Soul Nomad & The World Eaters (PS2) PAL

With so much emphasis on being the good guy in games, there is definitely a temptation to do something bad when given the choice. But most of the time, these choices have a reflection that is portrayed in a way that is about as dramatic as watching paint dry. With this in mind, there is a worrying trend developing in that more games are allowing you to be bad. Soul Nomad & The World Eaters has a rather unique solution to this issue. Instead of making choices solely reflect the course of the plot, have the choices reflect on the battle system itself. Essentially, allowing you to cheat. But does this cheater prosper or does the age old saying still ring true?

The plot is very hard to describe due to the sheer insanity of the context. Around two hundred years before the beginning of the adventure, a number of wars had been fought on a potentially cataclysmic level. It didn’t help when an army of beasts descended onto the world with the intention to obliterate it. Good did indeed prevail though and the world knew peace. This is what the history books say however, as the leader of these beasts was sealed inside a sword. You are unfortunately the hapless sap who has to contain the power of a god. Not just any god however, as the being locked away like a fat kid from the kitchen is none other than God of Destruction; Gig. Two hundred years give a god time to scheme, so his plan is to take your body. Lucky for you, he can’t take full dominion over your soul. With the power of a reluctant god, you venture into the world to destroy his band of “World Eaters”.

While it may seem as an ironic statement considering he wants to end the world and all, Gig is perhaps the most likeable character. His arrogance and cockiness are portrayed in such a way that you feel like being on his side when he is ripping into characters verbally. It isn’t that the rest of the cast don’t have their qualities. Your childhood friend Danette has the unusual tick of being really bad with names, including your own, while with a rather unusual attachment to a member of his family. But it is how Gig completely runs away with how ridiculous their concepts are that is the real treat. One could feel guilty in that you are effectively siding with the bully, but considering he does concede that there is some intelligence amongst the mortals occasionally and that the Sepp people are faster than anything, there is a more human side.

If there is one thing developer Nippon Ichi has done to death is the tactical RPG. All but two of their titles prior to this that were developed in-house have something to do with putting one unit in one place to beat the living daylights out of another in the most insane fashion. This one does things a little differently. Why have only one beating the snot out of the enemy when you can have a whole squadron? This is the question that is answered here. You can customise your own squads by assigning units from the selection of manikins you can create from your fallen foes, and placing them in a 3×3 grid, known as rooms. These rooms are randomly generated with the “Change” function in the arrange mode. Each individual unit has their own perks and weaknesses, but when you combine them you can unlock certain skills that trigger after attacking (normally). There are others that trigger when the enemy attacks or even “tactic” abilities that provide the whole unit with a bonus that lasts the battle. The best part is that it doesn’t rely on grinding as much as previous games because of two factors. When you buy a unit, you can opt to raise its level to the maximum for a few more GP (Gig Points – currency). The whole squad levels up as a whole as well, meaning that when things die everyone gets a share of the experience pot rather than those within the combo.

As for battles themselves, they are fought in a much more traditional fashion that is more Fire Emblem than Disgaea. You summon allies to the battlefield (costs lots of GP) and go on a tactical rampage. Grinding is a little critical to success or failure, but squad balancing also allows for some units to take advantage. Combo attacks bring the over the top flavour that Nippon Ichi are renowned for, which does include perhaps the best looking move I’ve ever seen in a game. Artistically it looks awesome and indeed very painful. The rest of the finishers are as painful looking as one would expect, but it seems the developers favoured Gig yet again with him having a place in each of the most painful and visually pleasing moves. Spanning to around 50 different story battles, the incentive of the strange, yet entertaining story keeps you motivated to plod on through the encounters.

Gig’s exploits aren’t limited to battle. He also has his Gig Edicts, which are essentially powers that you can use and abuse. They range from the normal Item based powers, picking fights, stealing stuff and even instant level ups. In the right situations, they can be completely abused beyond recognition. The game trailer suggests that you can break the game, and this power is how you do it. Steal from a shop-keeper? It’s entirely possible. Gain 1000 levels instantly? You betcha! A lot of these powers don’t appear until a little later on in the game, with a lot of the Edicts such as stealing stuff not working too well in the open world at the beginning. Gig can also upgrade rooms via inspections, which act as the random dungeons. New Edicts and Decors can be purchased in the Arrange setting, with the latter boosting the power of the room your characters reside in.

Perhaps the coolest move I've ever seen in a Nippon Ichi game. He gets out a scythe!

Given the complexity in terms of how you can abuse the system and the surprising presentation of the story, it is somewhat disappointing that the 3D environments are a little lacklustre in quality. Battle scenes look nice, but on the maps scale everything looks very basic. Sprites are a little more detailed than any other game in the developer’s library and are somewhat larger than we’re used to. It also seems that the game runs on a higher resolution because of the fluid execution of the visuals. Music is an interesting mix of the traditional Nippon Ichi J-Pop vibes and some slightly more serious sounding tracks. Perhaps the only thing that is seemingly recycled are the sound effects, but this isn’t exactly a bad thing.

The main quest will last a good few hours, clocking in around the 40 hour mark. This is child’s play when compared to the gargantuan Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, but consider this. Not everyone has a bazillion hours to waste with levelling up and stupidly lengthy unlock processes. Soul Nomad & the World Eaters shows that fun can be had on a smaller scale. It is an idea to save often as the game provides many “bad endings”, conveniently symbolised with a skull in the dialogue choice. After completing it the hard way however, the game offers not only the trademark New Game + with all the trimmings you painstakingly unlocked the first time around, but also a bad guy story. It serves as a “what if you were really bad” scenario. It is an amusing if random scenario that is worth a look. Other unlockables include the hidden characters we’ve seen before, but it’s nice to see they’re within arm’s reach this time around.

Soul Nomad & The World Eaters is a pleasant surprise because it deviates from the general trend that tactical RPGs seem to have taken over the years. Not only is it able to be beaten in under 100 hours, but it has an enjoyable plot with a diverse cast of miscreants, and Gig. He alone makes it worth a look because he is such a well realised character. The system features an intriguing game breaking mechanic that allows the rebel inside to directly attack the game. All the things you ever wanted to do that seemed impossible are achievable here. While it may be the shortest Nippon Ichi game, that doesn’t mean it skimps on the hours and it does provide some extras for the post-game experience. If an anarchist were to create a game, this would probably be the closest example in comparison because it essentially breaks down the foundations that built up the genre.