Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne - first of the True Advent of the Goddess games to reach Western shores. Although North American gamers have had a taste of SMT before through its spin-off series, Persona, this will be the first formal release from the mother. SMT has a long history of raising controversial issues dealing with demonology, occult mysteries, and Jungian psychology. Its stories do not rely on a "hero" so much as a protagonist, one who can choose to be good, evil, or neutral. Protagonists in all SMT games have the ability to speak with - and tame - the enemies they encounter; be it through coercion, diplomacy, bribery, or intimidation, the forces against the protagonist can be made into servants of the player.
Notably, the word "Demon" is not entirely accurate, since there are "demons" classified as "Angels" and other such non-demonic entities. However, Atlus has chosen to use the term to describe any supernatural being the player encounters, good, evil, or other.
In Nocturne, players are introduced to the protagonist who, with a friend, is on his way to visit his teacher in the hospital. On the train ride there, strange things begin to happen, and the protagonist is suddenly plunged into a strange dream. There, a beautiful woman shows him Armageddon. Apocalypse is right around the corner. When the protagonist returns to the real world, he tries to shrug off the dream, but cannot. The doomsday message is given again when the protagonist arrives at the hospital. The building has been abandoned, save for one old man, who claims that the present world is about to crumble in order to give way to a new one. Then the protagonist finds himself hurled through a vortex, into a world that is a twisted mirror of reality.
Between the real world and the mirror world, the protagonist begins to explore what fate means, how to change it, and what reality is. Before his quest can begin, however, the protagonist encounters Lucifer, the fallen angel. Lucifer infects the dimensional wanderer with a demonic larva called Magatama, a symbiotic creature which enables the protagonist to use supernatural energies. It also allows the protagonist to communicate with his enemies, thus opening the door to demon taming.
Players are given three different groups to align themselves with - the Miroku, Yosuga, and Musubi. The Miroku wish to transcend the sensory world and bring about Nirvana - enlightenment for all beings. The Yosuga believe in survival of the fittest - that only the strongest will remain after apocalypse. The Musubi believe in creating individual paradises for each living being, places where no harm will come to them. Each holds great potential for the protagonist, and it is up to players to choose where their destiny lies.
Integral to progressing through the game is demon taming. Once players enter combat, they may choose to speak with the demon and negotiate a contract. The various questions, answers, and offers presented can lead to the demon either joining players, or becoming that much more aggressive. Demons may also choose to run away if they feel too intimidated, or they may want a bribe in return for their services.
Once players have successfully acquired a host of demons to serve them, they can fuse two demons to create a third, more powerful one. Naturally, the new demon will inherit the qualities of its parents. Beyond regular fusion, there's also sacrificial fusions and evolutionary fusions. Sacrificing three demons for one on a full moon will yield an even more powerful demon that inherits bonus statistics from the third in addition to its regular parents. There is also an encyclopedia provided in-game so that players can catalogue the monsters they've captured and created. It also allows players to store the demons they've obtained and "hire" them during battle.
Evolutionary fusion requires a demon and its corresponding elemental energy to be united. Using two elemental spirits, players can create a "Mitama", and using the mitama, enhance a demon's statistics. Repeated fusion of demon and mitama can yield more powerful forms of that demon's class, similar in a sense to the system found in Monster Rancher.
The final kind of fusion is rather obscure in description. Called "Mythology Fusion," it allows players to use a demon with a real-world mythological background to create a demon related to its story. Unfortunately, nothing else is presently known about this system.
The battle system itself will be straightforward. Turn-based and fast-paced, combat even features an auto-battle command to cut down the repetition of traditional combat. The system is offset, however, by the use of demons, negotiation, and character evolution. As players progress, they can evolve the protagonist's magatama and obtain new skills. These evolutions can also change the protagonist's physical appearance.
Graphically, the game can be described as "mature anime". It features very precise cel-shading and 3D character models which accurately replicate the mannequin features of Kazuma Kaneko's original designs. The entire world is rendered with soft lighting, muted colors and minimalist geometric designs, accented by exotic, alien patterns. Special effects during battle looks to be the regular fare, with plenty of bright, stunning explosions and grandeur.
Shin Megami Tensei has a long history of controversy, but it seems like the Western market is finally ready for what Persona and Persona 2 gave it a taste of. Atlus has given the go-ahead for a September 21st release in 2004.