Soul Nomad & the World Eaters PS2 Review
Gig. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said when someone speaks about Soul Nomad & the World Eaters (which we will call Soul Nomad from now on, as I’m kind of stuck for time, plus I’m now ruler of the world! Mwahaha! Bow down to my might!) Soul Nomad is one of those characters that just make the game what it is. Without him it would be one of those usual “protect the world” stories, and we’ve had plenty of them. Nippon Ichi brings us a twist on a genre that they know so well, giving us an interesting story, gameplay mechanics and a dude that’s got to be one of the year’s most bad ass characters yet.
Kicking off the game you get the chance to be a male or female adventurer, this is actually the first time Nippon Ichi have not had a set character for the game. It’s probably because no matter whom you choose the character remains a silent protagonist, so no voice acting was needed. It doesn’t really alter much apart from the endings, which are slightly different depending on what sex you are. After you’ve entered your name, you are off on a journey to save the world, or destroy it. It features the option to do both, though you’ll be saving civilization first because the other path is harder than the hero one.
The story kicks off with the hero/heroine training with his/her good friend. After that you are summoned to the chambers of the village leader, Layna. From there you are given a mysterious sword and suddenly taking hold of it, your body is fused with something evil, wicked, twist and damn right cool too, this is Gig. You learn that Gig was trapped in the sword for a reason. 200 years ago the Master of Death – Gig – was wreaking havoc on the planet with his three gigantic World Eaters. After a climatic battle he was finally overcome and sealed away, although his three World Eaters were still around on the planet, they appeared to be asleep; all isn’t what it seems though. Back to present times, the protagonist is now infused with the soul of Gig. Hoping that the hero will be able to control the power of Gig, Layna entrusts the player to put a stop to the reawakened World Eaters and save everyone from certain doom.
It’s the fusion of Gig and the main character that supplies most of the game’s laughs. The game isn’t the bizarre comical type that you would normally associate with Nippon Ichi, rather the story is a lot more mature and grown up, but because of Gig’s full-on don’t-give-a-crap attitude, it makes for some interesting dialogue. For example Gig has it in for the main character’s best friend, called Danette, she isn’t the brightest of sparks because she has something wrong with her, but throughout the game he throws insults at her like “cow” and “retard,” along with gems like “man you must have had an horrid childhood” to the main character, and everyone’s favourite, by the looks of things is “she makes me want to punch kittens!” (that one is going to be stuck with me for a long time, it’s a classic.) I can say that one of the main reasons I kept on playing throughout the game was my love of Gig. Just sitting there waiting for what he’s going to sprout next is a joyous moment, because you know what comes from him is either insulting, witty, amusing or just plain bad ass, the game even features a little Duke Nukem reference for some kicks.
But enough about Gig, a game can’t be good just solely on a character being godlike, it has to play well too. Soul Nomad is actually rather deep and complex, but you might not really notice that from the start because the tutorials don’t fully touch on everything. They teach you some of the basics, stuff like how to fight, attack and such. It will then explain some other features quickly and after you are left to find out most of the stuff yourself. Reading the help files is a must if you want to understand everything; even browsing some of the forums for the game is recommended as they will explain it better for you.
To put it simply, Soul Nomad is a grid based strategy RPG (Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Front Mission, you get the gist). Moving is done by selecting the unit and clicking where you want him to go in the squares highlighted, doing so drains stamina, which is a “how much you can do” meter that can be topped up with items. Although unlike all the other games, the unit is actually a squad, which can feature up to nine characters. On the grid map you’ll only see the leader featured, but when highlighted or going into battle, the squad details will be shown. When you attack the game displays an Advance Wars style view where you see both squads go at it in a split screen down the middle view, showing what damage has been done.
Squads are a very complex part of Soul Nomad, but it’s not actually needed throughout the main story. The reason for that is the game is actually pretty easy and most of the times I manage to get through the battles with only using my main squad. I had a back up squad made, which I may have called in from time to time just to make sure I wasn’t going to die, but most of the time you’ll be able to handle anything coming at you with your main character.
Squads are kept in areas called rooms, which are places where your squad stay together until called into battle. Rooms all look different and even have special abilities that affect the way your squad will handle. The room is a 3×3 grid, but you won’t be getting the full nine squares at the start of the game, as you slowly start unlocking them as you play through. Formations are given to you randomly through a room changer. If you are picky and want the perfect formations, matched with the right room, expect to be pressing change for a while. At one point I was doing it for ten minutes just trying to get the god damn room that gave you more damage when your stamina is drained. Rooms can also be powered up by taking tests, beating them gives you the power to charge up some units in your squad, the higher you go in the test the better the reward is.
The classes that you stick together may unlock special attacks if you have the right formation with them. Plenty of classes feature including Mages, Warriors, Fighters, Archers and Monsters. They all have attacks that are dependant on where they are put in the room, Front, Middle and Rear. Sticking a Cleric in the rear will make her heal all the team, stick her in the middle and she’ll heal one randomly, for laughs stick her on the front row and watch her hit the opposition with her book in hand like some old lady. It’s all of this that isn’t explained as well as it should be and might be a bit disheartening for people who don’t know the genre well.
Other stuff worth mentioning is that everyone you speak to in towns can be attacked. Shops, random townsfolk, whoever it is, it can be attacked, mugged and even merged with you. Yeah you can merge with people. Merging is a nice way to power up as defeating someone you are trying to merge with might give you a nice big stat increase. Oh and expect to see some bizarre and random characters pop up when you do, I still can’t get myself over Hentai-Man. There’s plenty more to do but it would just take up too much room explaining everything, so just covering the major parts is probably best. You get the idea that there’s a lot going on in the game and it is mainly stuff to be able to help you on your way.
Soul Nomad’s main quest will last you around 30 hours. After that the Demon Path unlocks which is an additional 8-10 hours, depending on how powerful your squad is. The Demon Path is a story about destroying the world rather than protecting it. Taking the sword and Gig, you go on a path of destruction. It manages to make you feel guilty doing all of this, mainly because it is all down to the time you spent with all the characters through the hero story. These are characters you got to know, love and probably hate too. Now you are decimating them as they cry for their lives in front of you. It really is warped and evil and as Gig puts it, “man you are even more twisted than me.”
Disappointingly there isn’t much in the way of fancy presentation. There are no full motion videos, no awesome kick arse cut-scenes, nothing at all. Everything is done in the games 2-D art style. It looks like all the other Nippon Ichi games graphically, which is fine but lately we’ve seen nicer stuff on the PlayStation 2 , namely Odin Sphere and Grim Grimorie, which have spoiled us with gorgeous artwork. Dialogue is done with by showing static pictures of the character’s head with text next to it, while sometimes showing the 2-D sprite on the map, or maybe a picture of the place you are in. It feels quite bare in some aspects and there’s a lot of stuff that is menu based. Audio makes up for it though with a great voice cast. Gig (there he is again, man he’s so awesome!) sounds fantastic, voiced by Yuri Lowenthal (you might know his voice if you’ve seen Naruto) and the rest of the cast is pretty good too. Soul Nomad features dual audio, so all those Japanphiles can enjoy the game in its original form. The soundtrack is good, with a couple of catchy battle songs, but mostly nothing that will make you want to keep listening to it afterwards.
Usually Nippon Ichi love to jam pack games with bonus content, but Soul Nomad falls flat in that category. The level the characters can gain up to is still 9999, but there doesn’t seem to be a need to get to there this time. There are 3 optional battles that take place throughout the story and the only really challenging battles come from when you are reaching in to the high 200 floors when leveling a room up, where you face the tough enemies but by then you’ve beaten the game and it feels just pointless trying to even do that. It’s an area many people are not even going to bother with. A good point to note is there is no tiresome level grinding. Making a character in Soul Nomad comes with the ability to level up to the level your main character is, it’s a very handy feature indeed.
If you are a fan of the genre then Soul Nomad is a good game for you to engage in. Stick past the initial “what the hell does all this do” moment and you’ll come into contact with a game that is fun to play through. It might not be the best game Nippon Ichi have done, but it is something different by them that fans are surely going to be interested in. Be it the revamped battle system, squads or just for the almighty Gig, there’s something there for every fan of the genre to enjoy. So if you’ve an inner demon inside of you wanting to be released on the world, then Soul Nomad is a game that’s worth your investment.
A good solid strategy RPG that features some fresh ideas, and a kick ass character.