Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call
I must admit I had never heard of the Shin Megami Tensei-serie before I got this game in my controllershaped hands. Google told me that this is a Japanese series that is quite successful in that part of the world, and also is known under the name “MegaTen”. With Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call (in the U.S. also known as SMT: Nocturne) this series gets sold for the first time over here, sadly enough without much attention from the press and gamers. But enough contextual brabbel, let’s quickly see what this Japanese RPG has under its hood. One thing I can already tell you: it isn’t just another inpirationless Final Fantasy
Already at the first images you notice that the makers have left the middle-aged setting completely. Tokyo is the place-to-be, completely with the well-known buildings and tourist attractions as you can find them today in the Japanese capitol. Also the people you meet are just like you: right on with time and not scared of current day trends, ipods and games magazines.
During the introduction of the game you talk with some friends and get to know that something strange is going on in the park. Strangely enough the happenings are kept quiet and you only get to know that apparantly two occult groups are fighting. Also a journalist is looking for more info on what’s going on, something that adds to the strange atmosphere.
Meanwhile, you and your friends visit a teacher in the hospital but after close investigation the building appears deserted. If that isn’t enough, your teacher is part of a dark ritual whereby everything outside the hospital will be destroyed. Even before you can start worrying, the “Conception” and accompanying apocalypse happens. It’s a bit too late for saving the world and the next 40 hours out of your already way too short life you’ll be busy with dealing with the consequences of this mistake!
This “Conception” makes that the whole of Tokyo gets destroyed, all inhabitants die and the city gets a rather unwelcome impression. Not only is this due to strange things like the Kagutsuchi (the moon in the middle of the now ball-shaped Tokyo) but also to the fact that the city is filled with demons and other divine beings (an angel in a leather string anyone?). However, you’ll quickly feel at home as it doesn’t take long before you become such a creature yourself with impressive tattoos! On top of that, but you don’t know that at that tim, you’ll play an important part in the rebirth of the world.
There are four different endings depending on the choices you make and playing style so I can only be overly positive on the storyline.
Before we get to the ending however, there’s quite some fighting to be done in this Asian ursery. Demons seem not so easy to defeat and on top of that they appear and the most obnoxious moments. So-called random encounters are present in this game and you can avoid them like in other recent console-RPG’s. Definitely something old-school RPG fans will love, but personally I liked the not mandatory approach just a little more. Still, the turn-based fighting system is quite interesting and tactical, with as basic ingredients melee-attacks, magic and of course special abilities.
You do have to think well about which party members to take along and which “elements” you want to enhance on yourself for certain fights. Thanks to the Magatama you can switch strengths and weaknesses of elements. This will be more than necessary as the meetings (not to say anything about the bosses) are usually a guarantee for challenging gameplay with high difficulty level. Your opponents can quickly cause damage by using the right combos and resistance while getting little damage themselves. In such cases you’re dead more quickly than you’d like and if you die, it’s “game over”. Choose your affinities with great care.
Really cool is the way you recrute beings for your group of ass-kickers. As demon you’ll have it quite hard to motivate humans to join you. That’s why you have to bribe, threaten or talk your opponents into working together with you instead of chopping you up. For the smartasses amongst us: it’s not a “Pokemon in hell” as you only have a limited amount of places of which you can activate three each time.
Also, not everyone will just go along with being your help: some will want items or money, others will give you something for the trouble and again others just give you some information. Sometimes they ask a question and you have to find your most filosophical mind to be able to give the correct answer. For the fans of “Devil May Cry” this is a fun extra; you can go head to head with Dante several times and as you know, he loves demons like you!
Even more fun it gets when it becomes clear that you can combine your creatures to create others that are more efficient. The tempels for these transformations offer a preview (type of monster, which level) on the result of the combinations so that you can start the fusions with a good idea of what’s to come. In short, these meetings and the recruiting are a very fun addition to the game and the genre, and the originality of it nicely brings us to the next part.
The graphics and music are not the main reasons to get this game but nonetheless they’re quite alright. The images are original, amongst others due to the cellshaded cartoon style and the inspirational models (look at the screenshots) that make up for the lesser technical qualities. Also the surroundings are very varied, with some indoor locations that are disappointing but you can’t expect too much from hospital hallways and shopping centers.
The soundtrack is fittingly compiled from mostly modern tracks, with jazz, rock and pop and here and there a bit of typical Japanese tingling. Voice-acting is absent but this didn’t bother me at all seeing that it allows you to skip through the dialogues more quickly instead of waiting for the voice actors who annoyingly slow say their stuff.
Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call is without a doubt not a game for everyone. It’s a fresh and visually inspired game, that for once doesn’t walk the known ways of the console-RPG, but delivers the player an interesting setting and story. On top of that you get a surprisingly fun recruitment elements for your party members and a challenging combat system. The combination of these last two also makes the high difficulty level, something that may scare some people away. If you aren’t easily intimidated and love RPG’s, you should most certainly try this one out as I guarantee you a game that isn’t like all those other ones. A surprisingly strong piece of Japanese playing fun that is more than advisable!