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.