The gameplay is comfortable and familiar, but it seems like the bonuses you get for exploiting weaknesses are less prounounced. You need to stack your party with demons of the same alignment in order to really stack the damage when you exploit weaknesses. There's an inherent problem with that, though: Your strongest demons at any given time arn't nessesarily of your alingment. They've done a good job of packing in even more gods, godesses, demons, angels, and all sorts of other monsters, so you don't go through mid game with a huge void of demon options, like some of the other games. They even offer a new inheritance system to force certain types of skills on demons you are fusing... but that pretty much means if you hit a roadblock on a boss, you're going to be fusing specific demons for specific boss fights.
I suppose that's always been a big part of the game, but even with Nocturne, I felt that I had enough freedom to play with whatever I wanted, barring elemental weaknesses. I don't want to feel forced to go through a few extra hours of grinding to make three law demons all with resistance to holy and lightning, with fire abilities. I've always appreciated the fact that if you spent a little bit of time leveling and grinding, you could just fuse stronger demons and go in there and win in the other games.
So right now, I'm working on Ourboros in Eridanus with a MC that somehow ended up law, three chaos characters, holy resist on everyone, and fire skills on two of them, and I can't beat the boss. I'm going to have to grind out a lot more macca, make a gun with fire, and fire my healer for someone that can heal and cast fire spells. I wasn't able to out-damage that shithead's regen with just two fire spells and a 3-demon co-op. And I really don't think I can track down 3 law demons with holy resist, fire attacks, and at least one healer. It's aggravating, and I don't think I'm trying it at too low a level. I'm like.. 45 or 46 or somthing. Blaaah.
Anyway.. that wasn't really what I intended on rambling about in the first place!
I wanted to talk a little about why none of the games released in the past few years have trumped Nocturne. I thought if I explored it a little bit, I'd understand it more myself. What made that game so great? The graphics were decent, but not earth shattering. You can't really say it had a ton of special effects or any amazing action or anything. Hell, I was just happy that the AI was smart and didn't make me feel pukey to navigate in the small hallways of the hospitals and other buildings you would go to explore.
Since Nocturne, all other spin-off games have had the same demons, same demon graphics, etc, with a few additions and changes here and there. I felt that in Nocturne, there were few end game demons to fuse above level 80 or so. You'd have to grind like crazy to reach the next level bracket of summons. The Devil Summoners, devil survivors, devil sagas, and personas have all been superior to that since the release. There's a gimmick gameplay feature in every game, so you can't really compare those too much. Weakness exploit systems change a little from game to game.. character customization varies a little.. stat allotment and magatama vs demonica and armor vs whatever, you know. (IMO, the automatic character growth of the demonica is nice. Since your attack power is linked to sword and gun, it's nice to not have to worry about moving stats around every level. On the other hand, customizing your spells and abilities with the magatama system was deeply satisfying, and you needed the hands-on approach to stat management to effectively use that in Nocturne)
So, it's got to come down to plot, really. Boy meets girl. World ends. Boy looks for girl. Things get complicated. What really got me, though, was the fact that the game wasn't about saving the world. The world ended. There was nothing you could do about it. It was all about what happened afterwards. Within the first 30 min of the game, you have to deal with the thought of everyone you know and love being dead, to everyone in the city being gone, to realizing there are some survivors, to learning the place is teeming with demons that are sure to finish them off in short order. And where do you stand? Hey! You were lucky enough to bump into a strange kid who has you swallow somthing that makes you... not quite right.
I really appreciated the fact that you had so many dialogue options to choose from. You could pretty much explore and answer things as you would normally do, instead of always picky the goody goody answer, or pissing off NPCs. You were left to explore where your own personal beliefs would lead you, and what those extremes might be.
And honestly? I found myself on the true demon path before I really realized there were multiple endings to choose from. I guess you could consider the true demon path the "real" ending, but it's pretty much the path of moderation and free will. It leads you somewhere interesting, definitely.
All that being said, it *IS* a linear game, but you are left to feel like the decisions you make matter overall in where you are going, despite the fact that the game keeps repeating over and over again that everything is inevitable.
I'm really failing to express what I feel made the game so great...
But when you compare some of the story elements to the off-shoot series.. Devil summoner had a very different feel, and you didnt' connect with the main character in the same way at all. You were playing Raidou's story, not your story. And while the Persona stories were your stories, and the character interactions were much deeper, none of it really carried the gravity of Nocturne. We won't even talk about Digital Devil Saga: Avitar Tuner. Those games were fun, in depth.. and utterly rediculous. It was like if Atlus had decided to remake Final Fantasy 8, fucked up. I still liked the games, and I definitely liked them better than FF8, but they were very silly.
The closest I think the whole SMT universe has come to producing somthing similar in atmosphere has been Devil Survivor. Even though it's strategy/tactics, it was a fantastic game. I didn't really talk about it much when I was playing it, but I really enjoyed it. I played through it twice to see some of the other ending options. I did not play through all the endings, though, nor did I finish out my compendium. I can't level grind to 99! Sorry! Not even in nocturne!
Despite all my gushing on Nocturne, and my beef with some of the flaws in Strange Journey, I really am enjoying the hell out of this game. I wasn't sure if I would be able to deal with the old school dungeon crawling screen-by screen endless hallway nonsense, but the minimap on the DS makes everything allllll better. I really love that you can drag the map around and manipulate it on the touch screen. It helps a LOT in those longer dungeons where you need to trace a path to a certain door.
And really, with the map on the lower touch screen, it seems like these types of dungeon crawlers should have always been like this. Oh man.. if I could have played some of those old PC games with such a great, interactive map!
I am seriously annoyed by the whole alignment thing in this game, though.
I stay neutral, side with the know-it-all russian scientist chick, or side with the obnoxious hispanic-american violent dude. The only thing that is keeping me sane is knowing that Lucifer has already come to visit me and chat, and that I will get to talk to him again before the game is over <3
Seriously, though.. those zealotous angels on the law side creep me the hell out, and I like things a little bit tidier than chaos does. Somehow I slipped from neutral to law, though through answering whatever the hell I wanted on the text options. Boo!
And really, I've sunk 40 hours into this game, and while I'm at the end of Eridanus, I still have three other worlds to plod through before I can say I'm finished XP. Filling out the compendium on this game is going to be a complete nightmare, too, given how many classes of demons there are this go-around. You also get apps for your demonica that lets you alter the results of certain fusions, too.. that makes things even more complicated.
I WILL FINISH THIS. SRSLY