Soul Nomad & the World Eaters «

Plenty of strategy-role-playing games cast the player as an unnamed, mute hero tasked with saving the world from a horde of vile demons. But it’s pretty safe to say that NIS America’s Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is the first such game to see that plucky protagonist possessed, for all intents and purposes, by a demonic version of shock jock Howard Stern.

Despite this convention-bending twist, Soul Nomad actually begins inconspicuously enough: Our generic main character (you choose the gender at the game’s outset) has come of age in a sleepy little out-of-the-way hamlet and is ready to ascend to the position of town guardian. Ah, but the ceremony for this life-changing event is but a ruse, as the village elder bequeaths to the protagonist an ominous onyx blade…which proceeds to possess our hero and imbue him/her with the ability to both kick ass and crack wise. It turns out that for the last 200 years, this sword had been the temporary (unwilling) home of Gig, a rude, crude centuries-old diabolical braggart in the vein of the aforementioned Stern — but this dude with a ‘tude sees himself not as the uncrowned King of All Media, but as the would-be King of All Demons. So while you’re using Gig’s massive power to help save the world, he’s using you to conquer it. Or, as Gig puts it: “You scratch my back — I crush yours.”

[Click the image above to check out all Soul Nomad screens.]


With Gig by your side (or, rather, on your insides), you set off on your quest to subdue the menacing World Eaters, ginormous demons who can destroy cities in the blink of an eye — and, true to their name, munch on any survivors. It turns out there’s a method to the village elder’s madness of making a deal with this foul-mouthed devil: Gig commanded these behemoths in his former life, so he’s the only force powerful enough to defeat them. To best these beasts, you’ll need to mass a massive army — and you’ve got just the ally (?) to complete this task, as Gig’s got the ability to “dominate” the various characters you come across and lure them over to your side.

Here’s where Soul Nomad takes a fork in the road of strategy-RPG conventions: Rather than dividing combat units into individual characters, the game separates them into squadrons. Thus, unit-versus-unit encounters on the battlefield are actually complex contests between two strategic formations made up of multiple warriors on each side. Each character has a different attack depending on whether you place them in the short-, medium-, or long-range attack partition of the squadron. And the best part of putting together your army? You don’t have to spend hours leveling up your characters. So long as you’ve got the funds, you can bump up new recruits to the protagonist’s current level. Don’t wanna grind for hours to level up your current comrades? Kick ’em to the curb and purchase a new batch of leaner, meaner mercs.

If there’s one major knock on Soul Nomad, it’s that for such a complex title, it doesn’t explain itself very well — and that’s bound to turn off players accustomed to in-depth tutorials. You receive a cursory explanation of the basic gameplay aspects, but in order to truly understand how things work, you’ve gotta experiment on your own. This is great for hardcore strategy nuts who love to tinker with every conceivable formation and class — and the game offers hundreds of possibilities — but I worry novice players may throw their arms up in frustration without giving the game a fair shot. Additionally, the bizarre in-game lingo (formations are known as “rooms,” for example) unnecessarily complicates otherwise simple concepts.

[Click the image above to check out all Soul Nomad screens.]


Even when Soul Nomad does get complex, it’s always enjoyable to venture forth thanks to the well-written story filled with dark humor and witty wisecracks. Gig’s the main source of comic relief, throwing out intentionally cheesy one-liners like “I kick more ass before 9 a.m. than most people do all day!” and hilarious out-of-nowhere quotes from pop-culture classics such as The Incredible Hulk and Full Metal Jacket. The superlative localization (by far NIS America’s best work to date) brings the deliciously despicable Gig and a cast of memorable, quirky characters to life — and despite the Teen rating, it’s as edgy and adult as anything on the PlayStation 2. So on the very off chance you were thinking a hardcore Japanese strategy title would be a nice birthday present for precocious little Johnny…er, think again.

Whether Soul Nomad represents a step forward in the evolution of the genre or an enjoyable, niche-y detour, one thing’s clear: It’s proof that developers don’t have to shamelessly rip off Final Fantasy Tactics to craft a compelling, addictive strategy-RPG.


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