Reviews: I fuse you, Pikachu!
The battle system is very normal ? a briskly-paced turn-based system with a handful of crazy elements that can benefit or hinder progress. Be very, very aware that Nocturne is absolutely loaded up with random encounters ? there are times you'll wander and get a battle every 10 steps or so. They're absolutely constant, so if you can't stand that, click off now and go buy Shadow Hearts: Covenant, with its much more manageable random encounter system. For the rest of you still here, note you are never safe from a random battle ? even in your typical safe spots like towns and shop areas, you can get into battles, though not quite as frequently as in dungeon areas. You have always got to be on your toes wandering around in this game. Anyway, the battles actually depend a bit on what phase the Kagutsuchi is in; if it's a new phase, encounters will be simpler and with less change of getting attacked first, if it's in full phase, enemies can be brutal and will get attacks in before you can counter, which can lead to some real problems if unprepared. In different phases, the battles get tougher or ?easier' depending on whether it's closer to new or full.
Basically, the battles are my turn/your turn things, with each side of the battle getting to go all in a row, and vice versa. A twist to it is how it handles misses and critical attacks ? if you land a critical, your party gets an extra turn, but if you miss an attack or it's ?voided' (i.e. if an enemy is immune to a particular attack), you lose a turn. This also works the other way around for enemies, so they can get extra, or less turns depending on their situation. It adds a small wrinkle to the system, and makes things a bit tougher, especially on enemies with high evasion (Matador, anyone?). While the battle system is pretty simple to grasp, the depth can get boggling with all the different things you can do, especially as you level and learn special attacks. There's some odd quirks ? your character is the only one who can use items in battle, meaning he'll have to waste a turn sometimes, and if the main character dies, it matters not who's alive ? the game is over. When your party members perish, you can revive them, but then you have to re-summon them into the party. The summon process is cool ? you can dismiss certain ones and bring in different cohorts, if the situation arises. Since you don't want to get caught with a party member being a hindrance against an opponent that can expose their weak points, swapping out demons for other ones is a really useful thing.
The final wrinkle to the battle system is the Magatama. Basically, the Magatama is what makes the main character unique ? depending on which one you have him equip (or?ingest as the game says) he gains different attributes that affect core stat levels, and changes his sensitivity and/or resistance to different attacks. Knowing which one to equip (they can be found in some chests, and mostly can be bought at various Junk Shops across the game world) at which time becomes part of the strategy of battles, along with the demons. It leads me to the most important aspect ? the game is hard. Seriously. It's not cheap or anything, but even some basic encounters are challenging and can be made even more difficult depending on what demons you're using and which Magatama you've got equipped. Early on it may seem pretty simple, but before long, the true nature of Nocturne reveals itself and the ass-kicking will commence. This is not one of those games you can brainlessly tap the X button and win, rather the fast and frantic pace will lead to more deaths on your part rather than the part of difficult boss encounters or unlucky random attacks. While it's not so hard you'll lose your mind spending hours in a particular dungeon, it has moments where actual, real strategy is the only possible method to finishing the game. Obviously this can be countered by leveling up a lot, but even then, if you face an enemy that can exploit a weakness you're not prepared for, it can be ugly.
Nocturne flows like an old-time RPG ? it's got a real, live world map, though you exist merely as an icon on it, wandering around. There's even spirits to talk to (spirits are basically the people who died during the Conception) on the map to drop hints relevant to your next task or just small-talk about characters or enemies you'll soon encounter. The game plays out in a pretty linear fashion; it just depends on the choices you make how things will shape themselves when you arrive at major points. There's not a real abundance of mini-games or side-quests, instead the only real big one I can think of is the Labyrinth of Amala dungeon/sidequest that revolves around the various Candelabras you can acquire from certain sub-bosses. Otherwise, you're far too busy trying to figure out what to make of this strange, demon-infested world to breed Chocobo's or play cards or whatever. So on the surface it's straightforward and linear, but the path you choose that leads to one of the six endings is all up to you. In reality though, the story, as good and intelligent as it is, takes a backseat to the constant fighting, which may alarm some but at the same time excite old-school players who want a good level grinder with some mental prowess and a chance to play Frankenstein and fuse demons in order to outsmart the tough enemies.