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Hands-on Preview -
Soul Nomad and the World Eaters
Previewed on 7/25/07

My squad unit beats your room leader's decor equipment.

Soul Nomad and the World Eaters opens with the game world largely in disarray, thanks to three particularly nasty creatures, called the—you guessed it--"World Eaters," and the demon forces that controlled them two hundred years back. Their commander has been sealed away, but the World Eaters are sitting dormant in the world, posing an obvious threat. In some sort of sealed village, the hero, whose gender the player selects at the start of the game, is training for battle. The idyllic lifestyle is short-lived as he is called to wield an Onyx Blade that contains the spirit of Gig, badguy supreme. The hero is apparently the only one who can possibly contain Gig's spirit without getting consumed. Even then, Gig is constantly trying to lend the hero more of his power, which will slowly destroy the hero's soul and leave behind a body for Gig to ravage the world in. In and out of battle, Gig approaches with all kinds of offers for dark power of smiting, many of which are dotted with a telltale "Bad Ending" symbol. The story holds some promise and is complemented by a script that is more serious and less humorous than previous Nippon Ichi games--not to mention more crass.

It is unfortunate that the music, graphics and menus seem like they were lifted from other Nippon Ichi games, as this will likely cause players to pass Soul Nomad and the World Eaters by. Though it looks similar to other Nippon Ichi offerings, Soul Nomad is really a whole new beast. Despite the familiar graphical style and recycled Disgaea interface, the game Soul Nomad most closely hearkens to is the Super Nintendo classic, Ogre Battle.

But even though Soul Nomad is undeniably different from other NIS titles in gameplay, those same old recycled sprites and notes seem to bog down the potential freshness of the experience.

Players place "mannequins" of their available units into variously decorated and configured rooms to form squads, which they can then summon in battle and manipulate around a grid-based map. Squads then do AI-controlled battle upon attacking other squads, trying to destroy the opposing squad's leader. If the hero falls, it's game over, as the hero is always the leader of his/her own squad. There is no apparent limit to the amount of squads that any side in battle can summon, though the game has not been played to completion for this preview.

On the battle map, squads may move, attack (using basic attacks or offensive skills), defend, use items, or execute map tactics, all of which consume stamina points. Waiting a turn recovers stamina points. A balance between actions and waiting is important, because offensive skills may not be used unless a squad has less than 80 per cent of their stamina; however, the squad's stats start to decrease as stamina drops below 50 per cent.

Regular attacks on the map throw squads into a split-screen battlefield, where units execute predetermined actions, each depending on which row a given unit is placed in. A cleric, for example, will heal the entire squad when placed in the back row, a single unit for greater power when placed in the middle, and if placed in front, will run up and smash an enemy with its weapon. Different classes and characters will all have different action sets, making squad management crucial. After the attacking squad has finished, any remaining foes will retaliate with their own actions. Offensive skills used on the battle map will execute like a basic attack, except the skill will be used before the enemy's chance at retaliation, dealing even greater damage.

The amount of units in a squad is typically dictated by the room's formation, but special items, or Gig Edicts, can alter this in battle, allowing for squads to be combined. Other Edicts can be used in any situation (in battle or out) for various effects, including having one squad follow another, or to get discounts in shops.

Tactics add an interesting element to battles. Each can be used only a limited amount of times per battle, and none will cause the player to leave the map screen. They are generally used to increase squad power, but can also decrease enemy squads' power, inflict status effects, heal or attack outright. Unlike normal attacks or skills, these can be used without fear of counter attacks. This means that players not only have to worry about damage from battlefield attacks, but from direct damage on the battle map.

All of this surely sounds complicated. It is. Sadly, the interface the player uses to navigate all of this is put together somewhat haphazardly. The menus look almost exactly like those of Disgaea, which is a detriment to the flow of the game, because what it really needs is an entirely new interface. Recycling is great—like, go Earth, yay, hug a tree and all that—but here it just isn’t working. Perhaps they are just hard to get used to within the hours of the game played for this preview, but that doesn’t seem a likely case.

Battles are filled with many stat modifiers to take into consideration, adding to the strategy. Each unit in a squad increases the leader's base stats by a certain percentage. The rooms that squads are placed in can inherently modify battle conditions or the squad's power with their Decor, and the rooms can be upgraded by entering them to fight through room inspections. Consumable, temporary Decor items may also be equipped to a squad's room that can grant extra power on certain terrains or against certain enemies. Of course, certain units are also weaker and stronger on various terrains. These many factors to consider seem to encourage careful thought to unit management and constant changes to squads to accommodate different battles and situations, instead of creating one uber squad and using it to mow down everything.

Soul Nomad seems like it will be fun, and potential players shouldn’t pass it up simply because it looks like NIS’s other games. It very well might be a good time. Players should simply be ready to navigate a somewhat unfriendly interface and re-encounter familiar sprites and sounds. Look for a final opinion when the game is released this fall.


-Janelle Hindman