With each SRPG Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) develops, they always add some feature or twist that makes each title unique. It’s no different with their latest title, Soul Nomad & the World Eaters. Not only does it still have the same NIS charm that we have come to know and love, but they also made some changes in order to spice up the title. The story sequence is no longer chapter-based, and the battle mechanics are heavily borrowed from the classic Ogre Battle 64. Even though the game had some shortcomings, and I didn’t like the begining much, it turned out to be another solid entry to NIS’ SRPG library.
The game begins with some exposition about the past. In 525 TA, the continent of Prodesto came under unification by Lord Median, and peace spread across the land. Unfortunately, his reign only lasted for 10 years when he and his son passed away. War lasted throughout the lands until 550 TA when Median’s daughter, Layna, emerged as the leader. Peace existed until 600 TA when an evil entity, along with three massive creatures, emerged and brought chaos to the world. Queen Layna, however, was ready to fight. She was able to take him down, but sadly at the expense of her own life. The three other creatures suddenly went silent.
Afterwards, you get to choose a gender and a name for your silent protagonist.
Fast forward 200 years later to a hidden village where your hero/heroine and a girl named Danette are having their 1,083rd training session in order to become town guardians. Shortly after, a miraculously alive Queen Layna summons the two to her chambers and appoints them both town guardians. Danette is given a weapon of her choosing, but the hero is given a strange sword which turns out to be a master of death named Gig: the very foe Layna fought all those years ago. Layna wants the hero to be in charge of Gig’s power in order to take on the giant creatures known as World Eaters. So now the destruction of the World Eaters rests on the shoulders of two town guardians and a reluctant master of death.
There is a good amount of humor in the game, but NIS attempted the plot to be more dark and complex. Overall, they have succeeded, even though the execution was rough around the edges. The beginning was a bit stale, and too many questions and situations are thrown at you without much explanation. It’s easy to know where to go next, but sometimes, there is a vague explanation on why you go to some places.
As the plot thickens and questions are answered one by one, that’s when the game gets more interesting. The story gets increasingly twisted, plot twists occur that aren’t obvious, and it got to the point where I wanted to know what would happen next. In comparison to other NIS games, this game is a little dialogue heavy, and there is very little filler in the plot.
As for the characters, I liked a couple of them, though a few others were just “ok.” As you continue your journey to stop the World Eaters, you will befriend new allies and use dominion which is a way of taking control of someone when they submit to you. With dominion, you can summon a character to kick an enemy’s rear, even if they’re not tagging along. Hands down, the best character in the game is Gig. I loved his dialogue along with his interaction with the other characters. Most of the game’s humor comes from how he insults and teases. It is a shame many allies and villains lacked decent character development, partly due to how some characters come and go quickly.
Since the hero/heroine is a silent protagonist, it’s unfortunate that (s)he gets only one choice for dialogue most of the time except when (s)he chooses who to talk to after some story sequences. Even if it doesn’t affect the game’s story, it’s still nice to have choices just to wonder how other characters react.
With such a solid plot later in the game, it is a shame that the ending turned out to be a little lackluster. With that said, a bonus comes afterwards, which provides nice additional content. When you start the game from your completed save file, you are given the option to take another path in the story. You can choose to accept Gig’s uber powers, and throw all your morals out the window. It is a nice alternative to see how things react when you bring chaos to the world. Some characters that were only around a short time in the main story get a lot more screentime in this plotline. It’s such a twisted, but amusing scenario, and I liked this plot more so than the main story.
As mentioned earlier, the gameplay has some elements from other NIS games such as merchant leveling and optional random dungeons, but they did some tweaking using Ogre Battle 64’s combat engine.
Battles take place on maps and your battle party consists of various small squads. Allied and enemy squads take turns based on the overall speed of the squad, similar to Phantom Brave. When a stage starts, your hero always makes the first move and (s)he can summon other squads for a price. The summon price varies, depending on the units in the squad. When your squad engages an enemy, the whole squad attacks at once, then the enemy counters. If the leader of a squad dies, the entire squad is defeated. Your squads also have a stamina meter which depletes when a squad takes action. Lower stamina results in weaker attacks and lowered accuracy.
In a squad, your leader can use tactics. They are used to buff you or nearby squads with a stat. Tactics can also weaken or attack an enemy from a distance. You have limited use of each tactics in battle, and can level them up, but nothing seems to change when leveled. There is also a bit of a strength/weakness system incorporated. When you target an enemy, sometimes you get icons that tell you how you would fare against an enemy squad. Hearts indicate you’d do fine while skulls say that you’re at a disadvantage. I never understood how it is calculated, but it’s a fairly accurate method.
Objectives are straightforward. Most of the time you simply have to defeat all enemies. Rarely, the objectives differ such as enduring a few rounds or to die on purpose. Completing a battle gives you money and several items, depending on how fast you completed your objective. Unless you have to lose, you get a game over if your hero’s squad is defeated.
Even though there is no variety in battles, I enjoyed them. Several stages later on became quite challenging. It can be frustrating at times because the enemies easily have the upper hand, but the challenge always felt fair and made me utilize strategy in each stage like a good SRPG should. The fights against World Eaters are especially epic.
You do not have a base for your hero to roam around in and shop. Instead, they took a cue from Final Fantasy Tactics by using a world map in order you get to either a story sequence or a mission indicated by an icon. Luckily, there are no random encounters, but there isn’t much places to go in the map other than an event or town.
As with other NIS games, there is quite a bit to consider in terms of party management. The “Arrange” option on the world map allows you to manage your party. Squads are placed in segments called rooms and each room contains different patterns with which to arrange your squads. You can get different rooms by selecting “change,” which gives everyone a random room type and number of slots for unit placement. The only way to keep a room you like while changing is to lock a room, but there are a limited number of locks. There is a front, middle, and rear section, and placing a squad member in different sections makes them use a different ability. Putting some units in the same squad enables team attacks. You can purchase units, and the tedium of leveling them is absent. You can pay more to make a unit up to the current level of your main character. This is a feature I want SRPGs to have when you have generic units to create. Progression enables you to unlock more room types, units, number of squads and locks.
After a few stages, you unlock two other shops. One shop sells Gig Edicts which are your standard items and tools to annoy. There is also decor (equipment for the room), but they are gone after one use in battle. You can get better edicts and decor by maxing a merchant level, which is increased by shopping, and then beating them up for a new set of merchants to appear.
There are also inspections, which is a way to power up your decor and get room points to improve a unit’s stats. Inspections are random dungeons that contain different leveled enemies, depending on the room type you selected. In an inspection, you can defeat all enemies, wait until a number of turns passes, or defeat a room sentry who is a much higher level than others. Completing a room gives you room points and a small boost in a decor item. Deco’s aren’t gone after an inspection stage and summons are free. Since you cannot repeat story stages, this is the only other way to train.
Towns are purely menu-based, and their purpose is to advance a story, trigger a battle or mess with the NPCs residing in the town. You can do several things to the NPCs like stealing an item, beating them up and get a reward if you are victorious, kick them to tick them off, or combining with them to gain stats for your protagonist. You can even recruit some NPCs to fight for you through kidnapping. Most of these actions can only be done once to the NPC, and some of them might be angry enough to appear while you are in a mission.
The game’s controls were perfectly fine. The interface in the arrange option is a bit overwhelming, but I got used to it quickly. On the other hand, the AI has some ups and downs. When your squad does not use an ability, each member randomly attacks a target they can hit. A lot of times, your squad members target the members you’d want, but sometimes, things don’t go in your favor. The enemy AI is usually aggressive, making good use of their abilities, but they can be a bit stupid too. They kamikaze at you, even if a squad has no fighters left.
The graphics employ the same type of sprites as their other games. They still look dated, especially in comparison to Vanillaware’s sprites, but they have a certain charm. Each sprite has a good degree of animation and expression, plus each can pull off a lot of flashy attacks during battle. I was quite impressed by how good-looking the world eaters were. It would’ve been nice to see some graphical upgrades, but I’ve always been a fan of NIS’ simplistic, but flashy style.
Cutscenes portray events in two ways. Most of the time, they do so in a sidescrolling style similar to Phantom Brave. Backgrounds are in 3D and are not state of the art, but they do look better than other NIS games, meshing pretty well with the sprites. Sometimes, story sequences play out via large character portraits. They are well-drawn, but their expressions never change. Some scenery is also shown in full portraits. It doesn’t occur often, but I liked it when it was there.
The battlefields look dull, but at least there is a variety of locales presented, and the terrain itself affects gameplay. Using a map-based battlefield also eliminates all bad camera angles that were present in other NIS games.
The music is composed by none other than Tempei Sato. He primarily uses an orchestra style, but occasionally, he utilizes a fusion of Celtic and Asian style music in his compositions. I enjoyed his music in the game, but they were nowhere as good as his Disgaea compositions. He did some great pieces, and a few grew on me, but a lot of songs were a little bland.
As usual, NIS America includes the option of Japanese and English voices. It’s no surprise that the Japanese VA is solid, but I gave the dub a chance. I liked the dub, and it does seem like NIS America provides better voice acting in their own games than works they publish such as GUST. The VA managed to fit their character roles well, even if the VA itself isn’t so great. I was easily the most impressed on Gig’s voice actor. He did a great job on his delivery, making the character sound like an obnoxious, self-centered jerk. Considering how dialogue heavy the game is, it was nice that the story sequences are fully voiced.
The changes has its ups and downs, but NIS has produced another fine game. The game has a sluggish start, but it picked up the pace by the end. The main story is only 20 hours long with 50 missions, but it has some replay value. No matter what I say though, fans of NIS’ games will pick this up without hesitation. For newcomers of the company’s SRPGs, it isn’t the greatest SRPG they’ve done, but it’s definitely worth checking out.