I’m getting a load of déjà vu while I’m playing Soul Nomad. The latest strategy RPG from NIS has a lot of things you’ve come to expect from them. You’ve got a very well toned and fun battle system, there’s the 2-D graphics which at this point are either a love it or hate it depending on who you are, there are the two language tracks for the Japanese purists, and you’ve got the myriad of customizations you can perform to boost and augment every single stat in the game. And while I personally can never tire from this, it’s getting to the point where a lot of these things are starting to blur together. Which isn’t to say that Soul Nomad is a flawed title, it’s just becoming all too familiar. And with titles like this coming out at least once a year; it’s getting high time for NIS to shake up the stable.
Soul Nomad stars the user as a silent protagonist who has been possessed by an evil entity; Gig and he prides himself on being a total bad-ass. However this non-corporeal bad-ass doesn’t seem to be as all powerful as he claims. Since you are the one making choices his whims take a backseat and he spends a good portion of the game bitching at you to grow a pair and do some evil. Of course if you give in to what he wants then you’ll taste the incredible powers that he has to offer and you’ll see that he’s not just talking a big game. Of course if you go the power route, don’t expect the results to be always in your favor. The whole reason you’ve got this malevolent asshat possessing your body is because village elders have been waiting for someone with the power to contain and withstand Gig’s power, and rein in the World Eaters, massive titans of destruction that were once under Gig’s control and have since gone dormant.
So in order to take down these World Eaters with your new soul-mate you’re going to have to assemble a ragtag group of likeminded individuals who also want to get rid of these giant monoliths of death. So a good portion of the story is spent roaming the countryside looking for people as Gig likes to put it, dominate. Once people have surrendered to your dominion they are permanently your allies. You can also create new allies through some of the powers that Gig has given you access to. Your army will continue to grow as you progress through the story to unlock new warriors and bolster your ranks. A lot of these types of people you’ve seen before in previous NIS titles. Hell the comparisons between the personalities of Danette and Flonne from Disgaea are staggering. The dialog unfortunately also suffers from an excessive amount of degenerative swearing, mostly coming from Gig, which I guess makes sense, and it’s good that it only comes from him or else I wouldn’t make it past three battles.
So while the story may not be the strongest that NIS has ever delivered it is still a fairly fun romp to save the world, and the game play is rock solid in Soul Nomad. Taking a sharp left from most of NIS’ strategy RPGs, Soul Nomad goes back to a battle system that is fairly akin to something from the SNES era, though I doubt many people remember the Japanese RPG Albert Odyssey. Each unit that goes out on the battlefield is actually a collection of members of your army. Each unit is made up of a room, that has specific spots on a three by three grid that are randomly generated, and units can be placed within the available spots of the room. The first person to go in to the room is the leader, and if they fall then the whole unit falls. This is also true for your enemies, if you take out their leader then the unit falls. Placement of your units is key in this regard, for where they are located in the room will determine their attacks. If you place an archer in say the middle row, their attack will allow them to attack all the units in a row. While this is randomly generated it still allows them to hit units that are located beyond the reach of your frontline tanks. Or if you require more structure then place a healer in the back row and at the start of each attack he will dole out some healing light to the whole unit.
You can also determine how successful an attack can be based upon the potential of the party, which will decline over the course of the battle, for each unit has a set amount of stamina. This can be restored by taking a break for a turn and staying put, which if you are hanging out in a city for a health bonus it’s not such a bad proposition. There are also items that can be purchased to be used out on the field, which range from restoring health to bolstering your attacks, and in a little bit of a surprise, you can steal enemy units and make them work for you, provided they are units that you can create. New additions to the formula include flying units that can move further than most but are weak to ranged enemies, there are also a few other new units added to the strategy RPG universe, and my favorite of the group has to be the saboteur, a deliciously evil unit that can set mines down that can deal continuous damage should an enemy set foot on them.
So NIS and Atlus have both released a Vanillaware title, and in doing so, they have kind of doomed themselves in terms of how a 2-D game looks these days. Let’s face it GrimGrimoire and Odin Sphere looked fabulous, and unfortunately for Soul Nomad, it has to live in the shadow of these other games. At the very least Soul Nomad took from the graphical styling of Disgaea 2, so the characters are larger and slightly more detailed, but they aren’t terribly animated, the move set per character feels fairly limited, while the special attacks are fairly over the top and fun to watch, but they grow stale after a while, thankfully NIS included an option to tone that all down so once you get sick of it, you can turn it off. The game is nice to look at when battles are going on because of all fun and crazy stuff going on during the fight, but for the most part this game is fairly plain looking, and it’s getting to the point where NIS should really start to step it up. I’m getting critical about this now because Disgaea showed up on the scene four years ago, and to see that we haven’t really gone anywhere graphically, it’s becoming a little distressing. Audio is also fairly cut and dry. It’s the NIS standard to include an English and Japanese voice track which is always welcome. Why they included a system voice to notify you of turns and actions is beyond me and to save yourself the trouble I would say just keep it off, and don’t ever bother to turn it off. The Tenpei Sato soundtrack feels a lot less hokey than in previous titles and it’s pretty good, a definite switch up from the swing sounds of something like Makai Kingdom or Disgaea 2. Though it feels somewhat out of place because Soul Nomad doesn’t take itself seriously, so it’s kind of odd to see the music going in the opposite direction and towards a more serious tone.
So it wouldn’t really be an NIS title without a load of stuff to do on the side. Soul Nomad definitely doesn’t fail in this respect. Each room that you build to store your units can be saved if you like their layout, and you can even ‘Inspect’ the room in order to make it more powerful so that you can increase the buffs that the room provides for your party members. You can also add ‘Décor’ to the room which will offer temporary boosts to stats. These last for one battle, which I didn’t initially catch and then I started to wonder why I was doing less damage. It’s kind of a useless hassle to have to go in and change your décor after every battle. Sure some rooms have a permanent décor item, but if the normal user isn’t notified of these rules then odds are they will definitely see this in the same negative light that I do. Thankfully décor is cheap and can be purchased after every battle, and the same goes for some of those nifty items. Being able to adjust décor so frequently does have an advantage though, before every fight you can scout ahead to see what kind of enemies you will be up against or what kind of field the battle will take place on and you can purchase décor that is appropriate.
So Soul Nomad is at a bit of odds with me. I think it’s a fun game and all, and it doesn’t fail on a technical level. It’s just a little uninspired when compared to the previous efforts of NIS where everything felt fun and new. The battle system is a lot of fun, and setting up your units provides for a lot thought and strategy, but beyond that it does not feel like NIS has not really moved forward with their games. The graphics and music have become quite standard and stale, and the game play is fairly straight forward with a few interesting little variants. But that’s all they are, variants. At the very least there are a ton of endings to the game and if you really felt so compelled, you could complete the game in the first twenty minutes or so. Granted it’s a ‘Bad End’ but it’s entertaining nonetheless. So if you’ve been a gamer that constantly has a strategy RPG itch that constantly needs scratching it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up Soul Nomad & the World Eaters. It’s a fun game that is worth the time and money, but before you rush out to the store to pick this up, give GrimGrimoire a shot.