Friday, November 9, 2012


My last post on Shin Megami Tensei:  Nocturne detailed me regaining my bearings and figuring out just where I was supposed to head next in the game.  You'll be happy (or indifferent) to know that since then, I've figured out where to go.  I've made some headway in the story.  I cleared the first Kalpa in the lengthy Labyrinth of Amala.  I've come to see just why people rant, rave, and generally sing the praises about Nocturne.  However, if I want to sum up my latest stretch of  play with the game, I can sum it up in 2 words:

Fuck, Hamaon.

MegaTen veterans are familiar with the Hama and Mudo line of spells:  Representing the opposing forces of "holy" and "death" (or "expel" for the former, depending on the game), these category of spells can instantly kill the target.  Generally, they only land when you or one of your party members have an explicit weakness to it:

Or in this case, an explicit weakness to EVERYTHING ELSE.

And even then, it's not a guaranteed one shot.  In fact, most of the time, there's that brief moment of panic when you see the spell pop up, followed by laughter when you realize the AI was stupid enough to cast a spell that has almost no chance of success, wasting its turn, and further cementing your success in battle:

A lot like this, really.

Nocturne, however, is a different beast.  See, earlier in my last stretch of play, I decided to find a place where I could grind to level 20 fairly early in the game.  Shortly after you enter Ginza in the game, if you're willing to go a bit out of your way, you can access an area where the enemies are a few levels above the typical fodder, and also award some pretty decent experience points.  There was a rough patch initially, until I configured my party in a way that battles were tough, but manageable.

Somewhere in the grinding, I ran across one of the many Angel-class demons, Principality.  Normally, I was able to beat these things in one or two turns, but in  one battle, things stretched out slightly longer than normal.  No big deal, right?  Then during the enemy phase, my opponent decided to cast Hamaon on my main character:

"Oh crap, Hamaon!" I thought.   I mean after all, Hamaon is a step above the tier 1 "Hama".  It also felt rather early in the game for a demon to be casting that.  Then the panic subsided as I remembered just how useful it was in the other games I've played.  I also relaxed knowing I didn't equip my main character with anything that gave a weakness to the spell.

Then, after the animation for the spell completed, I saw my main character's hit points drop to 0.

Then he dropped to the ground.

Then I got the rather lengthy game over screen.  It's important to clarify here that this is one of the SMT games where main character death = game over.

Now if you think I'm dramatizing all the thoughts that went through my head, let me say two things:  One, my mind works fairly fast (just ask David, Nick, or the Enabler).  Two, the animation for Hamaon is pretty long, comparatively.

Anyway, I was a little annoyed, since I'd gone from level 16 to being on the cusp of 18, but no matter.  I made the long trek back to my prime leveling spot.

Then I ran into the same set of monsters again.  This time, I was lucky and they cast Hamaon on a demon that had a weakness against it.  Sucker.  Then it cast Hamaon on my main character again -- no worries, as my previous foray was just dumb luck.

Incorrect:  Another one shot K.O.  Lightning struck twice.

Admittedly, this might count more as 1.2 times than striking twice.

Round 3.  This time I got a little smarter.  While it was tedious, every time I gained a level, I made sure to make the long trek back to a save point, then back to my leveling spot.  A few battles later, in the cusp of reaching level 20, I decided to chance one more battle and easily wiped out the wave of enemies.

Ah, but wait, there's more!  See, in Nocturne, there's a chance that after dispatching a new wave of enemies, another set will appear.

I'm sure you can guess what set of enemies appeared.

I'm sure you can guess what spell was cast.

I'm sure you know how effective it was.  You know how this story ends.

About as predictably as this one does.

The story has a happy ending, at least.  I did meet my grinding goal and have since progressed further into the game.  That ordeal, however, has left me with a fear of both Hama and Mudo line spells.  Before, I'd laugh or shrug when the spell was cast.

Now, those few seconds  when I see the animation come up induces panic.  Is it going to land?  Or is it going to undo the progress I've made.  Now, when I run into a set of demons I haven't fought before, there's always that slight worry that it might have access to one of those spells.  It's a fear further exacerbated by knowing that Nocturne is one of those games that at times, seems determined to beat you.

At least, however, it's keeping me on my toes.  In spite of this setback, I'm finding that Nocturne is tremendously fun, and that I shouldn't have put the game off for this long.

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