Soul Nomad & the World Eaters PlayStation 2
Published by: Koei
Developed by: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: Out Now
If you're a fan of Nippon Ichi's strategy RPG titles there is a strong chance you are eagerly awaiting the release of Disgaea 3, particularly here in Europe where a release date hasn't even been announced yet. Of course in Europe there's another enjoyable Nippon Ichi title to enjoy before the release of Disgaea 3. Soul Nomad & the World Eaters has just arrived here in Europe and it's a game that Nippon Ichi fans won't want to miss out on. Whilst the game is a strategy RPG it's actually quite a bit different from any previous Nippon Ichi titles and is all the more refreshing for it.
Two hundred years ago the evil Gig and his three powerful assistants (known as World Eaters) almost destroyed the world. Fortunately, as the world was on the brink of total destruction, Gig was defeated by Lady Layna and his soul trapped in a special sword known as the Onyx Blade. After his defeat the World Eaters were essentially stopped in their tracks with only Layna's town remaining untouched. Even though they are dormant, the threat of the World Eaters has remained and Layna has reasoned that they can only be destroyed by the power of Gig. You'll play as either a male or female character (and this does have a bearing on certain events in the game), who is accompanied by the dim-witted Sepp girl, Danetta, and at the beginning of the game you're about to become Town Guardians. Danetta gets to choose her own special weapon but your character is forced to take the Onyx Blade and upon grasping the sword the soul of Gig enters your character's body. However this arrangement is a double-edged sword. Gig is a foul-mouthed and irritating individual but has awesome power that can be called upon. Unfortunately the more you use Gig's power the more control he has over you.
The battles in Soul Nomad are still turn-based and grid-based but they are quite different from those in other Nippon Ichi titles. Your characters don't fight in isolation. Instead you'll place up to nine of them into a room (a room has a varying number of spaces to which you can assign a character ranging from four to nine) and this room is represented on the battlefield by the leader. A room has three rows, front, middle and rear. You don't have control over the units' actions during a battle but their actions are dependent on which row they stand on. Put a healer in the middle row and they will heal one unit whereas when they are placed in the back row they will heal all units. To some extent this can be irritating as the AI seems to know which character to pick off, whilst at times your characters don't always aim at the character you would like them to. It's worth pointing out that only the leader in a room needs to be defeated in order to remove the room from the battle so you're always better aiming for the leader and it's only through special attacks that you can choose to aim at the room leader.
To further complicate things, there are several different types of rooms and each type has its own pros and cons. Initially you won't have many types to choose from but you'll acquire more as the game progresses. You also begin with just one room and during the course of the game you'll have more rooms to arrange and place on the battlefield. When you change a room type all of your rooms will change, unless they are locked. Usually you can lock all but one of your rooms so this isn't as big an inconvenience as you might think. Changing rooms is a random thing however and you have little choice over the room type or the number and position of the character spaces the room will contain. Sure you can just keep changing the room until you're happy but there are some interesting penalties for this. You won't equip items to your characters but you will add up to four decor items to your rooms. These items give temporary bonuses and disappear after a single battle (with the exception of the item that comes with the room).
Unlike other Nippon Ichi titles you can't revisit earlier battles to level-up your characters. Instead you have to do what's known as an Inspection which means you'll fight on random mini-maps that are associated with each room. We mentioned earlier that you can add decor items to your rooms. You'll purchase these from a shop and in order to improve the quality of the goods in the shop you'll need to battle the shopkeeper which is an interesting twist. There is much more to the game, such as the key importance of stamina (STM). In fact there's more than can sensibly be covered in this review, and just like other Nippon Ichi titles it's a game where you'll be finding out new things even after spending weeks with the game. The game also has good replay value thanks to its multiple endings.
One of the main problems with previous Nippon Ichi strategy RPGs was that it could be fiddly dealing with the different height levels in a battle. The camera would often fail to give you a crystal clear view of the action when battling on certain maps. Soul Nomad doesn't have this problem because the battles are played out on a flat map. The grid-based battle map actually looks like a rolled out piece of parchment that's been painted on. That's not to say these maps are featureless however. You may see a drawing of a few houses on the map which symbolises a town and when you place your units on a town they will receive specific bonuses. Forests, plains, shores and roads are just some of the other features on the map which can have a bearing on a battle.
Whilst Nippon Ichi games excel in quite a few areas, the graphical style of their games is definitely an acquired taste. Some would argue the character graphics are more PlayStation quality rather than PlayStation 2 but others find the Nippon Ichi style endearing. Personally, I like the character graphics and the look of the game in general but even I have to admit that the graphics certainly don't come close to testing the PlayStation 2 hardware. Still Nippon Ichi fans won't complain about the look of the game and Soul Nomad oozes with Nippon Ichi's trademark charm. The battle animations look good and if you do get tired of viewing them you can disable them which has the added advantage of considerably speeding up the battles.
Deaf gamers won't have any problems with Soul Nomad. The game is subtitled, with character portraits and names appearing next to the dialogue, so you'll be able to follow the storyline and know who is saying what. The game's tutorial information is shown in text too, although it's fair to say the in-game tutorial information could have been much better. There are a few items of speech that aren't subtitled. When beginning a battle the words "Battle begins" are spoken and this is not subtitled. Likewise when a battle finishes the words "Battle results" are spoken and again this isn't subtitled. During the course of a battle the characters make the odd comments, especially during a special attack, and these words are not subtitled. Fortunately none of these omissions are problematic.
Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is another fine strategy RPG from Nippon Ichi and one that is well worth a look for fans of the genre. Don't make the mistake of simply assuming that the game is in the same vein as Nippon Ichi's previous titles however. This isn't another Disgaea type game. There are some major differences between previous Nippon Ichi titles and Soul Nomad and to begin with it takes some getting used to. However, the game is just as deep and satisfying even if it doesn't quite have the same over the top attacks and whacky humour that the Disgaea series has. We still don't know how long we'll have to wait for Disgaea 3 here in Europe but with Soul Nomad & the World Eaters we have a game that can occupy us for a few months at least.