So Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has arrived on the US PSN store, which means PS3 can finally play one of the finest and unique RPGs ever made! It also gives me an excuse to talk about the game again!
I've written a bit on Nocturne in the past, but I don't really think I've offered much in the way of tips for series beginners. Given this game is a slight departure from other main series entries, players versed on SMT Strange Journey and SMT IV might feel a little lost here as well.
Nocturne is certainly to SMT what Majora's Mask is the The Legend of Zelda. Main series SMT has you start with two male friends, a gal pal and then the apocalypse happens. The world is changed, people have different ideas of how to proceed and clearly those two dudes are going to lock horns as time goes on and the girl is pretty neutral. You, the protagonist and prophesied Messiah will either choose between your friends or the girl and neutrality.
Either way you cut it, though, you are not in for a feel-good, breezy Persona 4 happy fun time here. You will not kill time with your friends. Nope, in time you will kill your friends. Or at least the ones you don't agree with because, hey, politics and religion and all that good stuff.
So that's how SMT usually rolls, that's the three mystical doodads you collect to get its Master Sword. Nocturne comes in and is all "Screw saving princesses, fighting Ganon and saving Hyrule, I wanna be different!" And so, it tosses out the Law alignment, discards the cyberpunk aspect of the series and fucks over Tokyo in a new apocalyptic way called The Conception. Then it institutes a multiverse and you get to traverse a new hellscape called the Vortex World.
One moment you were just talking to your homeroom teacher on the roof of the hospital and now the world is dead and demons are bickering over what's left.
A blonde kid shows up to feed your delirious self a weird worm-bug thing. It makes you a demon. Also, some old man hired Dante, the Son of Sparda, to kill you - and you didn't even do anything to deserve that yet! To top it off some weird rock in the sky is telling you go collect some stuff called Magutsuchi and bring it to him so you can change the world. Well, it tells everyone that, but you're the protagonist and prophesied Demi-Fiend so you really have to do it.
Later you run into your surviving classmates, your homeroom teacher and the guy that talked her into helping end the world. Yeah, your teacher did that shit. She thought ending the world was a good idea at the time, but now she's got regrets and stuff. Poor Teach.
Turns out everyone wants you dead but her, though.
What to do? Brave the Vortex World, unravel the mystery and collect some Magatsuhi to give that weird space rock after you've decided between your classmate's ideals of taking Darwinism too far or developing a really emo version of Mormon Cosmology. That other guy? He wants a "world of stillness" a world of harmony and order and he'll KILL ANYONE THAT STANDS IN HIS WAY. He's very Crusades/Al'Qaeda about it. Teach just wants the world back the way it was.
These alignments are called Reasons, by the way. You must have a Reason to change the world, it seems. That's what Kagutsuchi the space rock wants - Magatsuhi because of Reasons.
Of course, then there's this old man and his nurse. He wants a piece of that action, too. He thinks you're his man and wants you to explore his labyrinth to see if you're up for the job he'd have for you. His nurse promises you knowledge and details of how this world came to be if you do so. Also some skeleton jerks known as Fiends have stolen all his candelabrum. He'd like those back. Small favors, right?
Do you go with your classmates? Teach? That guy that wants stillness? The old man? Maybe say to hell with it all? They're all valid options. You're gonna have to pal up with some demons to get there and that's where a pixie (and promised advice) comes in.
The Pixie, The Cathedral of Shadows and the Compendium
Pixie's going to be your first friend, you may want to keep her around, too. Don't dismiss this girl, she may not look like much now but later on she could be one of your best allies. Or really good sacrificial fusion fodder, at least. For now, she's your first comrade in arms - all three inches of her.
When the Cathedral of Shadows opens up its Fusion services, you will be able to create newer, stronger allies with more skills by fusing two older demons together. If you have played more contemporary SMT titles, this process is going to feel rough around the edges because won't let you pick what skills demons inherit like later entries did. You're going to see a lot of canceling out of the fusion process and restarting it until you see a preview of the desired results you want. Then you will confirm and pray there isn't a fusion accident.
If you choose to fuse away Pixie, know she's still there in your brand new, shiny demon. The demon that inherits her "DNA" will rise to the top of the fusion list every time you visit the Cathedral, so make a note of their name and don't dismiss them to make room for demons you invite to join you. Keep that demon. There's a reason for that tied to another tip I'll issue later.
Also, the Cathedral has a demon compendium from which you can record the kinds of demons you've had in your party and what level and skills they had at the time. If you feel like you want them around or need them again for fusion ingredients, you pay the man at the Cathedral to summon you a new one. But again, that pixie was one of a kind, any copies you call on won't replace her or earn the payoff for keeping tabs on her.
Negotiations and leveling up demons
In some games, you recruit new allies by throwing a ball at them or sucking them into a little tube. In Nocturne and most SMT games, you talk to demons. They're a fickle bunch, to be honest, but you have to take help where you can get it.
Some want to know your opinions on things and others want money and items. They may disagree with your opinions and run away with what you gave them but that's life. You can't even expect one Jack Frost to think like the next Jack Frost you meet. One may say "You're awesome, ho!" and the next might think you suck, ho.
Sometimes you'll have a demon that just wants to join up because they think you're awesome. Other demons may just be tired of you beating their face in and join because they want to live. Others that wanted stuff may give you other stuff in exchange - or just ask for something and give it back because they just wanted to look at it. They're weird like that at times.
But useful if they're on your side. I don't need to labor the obvious here, they learn skills as they level up - skills that can be passed on to other demons in fusion. They also have various strengths/weaknesses, active and passive skills that you should keep in mind.
Say a demon is weak to force attacks, but another has a learned skill that makes her impervious to force damage. It is possible to create a new demon no longer damaged by wind attacks. This is good because enemies that have their wind attacks nulled, absorbed or reflected back at them will lose combat turns. Fuse your demons wisely and they'll shine in battle.
Some demons may also have passive immunity to fire that's just innate and not a skill. Good info to know when building your party for a fight.
The Demi-Fiend and Magatama
Well, aren't you a special snowflake? Half human, half demon. Eatin' weird worm bugs to learn skills and magic. You're the prophesied Demi-Fiend!
You're almost like the other demons. You have eight slots for skills to fill them and once you forget them, they're gone forever (so don't go tossing skills all willy-nilly, silly}. I guess that makes you like a pokemon in that way, too. Go on, say your own name! That's what pokemon do, right?
Anyway, Magatama are the weird things Demi-Fiend swallows to learn demon skills and gain passive traits like, say, force resistance and stat boosts. There are lots of these Magatama all over the world and you'll collect them as you explore it. You're free to learn the skills the you want and keep the ones you like. I'll leave a link to all of them here
(its also handy for knowing some of the things you'll get out of fusion).
The skills you're really going to want to look out for are Focus, Pierce and Frikugel. Focus to boost physical attacks, Pierce to ignore defense and Frikugel because its a special Almighty damage attack that can be buffed like a physical attack. I think you can see where this is going. Its good stuff. Not gonna tell you how to get any of it, but just keep your eyes peeled and keep those once you get them.
Scanning and The Press Turn System
Use Scan to learn the weaknesses of your enemies, be it by your default skill, a demon's skill if you chose to forget it (which is fine, actually) or the Spyglass item you find later on in the game.
Knowing enemy weaknesses, covering the Demi-Fiend's weaknesses with passive traits granted by Magatama and your demon's weaknesses with good fusions (or just a good eye for demons) is going to help big here. Evasion buffs and debuffs like Sukukaja and Sukunda are also a big help, particularly for bosses,
When you strike an enemy weakness or land a critical hit, you get an extra turn. This means a party of four can gain up to eight turns if you play things really well, but if you have a party of three then it's up to six and so on. Same rules apply to your enemy, so yeah, cover those weaknesses and buff up when you have a nasty boss or Fiend in your way.
If you miss. You lose two turns. That is bad.
If your attack is absorbed or null, you lose all your turns. Also bad.
If your attack is reflected you lose all your turns, eat your own spell/fist and the enemy gets to pummel you. This is why we scan things we don't know about. Except bosses, they're scan-proof because of course they are.
Cover your ass, make them miss you and pound the bell out of them. That's the best way to play most of the time.
Stats don't matter much, skills and buffs matter more.
People that grind out levels for stats in SMT games are, quite frankly, doing it wrong. Its understandable, other RPGs taught them this way but if you're going to grind in Nocturne, grind for skills, not stats.
Buffs like Sukukaja, Tarukaja and Makakaja boost evasion/accuracy, physical attack and magic attack respectively. Their "-unda" versions debuff enemies in the same manner. This game hands out those skills like free samples in a mall food court and they stack up to four times each - use them.
There are also higher tier versions of the debuffs that debuff everything at once - Evasion, attack, magic attack and defense. That nasty little bundle of joy is called Debilitate, it comes later and your higher level demons can learn it. It stacks four times, too. Very efficient.
This isn't to say stat allocation has zero importance, its just nothing to fret over. I will, however, state that BECAUSE REASONS you should get them all over 30. Reasons you will find out later. You will be glad you did it.
After that, just cram it all into Strength, Magic and Agility any way you wish. Don't worry about Vitality, you have buffs for defense and can learn a passive skill to boost HP (and by max level you'd get there anyway). Luck stats only cover item drops and how often you get critical hits. You're going to get more out of boosting Strength, Agility and Magic here.
All that said, its still better to grind out skills than stats, especially with your demons, whose skill points face diminishing returns as they level up. They get their real boosts from skills and better stat boots from sacrificial fusion.
Fiends and the Labyrinth of Amala
These are the skeleton assholes I was talking about before. Turns out Dante is the only non-skeletal one. Fiends are basically really, really ramped up midbosses and often nastier than the main bosses. They'll test your knowledge of the game and your observation skills to their limit, and then throw in some rules of their own.
Some of these fights are optional, most of them are not and all Fiends must be defeated if you want to fully explore the Labyrinth of Amala. You'll need to defeat these guys and take back the old man's candelabrum if you want to see everything that's down there, unlock every possible skill, fuse all the demons and obtain the True Demon ending. The dungeon is fully optional and you can complete the game to see the five other endings without it, but you'll never see the full potential of the game if you don't.
Matador is one of these Fiends standing in your way and your introductory Fiend fight. He's mandatory and a bastard of legend in the pantheon of game bosses, sending countless gamers running after a few sound defeats. He would love to give you a sound thrashing. However, if you've been learning the ropes of the game you should have no problem facing him. Defend against his force and trust your buffs, then head for the garden of madness!
Daisoujou is optional but he's also arguably one of the handiest demons you could have on your roster for much of the game. You can't fuse him without defeating him first so I would fight him anyway.
There's more, but I don't want to spoil too much here.
Oh, and those things I told you to do because of reasons? The payoff is down there in the labyrinth somewhere. That place is pretty nasty, the bosses are nasty, the dungeons are nasty and even the floor you walk on is pretty nasty and hates you. But there's also good things for sale, useful items and plenty of incentive to explore that hellhole.
Dante or Don'te?
Dante is the only Fiend you eventually get to recruit in a cutscene. The others are fused. He also can't be fused away, only dismissed - and why would you go to the trouble to recruit him if you were just going to send him away?
He's a strong ally with some good skills, but he's far from the most useful person to have on your team, particularly for endgame bosses. Shiva, Metatron, Beelzebub, Daisoujou and others have far more utility. Additionally, if you're still managing that Pixie DNA he's occupying one of the twelve slots in your demon roster.
For a first run through and 100% compendium completion, I'd take him. For future playthroughs, I'd turn him away. His role in the story ends with you recruiting him or turning him away, he sadly doesn't get any sway in the ending.
Still, he's a better Dante than DmC and DMC2 Dante are and a decent fighter. He can also debuff enemy defense drastically and restore his own MP by taunting them, so there's that.
And that sums up everything I wanted to share. I left a lot out here for the sake of preserving some surprises. This was just to get the ball rolling and get people fighting like champs. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is a challenging game, no doubt, but not an impossible one.