Even in its concluding stretch there is certainly no lack of quirky role-playing titles coming to Sony’s still-dominant PS2. At the front of the pack is developer Nippon Ichi who seems to have a monthly release schedule for spiky-haired heroics. Their latest title Soul Nomad & the World Eaters takes the traditional formula of mute hero sent to save the world and adds a nice twist to create a recognizable, yet inimitable experience for fans of the genre. If you love strategy RPGs and are willing to put traditions aside you will discover a unique experience that could easily pave the way for an evolution in the genre.
None of these conventions are apparent when you first dive into Soul Nomad; it begins just like any other S-RPG. Our main protagonist (who can be either male or female depending on your preference) is about to ascend to the position of town guardian. During the ceremony the town elder bequeaths a cursed blade to our hero and thus they become possessed by the spirit of Gig, who has the notion that he will soon become the ruler of all demons. After possessed your character undergoes a major attitude adjustment becoming more powerful by inheriting the powers of Gig as well as his polluted mouth and sarcastic demeanor.
The idea behind this treachery is that the elder knew that Gig was the only soul powerful enough to defeat these demons, thus explaining why he decided to give you the power so you could hunt down and defeat them. These abominations are known as World Eaters, and true to their name can level cities in the blink of an eye. Good thing you have Gig on your side, well at least his power as he is still trying to gain control of these demons so he can of course rule the world, which is what creates the drama for our story.
While the story will certainly turn heads it is the gameplay that actually separates this game from others like it. As opposed to the unit on unit combat found in most games of this type, Soul Nomad adopts a more Ogre Battle approach to the conflict. Your troops are divided into squadrons each with their own unique attacks based on their position; ranged, medium, or short. Level grinding has also been nearly eliminated with the ability to purchase stronger soldiers granted you have the funds to do so. The ability to level up is still available, but for those of you impatient gamers it is a nice alternative, not to mention making the game more accessible to people not wanting to invest countless hours making their troops stronger.
Battles themselves are pretty standard fare; each side will take turns delivering attacks based on their speed and size much like Phantom Brave. Your main protagonist always performs the first attack as well as being able to summon other squads for a price. You can also scan enemies before battle to see how you would fare against them, which is helpful when attempting to level up. The downside to this squad based combat is that if your leader falls then you lose the fight regardless of how many troops you have.
The biggest problem with Soul Nomad isn’t its lack of convention but rather its deficiency of instruction. While most strategy-based RPGs will run you through countless tutorials of every single nuance (see Eternal Sonata) Soul Nomad delivers the basics and leaves the rest up to you for discovery. This will no doubt irritate players who have grown accustomed to deep, engaging layouts of how things work. Instead you are forced to experiment with trial and error in order to discover the finer points of slaying the World Eaters. The awkward descriptions of some things in the game will further complicate matters as some items have completely random descriptions and obvious words don’t always mean what they are. Thankfully the game remains enjoyable even in its time of frustration.
Visually Soul Nomad is exactly what you would expect from a NIS title. Blurry hand-drawn sprites set against a 2D backdrop set the mood while gorgeous animations and effects fill the screen with traditional NIS flare. The sound on the other hand is by far the game’s most impressive asset. Not only is the voice acting well done, this is probably NIS America’s finest translation work to date. Witty one-liners and smart dialogue round out the overall package making it one of the more enjoyable games of its type, not to mention the classic pop-culture references strewn throughout the game. Add this to the dark overtone and more adult feel of the dialogue and you have one smart package that isn’t afraid to push the Teen rating to new boundaries.
It’s hard to stand out in the crowded genre of strategy RPGs this day, not to mention almost impossible to create one without someone comparing it to Final Fantasy Tactics. Soul nomad is this one exception and outside of a lack of good instruction it delivers one of the best experiences fans of the genre could ask for. With great dialogue, a refined battle system, and faster paced action Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is easily the best game to come out of the NIS camp in a long time. Fans of the developer or simply RPGs in general owe it to themselves to not miss this fantastic experience.