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Written by Russell Archey on 6/23/2023 for PC  
More On: Nocturnal

Platformers come in many shapes. While some may focus more on the story aspect, others may focus on their mechanics. Some may throw some puzzles your way or even include a mix of all these aspects. Today I’ll be focusing on Nocturnal, a game that has a bit of all three but is rather on the short side when it comes to length. 

You play as Ardeshir, a soldier of the Enduring Flame. Upon arriving back at your home island of Nahran you notice that it’s been shrouded in a poisonous and deadly mist. Your goal is to traverse the island to find out the secret behind the mist and free the island of it. You’re not completely defenseless though, as you have your sword with you that you can strike torches, which lights it aflame to help your way through the mist and defeat the enemies within. This is an interesting mechanic, and one you’ll have to master rather quickly.

Most of the time you’ll be inside various structures that are lit with just enough light to see what you’re doing. Typically, you’ll find a source of fire that you can strike to give fire to your sword for a limited amount of time as noted by a gauge at the bottom of the screen. You’ll have to either refresh the fire on that source or find smaller torches on the wall to light up so you can use them as a source for your flame. You can also smash pots to gather ashes and, when the sword is lit up, you can set brush and tapestry ablaze to reveal secrets or puzzle solutions. Of course, you also have enemies to defeat and it’s the combat that will likely take some players a while to get used to.

Each enemy you encounter will have their health displayed above them but even if they have low health, you can’t just rush in and swing wildly in an attempt to dispatch them. Nocturnal is one of those games where you must learn how your opponents move and attack before getting in a hit or two of your own. Thankfully you do have a dodge ability so you can dash in, get a hit or two, then dash behind or away from them before they can strike. Mastering this isn’t all that difficult, but Nocturnal takes things a step further with another mechanic: the mist.

Often you’ll come across areas shrouded in the mist and stepping into it will replace the fire meter with a mist meter which will fill up quickly. If it fills all the way up, you’ll die and will have to restart at the last checkpoint (which usually isn’t too far back). While you can’t fully remove the mist in these areas, having your sword set ablaze will let you freely move through it. However, enemies will often hide in the mist and unless they’re visible (ie. you’re near them with fire on your sword). Under these conditions, you can’t damage them, but they will certainly hurt you. This is where things can get a bit difficult as often there may only be one fire source in the room and you’ll have to be constantly moving around to dodge enemy attacks, relight your sword, get in a hit or two, and repeat. It can definitely make for some hectic fights.

Earlier I mentioned that you can collect ashes from defeating enemies and smashing pots. While Nocturnal doesn’t have a leveling system, you can use the ashes you collect at the large statues you’ll find along the way to acquire a few perks. The first park you’ll acquire is the ability to heal by extinguishing whatever fire you have left on your sword. While the cool down time isn’t too long, you can only heal two health at a time at first and it takes a second or two to activate, meaning you’ll be standing still and open to enemy attacks. Plus if those enemies are shrouded in the mist, healing might put you in danger of being killed by it. It’s basically a good ability to have to heal up after fighting enemies but not something to rely on while in combat.

There are a couple minor things to note about the perk tree. There aren’t a lot of these perks and the first few nodes cost forty to seventy ashes each so you’ll have to decide if you want more health, better healing, or more combat options. The statues are a bit spread out and you can’t really backtrack all that much (I’ll get back to this in a moment), so you might only have enough ashes to pick up a single perk. Early on I tended to go for more health so I could survive longer as even though getting the hang of combat isn’t that difficult, trying to avoid enemies when you can’t see them in the mist can still be a challenge.

So why did I want to touch more on backtracking? Because you kind of can’t. Every so often you’ll enter a room that locks behind you or take a lift to another part of the current area. Once that happens you have no way of going back to where you were so if you missed any ashes or collectible lore pages, you’re out of luck. In a way I understand this; you’re rewarded for exploring as much as possible and searching every nook and cranny. On the other hand, if you decide to enter a room or take a lift that you didn’t know at first would prevent you from going back, especially if you want to follow more of the story or collect more ashes, you’ll miss your chance to do so. This can be especially painful when you come across a statue to spend your ashes and realize you’re a few short of the perk you want, but by the time you can collect more ashes you’re past the point of no return for that statue and will have to wait for the next one.

The only other issue is the game’s length. Nocturnal can be a bit on the short side with players possibly being able to complete it in a couple of hours if you know what you’re doing. However, the game does make up for it in other ways. Again, if you explore everywhere (and some areas can be challenging to explore with the mist in the way) you’ll learn more about the story and be able to power yourself up more. If you just want to zip through the game and don’t really care about the story, you will find Nocturnal to be a bit short. However, the art style looks great and really adds to the atmosphere of trying to combat the mist that’s taken over the island. The controls are nice and fluid and the mechanics and combat, once you get them down, provide a nice challenge without being too overbearing, though some areas can be a bit difficult to deal with early on, especially those that involve multiple enemies concealed in the mist and you have one fire source in the entire room to light your sword.

Nocturnal is very enjoyable, even more so if you don’t zip through as fast as possible and given the challenge the game can provide, that might not be that simple anyway. The ability to light your sword on fire to help your way through the mist is an interesting and unique mechanic and the combat requires some strategy beyond just “run up and slash at the opponent”. It can get a little rough when it comes to taking on enemies in the mist with minimal light sources but if you can get past that, you’ll find a game that gives a decent challenge with the right amount of content for the price.

Nocturnal may seem short on length but is enjoyable throughout and doesn’t seem to overstay its welcome.  The “light your sword on fire” mechanic to reveal puzzle clues and help defeat enemies shrouded in the mist is unique and helps the game flow smoothly.  While it can be a bit annoying to miss some lore collectibles or extra ashes to help you get to that next perk upgrade since you can’t backtrack after certain points, it does make for an interesting risk vs. reward scenario: do you want to just press ahead or take the chance against the mist and learn more about the game’s lore?

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I began my lifelong love of gaming at an early age with my parent's Atari 2600.  Living in the small town that I did, arcades were pretty much non-existent so I had to settle for the less than stellar ports on the Atari 2600.  For a young kid my age it was the perfect past time and gave me something to do before Boy Scout meetings, after school, whenever I had the time and my parents weren't watching anything on TV.  I recall seeing Super Mario Bros. played on the NES at that young age and it was something I really wanted.  Come Christmas of 1988 (if I recall) Santa brought the family an NES with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and I've been hooked ever since.

Over 35 years from the first time I picked up an Atari joystick and I'm more hooked on gaming than I ever have been.  If you name a system, classics to moderns, there's a good chance I've not only played it, but own it.  My collection of systems spans multiple decades, from the Odyssey 2, Atari 2600, and Colecovision, to the NES, Sega Genesis, and Panasonic 3DO, to more modern systems such as the Xbox One and PS4, and multiple systems in between as well as multiple handhelds.  As much as I consider myself a gamer I'm also a game collector.  I love collecting the older systems not only to collect but to play (I even own and still play a Virtual Boy from time to time).  I hope to bring those multiple decades of gaming experience to my time here at Gaming Nexus in some fashion.
These days when I'm not working my day job in the fun filled world of retail, I'm typically working on my backlog of games collecting dust on my bookshelf or trying to teach myself C# programming, as well as working on some projects over on YouTube and streaming on Twitch.  I've been playing games from multiple generations for over 35 years and I don't see that slowing down any time soon.
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