Our Man in Japan -- MegaTen and Tokyo
DeanRaker - Columns - Comments - 07/10/04

By Shou Suzuki (a.k.a. Kitsune)

You've been having a bad day. All you wanted to do is stroll through the park, meet your friends, and visit your teacher in the hospital. And earlier, there had been that strange, apocalyptic dream. Then the hospital was abandoned, with lingering vestiges of occult activity. On top of that, a pallid little boy and his black-clad, veiled nanny thrust something into your eye. No, this isn't The Omen. Although, come to think of it, that little boy is Lucifer, so maybe it is an omen.

Things were looking up a bit when you got front-row seats on the rooftop to see the world end, but that meant you couldn't say, "Okay, bad day, but it wasn't the end of the world!"

Now you've woken up to discover that you've become a demon. A demon with a horn growing out of your head and neon green glowing tattoos on your body. You seem to have you?re your shirt, too, so maybe the ladies will find it sexy. But a quick check of your surroundings reveals there aren't any girls left, at least not of the human sort. Oh yeah, that's right, the world just ended.

But it was high time for a stylish remake. Of the world, that is. And a great cackling mass of demons, angels and various other heavenly and infernal bodies have been invited to the party. Welcome to the remade world of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Atlus has readied your invitation to play and it appears you are the guest of honor, because you will be the one remaking the world!

The World Revolves Around You

Nocturne takes place in a kind of inverted Tokyo, which has become its own kind of spherical planet. You have been charged with the task of mediating between the hordes of creatures who have made it their new nesting place. The thing that was thrust into your eye is a Magatama and as you find more, it helps you grow. As the selected mediator of the rebirth of this new world, your greatest asset will be your ability to talk to and negotiate with demons in any battle. This isn't just an occasional special ability. It is a fundamental part of the gameplay. Once you've negotiated with demons, you can summon them into a four-member party and use them for your own purposes. This can range from making sure the new world is a Buddhist paradise free from all thinking, revolting against the demonic orders and installing your own regime, or even throwing down the allies of light and justice in order to bring about your own fascist empire.

Nocturne is definitely a game about choice. It features a great deal of freedom, with little in the way of set characters and paths. Its style is striking, modern, ultra sleek, with a unique sheen and spirit. For more than a year and half since its original release, it has been drawing universal praise (I would say "nearly universal", but I can't find any bad reviews) and seems to have been afforded the respect you would give a masterpiece.

This contradiction between its Japan release and the fact that it's not getting a respectable release anywhere else is unfortunate, but it shows how the industry has matured differently in different parts of the world. In a series of articles, I'd like to introduce you to these powerfully odd games. I'd like to introduce Nocturne at more length and discuss the critical and cultural aspects that surround it. I'd like to spotlight the series' unique mythology, which is at once befuddling, amusing, dark, and esoteric, but always fascinating and complex with its sophisticated understanding of the Japanese language.

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