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    dkirschner's Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (PS2)

    [October 5, 2012 01:16:24 PM]
    I think I'm done with Nocturne. It lasted me like two months! That's pretty damn good. Excellent game, excellent excellent game. I read back over my previous logs and think I said most everything to say. continues on. I just have many more examples of all the cool things.

    I never mentioned the art design I don't think. The art in SMT games in general is real unique, but Nocturne especially. My favorites are these characters called 'manikins.' They are people born from mud and basically look like they're dressed in rags/prison stripes/insane asylum jackets. They are all kind of blank-looking and they have convulsions. I loved looking at them. And they are so sad in the story! They're just kind of weak and dumb and quirky and outcast, but oh so likeable, so I felt sorry for them because the other characters generally hate on them. Lots of the bosses look really badass too. Go look up some of the artwork. And even though it's almost 10 years old on a last-gen system, I swear it looks better than half the stuff out today.

    The level design I also came to appreciate very much. Most of the dungeons were long, but not too long. Usually they were broken up into several floors or sections, which helped. As I got into the game, dungeons started becoming more puzzle-like. Lots of the puzzle elements were more like tricks. Sometimes I walked through a door, and it would only be a one-way door, so I couldn't go back. I'd have to take a long way around. My favorite dungeon in recent memory was the one with the painting illusions. It was this mansion place with tons of hallways going every which way. But they weren't as real as they seemed. Many times, what appeared to be a hallway was a painting of a hallway. The hallway would show some signs of distortion, like the depth would be off if you stared at it, or doors would be painted on the wall and have no protruding frames. If you "fell for it" a guardian literally called you a dumbass and kicked you somewhere else on the floor. I really liked paying attention to the details of the hallways and doors and lights and things to try and catch illusions! Sometimes the hallway *looked* like an illusion but if you got close enough, you saw that you could actually go through and that it was built that way, not painted. Really neat stuff. I'll also say how well done the sound design is. There's no voiceovers at all. Just sounds and music, and it conveys all the right moods at the right times, and is not overbearing. Wonderfully done.

    The party customization kept getting better and better. Today I came across this boss who just annihilated me the first few times. He was tough because he was almost 100% resistant to all damage but electricity. The problem was I didn't have any electricity-using demons besides my healer, who I needed to, well, heal. Solution? Go to the Cathedral of Shadows, fuse two demons to get one with a sweet electricity spell, and then buy another electricity demon that I'd previously registered. BAM, 28,000 macca and 15 minutes later, I had a party with 3 electricity-users and I went back and owned the boss. I did find a problem though, and that's that I was able to build such awesome demons through fusion, that eventually I couldn't keep all the useful spells because you can only transfer up to 4. For example, my healer is currently level 57. I have no idea when I got it, at least 10 levels prior I think. Maybe even like 43 or 44. So it's long since quit learning new skills. But I haven't fused it with anything else because it is so ridiculously useful. It has Mana Refill, which I transferred to it from some other demon even farther back (actually I think I wrote about transferring Mana Refill to a demon in a log over a month ago - I've kept that same skill the whole time!) It has a heavy heal all skill, a medium force attack all, a medium electricity attack all, revive, a high odds expel attack, and some other stuff. Like, I don't want to lose any of that, and it won't all transfer. Actually, I think Mana Refill is quite a unique skill because that one really rarely will show up on a potential child's skill list. problem is that some of my demons are too good...Ha. But it is getting a little tough because now she's so far behind my main character and the other demons in level. 57 to main character's 70 (demons level up about half as fast as the main character, so you have to fuse them and recruit more to keep them most useful with high enough HP and stuff).

    Speaking of leveling, I'm stuck. I'm in the last dungeon and fighting a boss who is too strong. I know what I need to do. Kind of like the boss where I had to have characters using electricity, this one is even more specific. I need the War Cry skill which drastically reduces enemies' attack and magic power. But I don't have it, and I kind of don't feel like fusing a demon who does because the bosses are starting to get like this, really hard where you MUST have x, y, z skill in order to stand a chance. This current boss for example, he casts a spell called Apocalypse, which is unblockable/undodgeable and hits my characters for 400 HP or so. My party has like 406, 460, 600, and 650 or something, so that is A LOT of HP. Basically if they aren't at full they die. So of course the boss gets 2 attacks every turn. He casts Apocalypse twice! Bam, all dead. I'd need so much more HP to survive, which is not feasible. So what I need is a demon with War Cry. But it's got to have other useful skills too. I fear that fusing is about to become grindy. I read up on a walkthrough a little about the later bosses, and yeah, I think I will just call it here and finish up watching on YouTube. It's funny, over on Howlongtobeat, I was wondering why the average time for Nocturne was like 70 hours. I'm at like 45. Yeah, I think I found out why tonight. I supposed you eventually have to spend time really really really building specific demons for these final bosses.

    Also those long play times probably have some of the extra stuff added in, like the Amala Network, which is a 5-floor dungeon that you periodically unlock sections of by defeating the Candelabra fiends. I killed a couple fiends very early on, and I think I went inside the Amala network twice. I don't know what the point of it is, whether it's to get treasure, or just to find more Magatami or what. I just ignored it because I didn't know what it was for and I had enough dungeons and hard enemies to fight anyway.

    So looks like the end. The point of the game's story is that a new world is going to be created after the apocalypse that happened in the beginning. Throughout the game, you learn about the characters and gods who are vying for control to realize their version of things. Will it be a Darwinian world where only the strong survive? Will it be a highly individualistic world where no one has to do anything they don't want? Will it be a world where everyone is equal? Or one where there is no emotion? There are like 5 or so of them I think, and throughout the game you make dialogue choices that affect which ending you get, and maybe you choose one or the other for good at some point. Anyway, we'll see what I choose!
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    [September 1, 2012 10:48:55 PM]
    This game is brutally difficult at times. I love it. That's the thing about challenge. If you know you have the tools to overcome it (or can reasonably get the tools), you're more likely to keep trying. If you feel you don't have the tools to overcome it (or can't get or can only unreasonably get the tools), you're less likely to keep trying and more likely to toss your hands up in frustration.

    So I've previously raved about the 'tools' that Nocturne gives the player, and they've gotten even better. The tools of course are the different demons you can recruit and fuse. I've managed to build some really useful demons with really desirable skill sets. I'm currently level 33 and last night before quitting, I fused a new entire party because it had been a while. My Unicorn had just leveled up and learned its last skill, Diarama, which is a powerful single-target healing spell. I had been waiting on that so that I could fuse Unicorn with Oni to get this healing demon with Mana Refill (refills mana as you walk - no more potions!) and who learns Recarm (resurrect an ally) the first time she levels. So I fused the two parents and carried over Diarama and Media (heals all allies moderately) and Life Refill (heals HP while walking so you don't have to waste mana to heal - except I just now realize this is useless because she has Mana Refill so it wouldn't be wasting mana to heal - doh!). Anyway, so now I have this even more badass healing demon.

    And at the Cathedral of Shadows now I've got access to the 'Demon Compendium,' which is a list of all the demons I ever had in my party. I can 'update' the compendium whenever the status of the demons in my party changes (they level up, for example). Then if I ever want a demon that I used to have, I just open the Demon Compendium at the Cathedral and buy it back just like it was the last time I registered it.

    And the main character has access to more and more Matagama. I'd guess I have 10 or 12 now. Each one has particular strengths and weaknesses, so the more I have the more I can tailor the main character to enemies' strengths and weaknesses, which is especially useful for tough boss battles. But I'm still not sure if I royally screwed up early on (through no fault of my own!). See, you can equip the different magatami from their menu screen. Each magatami has a skill set and each skill can be learned at a certain level. So for example, and making up names because I can't remember the real ones, Hitaki makes available Dia at level 3, Media at level 6, Diarama at level 18, and Recarm at level 26, while Mahir makes available Agi at level 3, Maragi at level 6, Agilao at level 12 and Anti-Fire at level 20. So whichever one of these I have equipped when I hit level 3, I can learn it's level 3 spell. Then I can swap to the other magatami and when I hit level 4, I can learn its level 3 spell. Makes sense, right? So I have like 10 of these things, so they're always jiggling around on the menu screen, the jiggling meaning I can learn one of their skills if I equip one and level with it equipped.

    The problem is that I DIDN'T KNOW THIS until I read a game guide around level 20. The game does NOTHING to explain to you that when magatami jiggle, they have a skill for you. It doesn't explain to you that the magatami's skills are spread out over a wide range of levels. So from level whenever-I-got-my-first-magatami until level 20, I had the same magatami equipped. I learned it's first few skills early on, but little did I know that the one it was teasing me with, Counter (counterattacks physical attacks), wouldn't become available until level 20. So I kept waiting and waiting, and every level up, I'd be like "man, why won't I learn counter?!" And eventually I was like, "shit, how long will this take?" And then it dawned on me, "no way, I've been wasting the opportunity to learn like 15 other skills while continually leveling with this magatami just waiting for Counter." So I went the first 20 levels only knowing a few skills (out of 8 possible at a time). Crippled character much? This bit of info really should have been tutorial-ized. There were many other useful things I learned in the game guide too, but this one was really a lacking explanation.

    Luckily I think it's okay in the end, but I will never get to go through as many skills as I would have. Once you hit the 8 limit, you have to delete one every time you learn a new one. So I think my character is essentially the same as he would have been (lots of physical attack skills, HP bonus, severely weaken enemies' attack/magic/dodge/aim), but I can't be sure because he literally is about 15 skills behind. Now those might all have been deleted by now anyway, or I might have found a couple really useful ones that I would be using now. I'll never know. Crippled or not? Not sure. But I've made it work in the end, regardless of whether I know what I'm missing or not.

    So despite the awesome customization to handle many many many enemies and bosses, Nocturne still routinely wipes the floor with me. As my party has become much better suited to handle different enemies, the normal battles are easier than they used to be. As in, the one-shot deaths don't happen anymore unless it's the occasional ambush from behind. Example: In my next-to-last play session, I'd fought my way up three floors of the Mantra Headquarters. I stepped out on the roof, got ambushed by 5 or 6 of a new type of flying bird enemy. The birds use force attacks. My main character is weak to force attacks. So after an hour of clearing those first three floors, I step out onto the roof of the HQ and the birds annihilate me and I have to start over. That's just one of those nothing-you-can-do-about it deaths. How am I supposed to know 5-6 birds will ambush me and use force attacks? None of the other enemies for 3 floors used force attacks. Frustrating. So next time I just switched to a magatami that gave me force resistance as soon as I got to the roof.

    The boss battles haven't been too difficult yet, but the candelabra fiends sure are. The first one was El Matador that I wrote about last time. I've come across two more since then, one of which is basically Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider I just encountered and tried once last play session. He uses a bunch of really strong physical attacks, and it was just too much for me to handle. I'll have to come back at a higher level and with physical resistant characters. Or go with two healers. He also uses this STUPID skill that I hate that gives him 4 attacks. The other fiend who I can't beat does the same 4-attack skill. Let's talk about this other one. He's the hardest boss in the game so far. I've tried him 5 times or so and I just can't beat him without some serious planning that I don't feel like doing yet. He's got no weaknesses (none of the candelabra fiends do, I don't think). He has three phases (that I've made it to so far). In the first, he just attacks and uses HP/MP drain. The HP/MP drain sucks because I kind of need MP to heal and to cast useful spells. So it's like a time constraint then because I try to use as much MP as I can early on before he drains it all. Anyway, by the second phase, you're pretty much out of mana. But it doesn't really matter because in the second phase, he keeps on draining, and instead of physical attacks, he starts casting Death and Expel, either single-target or on the whole party. Death/Expel attacks are low-odds instant death attacks. My Unicorn had this spell that nullified Death/Expel, but he'd inevitably have his mana drained and not be able to use it. And when I fused Unicorn, I didn't carry over that spell, so I lost it now. Anyway, the most sure-fire way to do it will be to bring a party full of demons who have Death/Expel resist. Elementals are immune to both. Other than that though, as far as I know, if a demon is strong against one, he's weak to the other, which is no good because this fiend uses both. And I don't have a magatama that's immune to both - just one or the other (and then of course weak against the other type). Usually my main character eventually succumbs to instant death. I have made it a couple times to phase three. That's when he does his 4-attack skill, and he does this terrible terrible terrible status effect skill first thing that stuns and charms you. Last time I fought him I made it all the way there with 4 party members, and he immediately charmed two of them (charmed characters attack one another). And since you can't use items with anyone besides the main character, if he gets charmed, you can't uncharm. Unless another party member has the proper spell, but they had their mana drained already, so that doesn't work. So in phase three, it's just drain/instant death spells/4 attacks/charm/stun. I have no idea man. This will take some serious effort to beat. But the thing is, I know I can do it. I have the means to do it and if I want to, I don't think it will take very long or anything. It's just a total side thing. Actually, I have no idea what is the point of these candelabra bosses anyway. Candelabras give you deeper access to some dungeon, but I don't know what is the point of the dungeon. Is it just for treasure or leveling or do you actually have to go in there? No idea. So are these bosses optional or mandatory? No idea.

    No idea. But I don't mind.
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    [August 20, 2012 11:21:19 AM]
    Wah one more entry for this weekend since I started SMT: Nocturne yesterday. Today was a public holiday so I spent a little while getting into it. I just played and quit Digital Devil Saga 2 a month ago and I kinda wanted to get to Nocturne while the Shin Megami Tensei world was fresh in my head. Good call. I think I had all this shit memorized when I was playing Persona 3 a few years ago, and I think it's pretty much back. This game is a lot more similar to Persona 3 than Digital Devil Saga, which I like very much. Basically in DDS, you didn't collect demons or do any kind of fusion or use them in any way -- you were demons, and you fought the demons. In Persona 3 (I forget exactly how it worked), you collect the demons and use them in some form or fashion, maybe equip them or something. In Nocturne, you collect and fuse them and they form your party, which thus far is awesome.

    You acquire demons in a few different ways. One major one is through talking to them in battle. This is really neat, and it's way deeper than just talking. You can initiate conversations (and do so in different ways with different demons and/or your main character depending on their conversation skills, like Seduce and Flatter and whatnot) or demons will initiate conversations, oftentimes if you've almost killed them and they're begging for their lives. Sometimes when they beg you not to kill them, they'll say "haha, sucker!" and run off or keep attacking. Other times they'll join if you show mercy. If you initiate the conversation, they'll be more or less receptive depending on a bunch of factors, including race of the demon, phase of the moon, conversation skills your party has, racial makeup of the party, etc., etc. It sounds really complicated. Then asking them to join you isn't a simple matter of them answering yes or no. They'll ask you for items and money, sometimes multiple times (hmm, that's still not enough -- give me 100 monies; just one more healing item!). You can comply or not. If you don't you piss them off, and if you comply sometimes they'll end up still saying no thanks and giving you some other item in return for the 2 or 3 rounds of things you gave them, or they'll continue attacking you, or they'll run away. This is how you need to get items in the beginning of the game before you can fuse.

    After you open the fusion system, then you can fuse two demons (or more, depending) to obtain a new stronger demon. This new demon will inherit some skills from both of its 'parents' (which is more or less difficult depending on its affinities, i.e., a demon that is weak to fire will have a hard time learning a fire skill from its parents). I remember this being how it worked in Persona 3. In Nocturne, there are several other options to add to the complexity of fusions, such as fusing when the moon is brightest to add a 'sacrifice,' which is adding another demon whose experience gets added to the 'child' of the parents, so that the child is however many levels stronger than it would normally be. Fusing a regular demon with an element demon results in the next stronger version of that regular demon's race. Fusing a regular demon with a mitama does something too but so far all the mitamas are higher lever than me so I haven't been able to buy one to try (you can only handle demons who are your level or lower). There are some other special elements to fusion that I haven't discovered yet but that I've seen in a strategy guide (more on why I was looking at a strategy guide later).

    I've mentioned the moon level a few times. Like DDS's sun power, Nocturne has moon power (I don't think Persona 3 had anything like this). The moon power goes up from 0 (new) to 8 (full) and back down again, and repeats. 4 is half. This just constantly changes as you walk and it affects a ton of things, mostly when it's full. When the moon's power is full, it's like impossible to run from enemies. They won't talk to you because they're just like spazzed out from the moon. Some of your skills are dependent on moon power (and enemies' skills?). Mysterious treasure chests yield special and rare items when the moon is full. I'm proud of myself for figuring that out. Now whenever I see a mysterious chest (which is a special type of chest), I just run circles until the moon gauge fills up before I loot it and it, so far, has always yielded a gem, which rules. You use gems to buy elements and mitamas for fusion. And you gain the sacrifice fusion ability on full moons, but fusion during full moons is risky because the failure rate increases. Failing a fusion is no fun, as I recall from Persona 3 since you basically waste the two demons you fused. Save before fusing!

    Ok so a couple things about the party. Your party is 3 demons and yourself. You can stockpile up to 8 demons and switch them in and out. If you want a 9th demon, too bad. You have to fuse some or trash one to make room for a new one. I had this complaint in DDS where it was easy to destroy the effectiveness of your party because skills in the mantra grid took forever to level up and were super expensive to get the higher level ones, and the game started killing off my characters which turned my plans to dust. Persona seems to (seems to, fingers crossed!) avoid this problem because if you find yourself missing a skill, you just go find or fuse a demon who has it. Not bad! So whereas DDS killed my electricity character in the story, if it were Nocturne, I could have gone and recruited an electricity-using demon in battle and solved my problem without hours of grinding. Since you can have 8 demons, you can have a lot of bases covered all the time. And you're constantly fusing and upgrading demons, so you've just got to be mindful of not letting any of those bases slip under the radar. Like right now I have a pretty decent party for what I need. I have a couple examples of how great the demon-party customizability is.

    (1) Fire Sewers - I entered an area that an NPC warned me had a lot of poisonous monsters. Turns out they didn't use that much poison, but I did find out that the two most plentiful demons were weak to fire (when you get attacked by 6 enemies, you need to know these things!). The problem was I had no fire-users; therefore, I couldn't exploit their weaknesses at all; therefore, I got my ass kicked and only barely survived a few battles before running right back out of the dungeon. I remembered I'd previously had and fused a fire-using demon into something else. So I went back to where I remembered finding it before and recruited it. Then I went to the Cathedral of Shadows (where you fuse demons) and fused it into an even better demon who had a fire affinity, so inherited the parent's fire skill, and was set to learn another one. Then by chance I happened to have two more demons I wanted to fuse who yielded a different fire-affinity child with a basic fire spell. So voila! Two very useful fire-using demons all of a sudden. I went back to the sewers armed and ready and had a much better time.

    (2) El Matador - This example is only a thing because I died due to the one downside of the game thus far -- game over on main character death. NOOO! I really hate this rule, especially in punishing RPGs like this, where it is VERY EASY to get killed before you get a chance to act. Example: ambushed by more than a few enemies (this is basically a death sentence); another example: enemies at any given time attacking your main character in succession is also a death sentence if they exploit a weakness (using fire against your fire-weak character). I died once in two hits (a critical on a weakness and another physical attack). You can't plan for that. I mean, in the broadest sense you can reduce some risk, but on a moment to moment basis, once the enemy begins its round, if they decide to all attack the main character, and especially exploit weaknesses, even if he's fully healed, he's going to die and you'll get game over. It's very disheartening. Ok, so this example is actually in multiple parts...

    Part 2 of example (2) Return of El Matador - El Matador was hard as hell. The game surprised me with this special boss battle that I couldn't escape and wasn't ready for, hadn't had a save spot in forever, wasn't properly healed, etc. He only has a few attacks. One is a basic single-target physical attack and the other is the party-wide force attack. When I fought him, I had one character who was weak to force, another who drained force, and the other two neutral. Pro and con there. Con is one character, my healer, got blasted every round. Pro is that when your resistance is drain-level the attacker loses two turns. So if he cast his force spell first, he didn't get a second attack like usual because the drain makes him lose it. I guess drain outweighs the weakness of my healer. A weakness adds a turn for the attacker otherwise. Also, at the beginning, he casts something that makes his agility super high, so it was literally impossible for me to hit him. I missed 100% of the time. Luckily one of my characters had a spell that raises my own agility, so once I figured this out I could counter his spell and hit him. So every round he'd slam me with his force attack, and I struck this scary balance between healing, keeping my healer's mana refilled with my main character using items, and attacking with the other two. Eventually he died, but that fight sucked. So another 15 minutes after the fight, and before I found a save point, I experienced one of those super ridiculous and impossible-to-prevent main character deaths (weakness crit + weakness crit + weakness crit or some nonsense). I just laugh at these now because they've happened a handful of times already and they're so freaking stupid. So the next time I play I'll have to fight El Matador again. But this time, I've got a hell of a plan to use my demons AND my character's matagama to great effect.

    Part 3 of example (2) - Return to El Matador - The problem in the fight was just getting hit so damn hard, which caused my healer to have to heal every round, thus running him out of mana and causing my main character to have to use an item to replenish the healer's mana every other round, and usually to use a healing item to supplement the healing spell. So, I need to reduce damage by that force spell. I could take out my force-weak healer. I do have another demon who only has the single-target healing spell instead of the party spell, but not being crit every time might make that a viable option. If I want to I can even go recruit and fuse a perfectly tailored demon who can heal and is resistant to force magic. I love that I can do that if I want to.

    The other thing I can do concerns boosting my main character's defenses. Demons learn skills just by leveling up and inherit them through fusion. The main character learns skills by equipping and leveling up with what are called matagamas, little parasite things that give him different affinities and skills. I know I've got one that gives me force magic. I haven't looked but I assume it also makes you resistant to force magic. I could put that on and change my affinities and weaknesses (which in this case would be from neutral to force to strong against force, maybe even drain if I'm lucky -- then I'd have two characters draining and thus not needing healing). So hopefully with all these options, these wonderful, glorious, lovable options which Digital Devil Saga so glaringly lacked, I will have an easier time with El Matador the second time around.

    Of course, nothing I can do will prevent me from getting ambushed and one-shot after I beat El Matador again.

    I've really enjoyed Nocturne so far and feel it makes up for much of what annoyed me about DDS. I expect this is a really difficult game, and that's good. I need a challenge to keep me occupied at home on the weekends. Kingdoms was way too easy. So in a sick sad way, I honestly find the occasional ambush-deaths refreshing. Maybe that's why I've been laughing out loud when it happens. I'm dying! I feel so alive! Haha. Til next time...
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    dkirschner's Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (PS2)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 19 August, 2012

    GameLog closed on: Friday 5 October, 2012

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Awesome so far, much more like Persona than Digital Devil Saga. Cool demon recruitment system. ----------------- Excellent game. Gets tough at the end. Great party/demon customization options. Must think a lot!

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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