Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Soul Nomad and the World Eaters is a classic NIS title that really hits home to my nostalgia. One of the NIS titles that shows a bit of a darker foray into the storytelling zone, and a title I put 80+ hours into back in the day. Now no longer only a PS2 title released back in 2007, Soul Nomad is now available for PC. Has it held up well, or have the ravages of time crushed what was a really intriguing title? It’s time to find out.
First thing first before we get into the gameplay, at the time of writing this review there are some…technical issues with the title on PC. Some people have an issue where the screen shows black on start-up, but you can still interact with the game, see the cursor, and hear the audio. There are workarounds available on the Steam discussion page, so hopefully those work for most people. Unfortunately, apparently I don’t fall into this category. It took about 6 hours, and me having to get a friend to log into my account, boot up the game, change the config options to a working resolution, and then my friend had to send me the config file.
So what about the game itself? Well, in Soul Nomad we delve into a world ravaged by giant monsters called “World Eaters”, led by a man named Gig, the Master of Death. After a great battle, Gig is defeated, but the World Eaters remain, albeit in a dormant state. After 200 years, the protagonist is adopted into a hidden village, and tasked with being a protector. The leader of the village elects the protagonist to finish the job of their forefathers, and defeat the World Eaters so that the world will know peace once again. And so the protagonist is forced into a contract with the Master of Death himself, Gig, in a bid to try and use his powers to eliminate the World Eaters without succumbing to his influence.
If you’ve played a grid based tactic title before, you’ll have a good basis for how Soul Nomad works. You have a world map that travel around, and you visit key locations of interest to progress the story and get into fights. In fights you have the power to summon units at the cost of “Gig points”, and command them following a turn order on a grid. The grid has different tiles that will affect your units, perhaps increasing evasion or defense. If you get close enough to an enemy unit and attack, your whole squad goes in with you.
That’s right, you get a whole squad. Each “unit” actually comprises multiple individuals in a “room” that can provide different bonuses. These squads act together when in combat and will all take their actions together. After taking action, the opponent has an opportunity to counter attack. Each squad will have a leader that inherits a portion of the stats of the other members as well, although if a leader is defeated, the squad will be considered defeated as well.
In addition to basic combat, squads also have a stamina bar that will decrease when performing actions such as moving or attacking. If the stamina gauge is is below 80% you can use special moves based on the units in your squad. But be careful, because as your stamina decreases, so do your stats. You also have the option to use “tactics” or “Gig Edicts” on the battle field map, which are skills and items respectively. Skills will replace taking an action, such as attacking, but can give a buff, a debuff, or cast a spell at an enemy, as examples. These tactics gain exp when used, and can level up, but have a limited amount of uses per battle.
So how do you set up a squad? Well, first thing is you need a room for them. Rooms can be swapped out, or locked in place to keep the rooms you want from changing, but are pretty random in terms of what you get. Each room consists of a 3×3 grid, with a front, middle, and rear setting. Not all of these positions may be available though, as you could get a room with only two middle and two rear positions, or you could get a room with a lot more open slots. Once you have a room you like, you can then purchase and assign units to that room. The abilities and moves a unit can perform are based on their location in the room. As an example, putting a swordsman in the front will have a melee combo, but putting them in the middle will have them shoot out a shockwave. As you progress through the game, you will also learn about décor items that come with the rooms, and how you can upgrade them.
Room inspection is Soul Nomad’s version of the item world from Disgaea, where you can jump into a room, and fight your way through levels in order to upgrade the effects and the room. While in a room inspection, summoning squads doesn’t cost points, and clearing floors will improve your room. Now, the game mentions this as a sort of throw away line, but is pretty much the only way you’re going to be able to grind exp and points, so think about popping in once every so often, even if it’s in a room you aren’t using, just to get some exp.
Now, one of the major reasons I liked Soul Nomad as a kid was because of the Demon Path, which is an alternate “evil” side to the story you can unlock after clearing the game. It was also the first time I had seen the trope for “even evil has standards”, and hoo boy, was that an experience. There are a bunch of different dialogue options presented to you throughout the game, and answering differently may lead to alternate endings, which is a pretty fun facet.
Now, while the music is still quite good, let’s be honest about the graphics: they’re dated. Apart from a little text refurbishing, everything is just as it was back in the day, for better or for worse. Unfortunately this means you still get the old PS2 early days graphics, just stretched to fit your monitor, if it happens to be larger than your TV was back in the day. Thankfully, while the graphics may have aged like a miscellany of cheese, the gameplay has aged like wine.
There’s a lot going on in Soul Nomad, from the squad match-up bonuses, to the stat distribution, to some really weird units that have some pretty funky attacks. Tactics that change based on squad composition, combo moves available between units of specific types, and janky squad builds that work surprisingly well, there’s a lot more depth to Soul Nomad than it lets on. While you don’t need to know, or remember, a lot of these functions, as I cleared the game with minimal delving into the mechanics the first time I played, doing so will add a whole new level of gameplay. Couple this with the fact you can beat up random citizens for stuff, and Soul Nomad was certainly ambitious in all the right ways.
Overall, I have to say I still love Soul Nomad and the World Eaters, even more than ten years later. The gameplay is still really fun, the storyline is great, and I love all the little aspects that come together to make Soul Nomad what it is. That being said, there is no graphical update, and the “black screen of death” that you may experience on start-up may put newer players off. As with most retro titles, Soul Nomad doesn’t pull its punches either. It’s tough, and it isn’t afraid to let you know it. All-in-all, a patch to solve the blackscreen issue would do wonders, and while I wish there were an update to the graphics, everything about this title I loved is still there.Score: 7.5 / 10