Game Ramblings #182 – Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster

More Info from Atlus

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Windows, Switch
  • Originally On: PS2

Normally this would probably be a How’d It Age, but honestly I don’t really want to talk about the game here – at least not specifically. The game under normal circumstances would have ramblings specifically matching my shelving of Shin Megami Tensei V. What I am instead going to talk about is specifically the Merciful DLC that they added to the remaster and why it’s the best thing that Atlus may have done for their core JRPG gameplay in years.

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At its core Merciful is an easy mode, and it definitely is easy. However, it can be turned on and off at will, so I generally ended up using it for making the trash grind more mindless. Trash has never been difficult per-se in SMT. Once you learn the weaknesses of the enemies in the general area, it’s butter. Being on easy just meant that I could concentrate on the story and bosses. However, easy mode also came with three numbers I want to focus on:

  • Encounter rate – Approx 1/2
  • Experience – Approx 4x

However, the most important one is 18:36. That was my time to completion, +/- a bit of untracked time to deaths.

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Judging by How Long to Beat, I shaved on average about 30 hours or about 60% of the average run. To me, that sits about where these games should be. These should never be 50 hour games with a ton of useless trash fights, because that isn’t the fun part of the game. They should be relatively quick and fast leveling so you can crank through a bunch of different party setups and summon as many demons as possible and have them be immediately powerful and useful.

One of the biggest problems I had when I shelved SMT5 was that it was taking me 25-30 fights to get a single level. It was such an absurd level of grind that it sucked all of the fun out of what is an inherently very good turn-based combat system. In merciful mode, I was getting levels every 5 or 6 battles, if not quicker. It was such an incredible change to the flow of the game that it makes me want this XP rate in standard difficulty.

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The other part that I really noticed was improved was the overall dungeon flow, thanks to an overall reduction in trips back to town. In SMT4 it always felt like a slog getting further in a dungeon. You’d slowly make your way through a dungeon getting stronger, generally getting to a point where you could comfortably make it one save point further before needing to teleport back. Frankly, the Persona subseries is the same way in that regard. It’s just such a time sink having to retread the same ground over and over purely because there’s so much combat and the XP rate is so slow. On Merciful though? I could get through dungeons in one go without losing all my items, so I was able to be prepared to go back up to normal for boss fights.

I get why this might come across as a negative change, and honestly I don’t necessarily disagree. I guess where I fall with this is that I want the overall dungeon mechanic to change. Rather than mid-dungeon save points being a way to get back to town, I would rather they be permanent fast travel points across the board. Allow players to continue their progress at any point where they get to a safe spot, reducing overall retread churn and increasing the pace of play as a positive. Combine this with the increased XP rate to really tighten up the game as a whole.

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The Shin Megami Tensei series is the perfect example of a JRPG that is long for the sake of being long, and it’s one of the few series that hasn’t really adapted to a tighter modern gameplay loop. Merciful mode may not be exactly the solution, but I think there’s ideas here they can pull from. These games have never had the pure content amount to support being a 50 hour experience and cranking through this one in sub-20 proves that to me. This is a series that would benefit from keeping its difficulty but modernizing to be a faster experience, because even this little experimental DLC feels like such a huge improvement. Combine the quick XP rate and reduced encounter rate with a better overall travel system to reduce retread, and I think SMT6 could feel surprisingly modern without having to lose its soul.

Shelved It #14 – Earth’s Dawn

More Info from oneoreight

  • Genre: Action
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Windows, Xbox One

I spent most of my time playing this in a state where I wanted to enjoy it and generally was enjoying it, and then I’d hit a boss battle and no longer be enjoying it. It wasn’t that the bosses were hard, but they just weren’t fun. I puzzled on it a bit, but when it hit me what was really feeling off to me, I knew it was time to shelve the game.

I really wanted this to fit into that sort of Odin Sphere / Muramasa slot in my brain, and for a while it did. Its combat is pretty similar in core focus. You’ve got a main melee chain, the ability to rapidly dodge, and a way to set enemies into temporary stun states. For the first couple of hours, that was more than enough to be fun. I was going around getting comfortable with chains, getting comfortable with some of the basic enemy types, getting comfortable with the overall flow of the game.

Outside of combat, the game has both solid gearing and skill setup that I was enjoying a lot. Gearing is purely crafting-based, but had a solid number of archetypes to choose from. Guns could range from shotguns to rifles to uzis. Swords could be different lengths and weights. Overall it allowed me to craft in a direction that fit my favored play style. The skill setup was the more interesting part. Skills are basically two parts, earning it and the ability to equip it. Equipping is purely having enough available resources to do so, but the resources to do so came purely out of killing enemies in the world. The skill earning itself came from completing missions quickly. Those two in conjunction led to a place where you would identify the missions that currently had the skills you wanted to get combining into then completing them with full exploration to maximize your resource gain. The overall flow that came out of that reminded me a lot of something that honestly would have worked well on the Switch. You can play this game for minutes or hours, and in both cases you can complete some number of that core game loop to at least make valuable forward progress no matter the case.

So at this point you may be wondering why I shelved it. Over time I was noticing that on occasion I was getting into places where my dodges were missing when I was surrounded by enemies. For a while I chalked it up to multiple enemies causing me to get into stun states or something to that effect, and figured I just needed to be more careful. I then started noticing it happening on bosses, so I began to experiment a bit. What I ended up figuring out is that it was doing such aggressive button caching that I would be able to queue up multiple attacks in my chain ahead, and then not be able to interrupt that to dodge. When a dodge may only give you fractions of a second to execute it, having that all backed up behind attacks was deadly and it completely changed how I was approaching the game.

When I can’t cancel out of an attack into an immediate dodge, I go straight into Souls mode, and frankly I don’t like that kind of gameplay. Rather than aggressively attacking, I sit back and wait. I look for tells, then do my dodge in isolation, then get a few safe quick attacks in and back off. It’s slow. It’s frustrating. It’s boring. But, it’s safe. When playing aggressively results in death and significant time loss, it’s not a decision. You just play safe. Sure, I could grind away in side missions and power my way through, but that’s also not particularly fun. When I shelve games it’s usually a single cause – a small mechanic, something dumb that just gets under my skin. This was it. If I was going to be playing slow just to not die, why am I playing the game?

Like most games I shelve, I’m not really shelving the game because it was bad. It’s ultimately because the developers made a decision I didn’t like, so that’s kind of the way it is. On the other hand, I wonder how much more I’d be enjoying those moments given a dodge that guaranteed immediate fire and interrupted whatever I was queued up to do. That small of a change is often the difference between me liking a game or not, and in this case it went the wrong way.

Game Ramblings #146 – Spiritfarer

More Info from Thunder Lotus Games

  • Genre: Platformer
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, Switch, Xbox One, Stadia

I put platformer there, but this game is really a lot more than that. It’s sort of a platformer. It’s sort of a management sim. It’s sort of an adventure game. It’s sort of a visual novel. It takes a lot of pieces to scratch a lot of itches all at once. But beyond that it’s just a spectacularly beautiful game, both visually and narratively. It’s one of the few games in recent memory I’d recommend just for experiencing the story itself.

Everyone will probably be initially caught by the visuals of this game, and that’s a pretty obvious positive. This is the same team that did Jotun and Sundered, and it shows. Visually speaking, the game is astoundingly beautiful. However, it’s not the only thing that really hits well on the presentation side. The game’s soundtrack and overall audio are all really good as well. It’s nothing in your face loud, but it really fits the game well. There’s a lot of subtle sort of ambient music in the background – enough to fit the theme of the areas you’re in or the events that are being started, and it all leads you to pretty easily know what’s going on at all times.

The gameplay side is probably the weaker section, but it’s still solid. Ultimately I think the weakness comes from it trying to blend too many genres at once. You’ve got a bit of a management sim at play here. You’ll be constantly growing vegetables and tending your fields and manufacturing linens and ore and metal plates and etc etc etc. You’re also putting all these resources into building the boat and upgrading buildings on it, both for you and the spirits on the boat. There’s a bit of an adventure RPG here. You’ll be going through lists of collection quests to help move your spirits to the afterlife. There’s a bit of a platformer here. Each individual island you sale to has its own platforming challenges, and you’ll pick up some powerups along the way (ex: double jump, ziplines, etc) to help you through those.

In being so many genres, none of them can truly stand out. The collection aspect is a bit of a grind, and you’re constantly spending time while you’re sailing growing or manufacturing or fishing to get resources and money. The quests are repetitive and mostly involve sailing back and forth to new locations. The platforming is fine, but the individual islands are so small that it never truly becomes a large scale platformer. Ultimately it’s a bunch of systems that are in place to support the narrative, and not necessarily systems that feel like they were fully fleshed out into a good set of gameplay mechanics.

I’m putting this next section in spoilers because I specifically want to talk about the story and don’t want to ruin it for those that still want to play the game for themselves.


However, the story made this worth the effort for me. The game is ostensibly the story of a person ferrying the souls of the dead on their final trip to the afterlife, however it becomes much more than that. As you meet and transport individual souls, you start to recognize the signs that the souls you’re transporting know the main character Stella. You start to recognize that who you’re transporting are souls of people that you know that are already dead. It then dawns on you that the reason you are transporting them is because Stella herself is dying, and you’re revisiting her life. The details surrounding Stella being a nurse for terminally ill patients slowly trickles to the front in a wonderful way.

Turning the idea of a life flashing before one’s eyes at their end of their life into something like this was an absolute triumph. You live Stella’s life through the eyes of those she helped at the end of their own life. The impact of helping these spirits and then bringing them to their final trip to the afterlife is emotionally affecting in a way that very few games manage. For some characters you end up incredibly sad that their life potentially ended on a bad note. For some, you’re glad to be rid of an asshole that did nothing but bring negativity to those around them. For some, you’re given the pain of seeing a good friend leave. Each spirit’s end is unique to a point where I was constantly fighting the pain of seeing them leave from the wish to help them get there. The culmination of all of this – seeing the story of Stella herself and how the various spirits intersected with her in life – was a great way to bring everything full circle, and ended the game’s narrative in a perfect fashion for me. All the questions were answered and I was left in a place where, despite knowing that Stella’s life was ending, I was happy for her having lived such a life of great purpose, and one that she clearly believed in.


It’s pretty rare that I recommend playing a game just because of story, but this is definitely one of those. The gameplay itself is fine, the presentation aspects are wonderful, but the story itself is why I kept playing. It’s definitely not a feel-good narrative, but the emotional impact of it is at a level that is rarely seen in videogames, and within recent memory can’t be duplicated for me. It ends up being an incredibly unique look at death and how it affects those around it that I cannot recommend it enough. If the gameplay doesn’t really feel like your thing, at least do yourself a favor and watch a narrative pass on Youtube, but I think it’d be a disservice to not experience it yourself.