PlayStation 2
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Game Info:

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in Japan, and Shin Megami Tensei III: Lucifer's Call in Europe
Developed By: Atlus
Published By: Atlus
Released: January 29, 2004 (Japan), October 12, 2004 (North America), July 1, 2005 (Europe)
Available On: Playstation 2
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $19.99

Good versus Evil is so old hat it's beyond worn out, and the Shin Megami Tensei series usually tries to have endings that depend on your perspective of their good and evil. However, what happens when the series decides to mix that formula up, as SMT 3 Nocturne does, is when we have a game that is worth some examination.

First, some background. Nocturne was one of the first actual games in the mainline SMT franchise that the world outside Japan got, and the version released internationally is an enhanced remake of the original, containing bug fixes and expanded content. The international version also features a mild crossover with Dante from the Devil May Cry series (circa the second game). There was a third version, but it was Japan-only again and had only minor balance tweaks and switched out Dante for Raidou Kunozoha from that SMT subseries. This review will cover the international versions only.

The story is a bit unique, in that you get thrown into it immediately and only find out how it happened later, but the short version is that a cult plans to goad the world into reverting it to the primordial state it was in before Creation so they can reform it according to their wishes. You get thrown into the middle of it, and Lucifer is working in the background to help you, but his help comes with obvious strings attached. Further, depending on your actions, your decisions regarding the reshaping of the world could lead to consequences that span universes.

The gameplay is the same tried-and-true formula as the previous games, except with some enhancements. Demons can gain levels, albeit slowly, and there is now "Mitama fusion", where demons called Mitamas can be fused to your demons to increase their stats without changing them into another demon. A modified form of the "moon phase" mechanic exists, with some attacks affected by the current phase as well as random treasures and demon recruitment. Demon fusion is now made far less tedious due to a compendium to keep track of previously recruited/summoned demons.

Other mechanics revolve around your main character, who is made a Demi-Fiend (Hito-shura in the Japanese version, both titles translate out to "Half-Demon"), meaning they can summon demons without the aid of technology. They can also learn new skills via the aid of equipable accessories called Magatama, and customizing your character is integral to many winning strategies. Otherwise, the usual staples of turn-based combat, negotiating with demons to get them to join you or give you items remain unchanged. One last addition is the "Press Turn" combat system, where hitting weaknesses of enemies can award bonus turns and hitting strengths can remove them, a system that works for both friend and foe and involves careful strategy to use to get its full benefit.

The graphics utilize the Playstation 2 3D capabilities mixed with a cel-shading effect, which tends to make many areas have a haunting, otherworldly look, which compliments the primordial world setting the game takes place in. Characters and demons alike both benefit and suffer from the same, as the detailing is not as well done as it would be in a more hand-drawn style, but the excellent 3D animation makes up for the lack of graphical complexity, and many demons retain the occasionally quite intricate designs the series is known for, albeit in 3D.

Sound focuses on a mix of rock and electronic instrumental music mixed with some techno and gothic aural inspiration. The result is a soundtrack that bounces between smooth vocals and techno-rock beats. This somewhat schizophrenic styling works nicely with the graphics to accentuate the chaotic state of the Vortex World that forms the game setting. Sound effects are crisp and fit nicely with the music, and while there are no voiced lines save some brief battle grunts and a word or two at best, it still holds up nearly two decades after the game's release.

Controls are third-person style in the overworld and combat, with the camera set somewhat behind your character, providing plenty of room to navigate and move around comfortably. There is an alternative first-person style view, meant as a throwback to the classic Shin Megami Tensei games, but it's mostly for aesthetics. Game stability is excellent, with any bugs being very minor at best.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
Highlights:

Strong Points: Good porting of the classic SMT games to a 3D format; interesting world design; challenging gameplay
Weak Points: Somewhat tedious dungeons
Moral Warnings: RPG-like violence; some minor profanity; occasional sexual innuendo from a few characters; flagrant display of occult and supernatural themes (such as demon summoning) as part of the gameplay and plot; frequent blasphemy (to the point of being able to choose to rebel against the real God); options to make many unethical choices; world setting in which all religions and myths are presumed true and exist simultaneously

One final note about the game is that the difficulty is quite hard. This game has a very steep learning curve and the player will be forced to strategize to defeat certain bosses; mere level grinding is not enough in many cases, mastering the metagame in which you customize your party for optimal efficiency (when it comes to mastering enemy weaknesses while covering your own) WILL be essential. This game is not easy on those who are not patient nor somewhat experienced with role-playing games in general.

Morally, this game has a considerable amount of issues.

Violence is of the RPG variety and is rendered in a rather sanitized style due to the cel-shading motif, and is berefit of blood and gore, save for some textual references. Language is generally mild, the occasional use of "damn or "hell" (generally in a religious sense) being the worst of it, though a few characters do make a point of blaspheming God. Given many are demons in stark opposition to God, this is logical but frequent enough to be a concern.

Sexual content is somewhat lower in tone due to the art style leaving less detailing for many female characters, and while there are some scantily-clad demons and some that resemble certain genitalia, the art style is a lot less graphic than in most SMT games. References to sexual acts are sparse at best, mostly confined to the incubus/succubus-like demons, and then it's still more innuendo than anything else.

Occult and supernatural influences are profound in this game, being what caused the game to occur (though not depicted positively despite it). Some demons make a point of playing up occult imagery, and YOU are half demonic (albeit not by choice) and can summon demons as a consequence.

The ethical and moral deserves some detailed explanation because the game has several endings depending on whom you side with; those sides are referred to as "Reasons", implemented mostly by Kagutsuchi, who is a stand-in for YHVH, the twisted parody of God who serves as the usual villain of most SMT games. In this game he hijacked the name of a Japanese deity of creation with some vaguely similar aspects, likely due to the fact the game setting is in a chaotic, primordial version of Tokyo. Kagutsuchi must be reached by the game end at a Babel-like tower to determine the ending.

Shijima: The "Law" Ending, where the world is reformed into one of order and stillness. It's somewhat hypocritical, founded by someone who broke all the laws of Law itself and consorted with demons in defiance of God to create it. Ironically, the twisted parody of God generally approves of this world reformation choice the most, and since the developers of SMT have gone on record that YHVH/Kagutsuchi is a rogue avatar of God misrepresenting his true will, should be a blatant clue to most Christians especially this is not how the real God would approve of things.

Musubi: The "Neutral" Ending, a world where everyone is free from the influence of anyone else and cannot interfere with anyone else. This world is also created by a hypocrite who required breaking their own rules to create their ideal world.

Yosuga: The "Chaos" Ending, a world based on strength. It too is hypocrisy, being founded by angels (many of which are in league with the brutal and explicitly declared evil leader of this ideology) to form a demented form of order despite it being an ideology nominally based on freedom. It's an ending stating "Law and Chaos aren't all that different if you are hypocritical about their foundation and rules". Kagutsuchi will approve of this world reformation choice as well, which is another hint if you are Christian especially that this is a perversion of God's Will.

Demon: This ending involves rejecting all other Reasons, choosing to leave the world in its primordial and chaotic state. Lucifer will approve of this choice, and Kagutsuchi will not.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 33%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 5.5/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

Freedom: The "best" ending, in which you choose to return the world to the way it was before anyone meddled with it. It's implied your character still retains their half-demonic powers, which Lucifer encourages you to keep, but otherwise is the least morally objectionable of the endings.

True Demon: Christians will be appalled at this ending. In this ending, you deliberately choose to cast your lot with Lucifer and his plans, which not only involve destroying Kagutsuchi but also defeating the being known as the Great Will, who is the ACTUAL God, not just some demented rogue avatar parody version, and the ending has you agree to be Lucifer's leading general in an attempt to defeat the real God (though the game ends before we see the results of this decision)

However, since all the SMT games are connected, information revealed in SMT IV Apocalypse does have some clarification on this ending that may be of reassurance to Christians.

The Great Will (called the Axiom in SMT IV Apocalypse's translation) is not tangible or mortal in the same sense as any other human or demon. They are beyond such constraints and are explicitly confirmed as the one who has given humanity any chance to stand against demonic influence by rendering it mortal and defeatable. Further, they oppose the actions of YHVH/Kagatsuchi, who assumes many of the real God's characteristics but perverts the understanding of the true God's intentions. Based on the information in this game, the Great Will is truly good and thus not bound by the very laws that make Lucifer and the demented parodies of the real God mortal. This means any attempt to dethrone him will fail.

Ergo, the True Demon ending is, with this in mind, a futile and failed attempt to rebel against the REAL God.

This all in mind, this is not a game any Christian would be comfortable with and likely would be repulsed by if they cannot separate the fictional depictions from reality, especially since like all SMT games, it presumes all religions and myths are true to some extent and has them exist as a crossover cosmology.

In summation, as a game, it's quite hard but enjoyable if you are a dedicated role-playing gamer, and it still stands as one of the finest entries in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Morally, it's not something anyone who is not a mature adult should play given its themes, Christian or otherwise.

Regardless, as a form of video gaming media, it remains an excellent title worth playing if you can handle the themes discussed and want a very challenging yet very rewarding roleplaying experience.

About the Author

Daniel Cullen

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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