 3
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Odin Sphere

My PS2, which I’d owned for 10 years, was on its last legs. Whatever business I still had with it had to be finished now. There was no way I’d go for the True ending, but I was still curious about which of the regular endings I’d get.

  • Yosuga: The world ruled by power
  • Musubi: The world of isolation
  • Shijima: The world devoid of emotion
  • Neutral: The world returns to normal
  • Demon: The world of chaos

After the world is destroyed at the beginning of the game, a temporary world is created. You explore the temporary world and adopt a philosophy for creating a new world based on the various choices you make. I ended up getting the neutral ending. Figures. I took a look at the other endings on YouTube. They’re all short and crappy.

I finally beat the game at the 72-hour mark. In other words, I beat it at the 200-hour mark.

Just to show you how screwed up the game is, my game-winning party consisted of me, a character I’d had since the beginning, a character I went out of my way to fuse, and a character I’d captured for the hell of it, never used previously, never intended to use, summoned out of desperation, and realized was pretty useful against the final boss.

Final Grade: ~

A lot of cool concepts plagued by battle system lacking in both fairness and fun.

My next and final PS2 game will be Okami. After that I’m getting either a PS3 or an Xbox 360 for my next target:

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33 hours were spent climbing the Obelisk

  1. garp says:

    Odin Sphere

  2. Anca says:

    Regarding the cheapness: well, you picked ‘thrill of death’ mode, so you deserved it. Normal mode is a lot less frustrating – the back attack rate is drastically lower, the success rate of instant kill attacks is lower, you can actually consistently escape from battles, stuff is cheaper, you do more damage against enemies, they do less damage against you… a lot of perks.

    Also, when fusing, by canceling the fusion and trying it again you can painstakingly select exactly which skills you want, and by using the Heretic Mansion program(available online) you can plan your perfect demon servant.

    And what are you talking about the True End is awesome. If you grind as you should and carefully fuse your monsters most of the fiends after Daisoujou are easy, because you can fuse that Daisoujou who can heal all HP and all status effect with one spell, leech about 100MP pet hit AND is immune to most crap the game throws at you. Putting makatora on him solves all your MP problems for the entire game. The optional dungeon is awesome (and gives you some awesome demons, like the one that had the spells to lower or heighten the encounter rate, light up a dungeon, protect against damage areas AND escape battles, or the one with pretty much all the healing spells in the game). And that old guy – that’s Lucifer himself – and the moment you realise that is a crowning moment of awesome.

    You get the Neutral end when you tell everyone except teacher to suck it. You get the Demon ending if you tell everyone to suck it but then answer everything else like a coward.

    • Baka-Raptor says:

      This was the first and last time I picked hard mode for a game not called Kingdom Hearts. Some game had to teach me not to. Nocturne just happened to be next in line.

      The True Ending may very well be awesome if you somehow got it without ever looking at a strategy guide. I, for one, was spoiled several times over. If you knew about a program like Heretic Mansion, there’s no way you weren’t spoiled either. From the videos I’ve seen, most of the reward of the True Ending comes from the dialogue along the way, not the ending itself. My favorite part of the Neutral Ending was the conversation with Kagatsuchi before the final battle. The ending itself was lame.

      I was cool with the Fiend battles and the Amala Labyrinth. I tend to like side quests that level you up if they substitute for time you’d spend leveling yourself up anyway for the main plot. I just wasn’t willing to do the additional leveling up and fusing for Lucifer. Took a quick look at the strategy guide and decided it was way too much effort to get all the right abilities on everyone and grind them up to a high enough power level.

      • Anca says:

        I did look at the strategy guides, but I didn’t read ahead.

        And have you played the Final Mix for Kingdom Hearts II? Those Absent Silhouette things curb stomp you hard on hard mode – and not to mention dat vs Roxas fight that came out of the blue.

        • Baka-Raptor says:

          Haven’t played Final Mix, which is weird, since it looks like I played KHII long enough after its release to know it existed. Yet another advantage of always being several years behind on your gaming.

  3. The Yoshinator says:

    Holy shit that game sounds like a nightmare. Good thing I don’t have a PS2, so I can’t play it even if someone pays me. And what was up about the true ending? That isn’t a reward.

    • Baka-Raptor says:

      In all fairness, neither are any of the other endings. The regular demon ending is the biggest ripoff of all.

      • The Yoshinator says:

        The bit with the light really sucked. But I do like how creepy that child was. Everything is creepier if little children do it. Especially if their eyes are hollow like that.

        • Baka-Raptor says:

          That’s actually one the better conversations with the light. The conversation is really dull if you get Yosuga, Musubi, or Shijima. The part with the child would’ve been fine if it’d been building up to something more. But no, that’s it. Kid talks to you, then the credits roll.

  4. vendredi says:

    Sorry to hear that Nocturne wasn’t your cup of tea. It definitely falls into the more “light-on-story” category – the gameplay is the main attraction here, so if it doesn’t work for you then it’s probably not worth continuing. I will admit the underlying systems take some learning. The whole point of the game is learning how to carry over specific skill sets to particular demons, and then learning how to fuse demons to handle specific boss patterns.

    Back attacks, for example, are made trivial if you can null or repel any attacks enemies throw at you (because of the way Press turns work, a repeled or drained attack immediately costs the enemy an entire turn). It’s the sort of game that expects you to pay attention to patterns and trends in particular dungeons and then craft a team to handle the threats you encounter as you descend deeper (that’s why so many dungeon save points allow you to warp back to the entrance).

    • Baka-Raptor says:

      Let me go on a little rant about back attacks for the peanut gallery. In hard mode, getting hit with a physical attack in a back attack is almost a guaranteed critical hit for the enemy. In many games this would suck but not be life-threatening. What makes this difficult in Nocturne is that scoring a critical hit gets you an extra turn. Once the enemy gets a critical hit on you, it gets to follow up. If you’re facing multiple enemies, you’ll get hit with a full onslaught of strong attacks before you have any chance to react. Your only hope is to either take all the hits and survive or to void/repel/drain the attacks to take turns away from the enemy. Magic attacks aren’t so hard to set up passive defenses against, and they won’t be made any more powerful by the back attack. Physical attacks are the problem.

      Toward the end of the game there are a ton of demons with anti-physical attributes. Believe me, I tried to recruit them as soon as I could. Even then, it’s the luck of the draw. If your main character is targeted instead of the anti-phys character, it won’t change anything. The only anti-phys Magatama I had came with serious magic weaknesses. Rather than risk an elemental weakness, I decided the safest option was to learn the anti-back attack ability.

      Anyway, going into dungeons and bosses to learn what you need to protect against still means dying a lot. It also means lost time and lost experience. No matter how you slice it, that’s frustrating.

  5. Digibro says:

    PS3 all the way. 360 isn’t just inferior, is has a ridiculous failure rate. When my family’s FOURTH 360 red-ringed, we just stopped replacing it.

  6. Sandra says:

    No way man, Nocturne is great. Maybe all the enemies are jerks and maybe Hard mode is ridiculous, but the system is so abusable that it’s really not that difficult to do all the unfair stuff to enemies that they were doing to you. At least if you choose Normal, which you should have.

    Baka-Raptor said he sought the thrill of death. Baka-Raptor was wrong.

    • Baka-Raptor says:

      Yes, it is cathartic to use the same cheap moves that were once used against you. It still doesn’t erase the fact that all that cheap stuff happened to you. Those 100 cheap moves I used on my enemies will never atone for the 10 cheap deaths I suffered at their hands.

      Like anything else (e.g., threesomes), death loses its thrill when it happens all the time.

  7. Reed says:

    Get a 360 for Xbox Live Arcade. Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun, Street Fighter II & III, Braid, Pac-Man Championship Edition, etc.

    Also Halo, Gears of War, all of that shit.

    • Baka-Raptor says:

      Ikaruga? Street Fighter II?

      This will be taken into consideration.

      • Reed says:

        I’ve never had a problem with mine. Then again, I’m not a retard.

      • LJ says:

        Pardon me for jumping in here, as always.
        I can truly appreciate what Digibro must be feeling here to have been burned so consistently at the early onset of the product, having had some remarkably similar negative experiences myself.
        However, my counter-argument here is that the Xbox 360 continued to get support and improvement over the years and is now a markedly different creature from what it once was. It has an active, large, and most importantly, present community dedicated to its continued success as a platform.
        You can compare this to the introduction of the AR-15 platform: While urgency, greed, and just plain human oversight riddled the device with unnecessary, often fatal problems, it’s since been iterated upon and substantially improved to something actually reliable (Good enough for Duke Togo, anyways). A 54 year old opinion on a continually improved gun platform, in my opinion, is just as lacking in validity as a seven year old opinion on a game console.
        I may be ignorant in this matter, but I see no such support or customer-mindedness coming from Sony.

        Of course, a caveat, I really am quite biased in this matter: my (actually pretty cool) brother-in-law has made a handful of indie games for the XBox live arcade. I’ll spare you the whole unsolicitedly advertizing their titles thing, though, for risk of eroding whatever limited credibility I have in this matter.

        …Incidentally, when he first got started way back when, his dev kit model Xbox set on fire. Literally.

  8. gundumb says:

    Hey Baka raptor have you played SMT 1 / 2 ?
    p.s.- megami tensei series predates pokemon , so pokemon is actully SMT without figures from mythologies worldwide and weird pocket sized monsters ?

  9. AvaMarieTaylor says:

    Oh if you think Nocturne made you wanna rage quit, I can’t wait to see how you’ll like Catherine. Having played both, I would say that Catherine was much more difficult. I chose easy mode and it still took me a good 30 hours to get through. Good luck!

    • Baka-Raptor says:

      Didn’t think I’d go for Easy mode, but now that I know there’s a Very Easy mode, Easy doesn’t sound so dishonorable. Besides, I’m mainly interested in Catherine for the story. Wouldn’t be a huge loss if I don’t seek the thrill of death this time around.

  10. Wow. A lot of your problems with this game are what make me love the entire SMT series. I love that my entire last few hours of gameplay can be screwed over by one death of my MC. (Okay, it usually makes me rage-quit, but STILL.) I think 90% of my Christmas list is SMT games….right now I’m playing through Devil Survivor Overclocked (which, by the way, does not give you insta-game over if your MC dies) with Nocturne on the back burner. This post just inspired me to go back to Nocturne.

  11. […] be deciding between the PS3 and Xbox 360 soon enough, but first, there’s a game I’ve been meaning to cross off my to-play list […]

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