Sunday Soapbox: Why Nocturne is Better Than Final Fantasy XIII

It’s safe to say that most of us have tried Final Fantasy XIII, and found it lacking. Maybe you appreciate the game for what it is, but wish it was more. Maybe you only found pleasure in the game’s battle system, which is widely hailed as its strongest aspect. Or perhaps, like me, you hated pretty much everything about the game.

During the fifteen hours or so that I spent hating Final Fantasy XIII, I often found myself simply wondering why I was hating it so much. Was it just because the game itself was bad? Or, was it possible that I was just losing my taste for JRPGs in general? I considered the latter a distinct possibility, because in the last year I really haven’t played that many RPGs – so maybe, possibly, they just weren’t my thing anymore.

Well, twelve hours into Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, I’ve discovered that’s not the case. I’m enjoying the hell out of it, and because of that I’ve come to the definitive conclusion that Final Fantasy XIII is just a bad game. So, why am I enjoying Nocturne so much when Final Fantasy XIII made me cringe? Allow me to explain.

I Feel Like a Part of Nocturne’s World

I might as well begin by attacking Final Fantasy XIII’s weakest aspect. As pretty as it might look, Final Fantasy XIII never manages to connect you to the world you’re in. In fact, Final Fantasy XIII seems to go out of its way to ensure that you can never feel a tangible connection with its world. You’re never allowed to interact with your surroundings in any way; and, in fact, the only real player input to be found is within Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system. You can’t talk to NPCs. You can’t explore towns. Hell, for the majority of the game, you can’t even decide how to evolve the Crystarium. Final Fantasy XIII, for all intents and purposes, is on rails.

Hail the advent of the rail-turn-based-fighting game.

Now, let’s consider Nocturne. When I’m in a new place, I can go talk to NPCs to gather info and insight about the area I’m in, who lives there, who runs it, and how it works. When I’m exploring the world, I’m actually exploring – I’m not walking a straight line. In short, I’m allowed to piece together my own understanding of the world, rather than being force-fed through crappy cutscenes. My connection the world and events at large advance at my own pace, not at the pace of some dsylexic Japanese man who thinks he’s writing something epic.

Nocturne Actually Has an Atmosphere

Because Final Fantasy XIII force-feeds you the specifics of its world and events, the game is never allowed to develop a palpable atmosphere. You see, atmosphere doesn’t have anything to do with writing or storytelling – it’s essentially how the game feels while you’re playing it. And, as I’ve already said, the only time you’re ever playing Final Fantasy XIII is when you’re in combat.

Nocturne doesn’t have that problem. In fact, Nocturne has one of the richest, most unique atmospheres I’ve ever experienced in a JRPG. The lack of human party members, combined with the post-apocalyptic setting, evokes an atmosphere that’s comparable to games like Metroid Prime, Shadow of the Colossus, and (to cite another RPG) Vagrant Story. To sum up, while Final Fantasy XIII is simply a task, Nocturne is an experience.

Nocturne Has Less of a Story, Yet More

Nocturne takes a fairly minimalist approach to story exposition. In spite of that, the events taking place are far more engaging than Final Fantasy XIII’s nonsensical mess of a plotline. Why? Oh, well, it’s pretty simple. Atlus has good writers. See Persona 3 and 4 for additional proof of that. Square Enix, on the other hand, does not. Or, if they do, they didn’t let them anywhere near Final Fantasy XIII’s script.

Nocturne’s Battle System is Better

There was a time that I said good things about Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system. And, to be fair, it’s certainly not a bad system – it’s just not great by any means. Call it streamlined, call it “fast and furious,” call it a great example of Macro vs Micro-management, but in my opinion, it’s just dumbed down. Paradigms are simply a heavily generalized form of XII’s gambits, and there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to issue manual commands to my party members.

Nocturne, like all of the Shin Megami Tensei games, has one of the deepest, most strategic battle systems I’ve seen in an RPG. Recruiting a variety of demons to fight on your side is not only a ton of fun in and of itself, but it also lends itself to deliciously complex combat strategies – aside from titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, I’ve never played an RPG that places so much emphasis on building and preening a strong party. Just one demonic member can make all the difference, and the combinations are practically endless. In Final Fantasy XIII, “strategy” is letting the right dog off the chain at the right time. In Nocturne, you’re the one building the team, strengthening the team, and guiding the team – and that’s how it should be.

Nocturne Has Dante In It

Yep, that’s right. Dante, from Devil May Cry. The ultimate demon-hunting badass. Atlus struck a deal with Capcom to get him in their game. This is something the Square Enix clearly failed at, and it cost them.

I know that not everyone’s going to agree with me here. But, all you sensible people will, I’m sure. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is a better game than Final Fantasy XIII in every conceivable way.

Except for those graphics. Those graphics were sweeeeet.

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12 Responses to “Sunday Soapbox: Why Nocturne is Better Than Final Fantasy XIII”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    -Easy to make good graphics in a linear uninteractive tube, Nocturne grinds XIII’s derivative concept art into the ground.

    -Atlus is the newer, darker, cooler Square. I haven’t played an SMT game anywhere close to as bad as XIII.

    -When a JRPG is really good they’re still my favourite genre, but I have entirely lost the will to play mediocre JRPGs, which appear to be becoming worse and more derivative. Even JRPGs which other people seem to enjoy feel to me as being patronizingly dumbed down, with nonsensical or derivative stories (Eternal Sonata).

  2. Ethos says:

    I think “derivative” is such an overused non-criticism. Everything is derivative, and often it can actually be something to praise. However, I agree that I’ve lost the will to play mediocre JRPGs, and it’s actually been a difficult process making myself let go and not feel like I have to complete every JRPG ever released.

    But yeah, I agree that XIII is crap when all is said and done. There are arguments against your battle system complaints since you didn’t get to a point when building and prep actually makes a big difference in battle. But I agree with SN in the criticism that you shouldn’t have to play SIXTY HOURS to get to that point. So much so that it makes defense of the battle system almost a moot point.

  3. SiliconNooB says:

    *Sigh* conspicuously derivative, shamelessly derivative, does nothing beyond the source material it apes. Do I really have to write a lengthy qualifying statement every time that I wish to complain about something which on the face of it is easy enough to understand?

    -I need to learn to stop buying all the JRPGs that I come across in the hopes that one of them will make me feel like one of the better PS1 JRPGs did back in the day … it just isn’t happening … and results in me owning a bunch of games that don’t get played.

  4. Ethos says:

    -I suppose it’s because I don’t agree that your examples are derivative to that extent. There’s much to criticize about both FFXIII and ES, but I wouldn’t use “derivative” as a negative in a case against either.

    -Yeah, I still have that issue. I bought Brave Story without any research, and I expect to regret that…

  5. SiliconNooB says:

    FFXIII concept art is highly derivative from FFX, FFX concept art is highly derivative from FFVIII, it’s as though the Kitase production team has given up creating visually unique worlds like FFVII, IX and XII. As for Eternal Sonata, that was more an example of a nonsensical story, I couldn’t be arsed thinking of a derivative example to go along with it.

    -I’ve heard generally good things about Brave Story. I have it, but have only played a half hour, so no firm opinions.

  6. evilpaul says:

    Somebody should send their favorite evil person a PS3 and FF13 so I can experience the pain for myself. Or don’t…I’m increasingly not particularly wanting to play it. lol

    I did really enjoy playing through the PS2 SMT games this past year or two. Devil Summoner series aside I enjoyed them about as much as I did the late SNES/Square’s golden PSX era stuff.

    P4 is obviously very derivative of P3. And P3 and DDS1/2 obviously lifted much of their battle systems from Nocturne. But the characterizations, world, story, character progression, and tweaks to the battle system were all interesting and engaging in the various games.

    Also, everyone who hears it thinks I’m crazy, but from what I’ve heard of FF13 it sounds like SE tried to copy stuff from the SMT games. Completely unsuccessfully, but whatever.

  7. SiliconNooB says:

    Playing FFXIII will make you wish that you were playing FFVIII, it is in no way similar to the SMT series.

  8. evilpaul says:

    I would rather be a “star” in a real life Hostel movie than play FFVIII, so I seriously doubt that!

  9. SiliconNooB says:

    No, no, FFVIII is seriously much better than XIII, at least it has some sort of ambition to be entertaining …

  10. Ethos says:

    Y’know I would absolutely agree with you, SN, if the enemies didn’t level up with you in VIII. That makes it a non-game in my opinion. I would actually like FFVIII a LOT more if it weren’t for that. At least Pulse post-game is a great game, although that’s definitely the only thing I would ever dare call “great” about it.

  11. SiliconNooB says:

    Oh, don’t get me wrong, FFVIII is hopelessly broken, but it aspires to be something more than FFXIII, and I can appreciate that.

    -I’m just using FFVIII’s relative brilliance as a reference point for just how bad XIII’s game design is, a game so poorly designed that it only becomes “good” once you finish it …

  12. Ethos says:

    Bah-ha, yup. Well, I can’t argue that!

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