It seems to have fallen into complete obscurity. I don’t even remember any magazine reviewing it when it came out. When people discuss PS2 hidden gems, they usually talk about Shadow of the Colossus, or Okami, or Odin Sphere, but never SNatWE. Why is that? Is it because it was difficult and maybe overly complicated? Coming back to this journal, I realized that I never really felt like I understood the game enough to play it well. However, the game does have a pretty interesting story with some very dark themes. It’s definitely the darkest NIS game I’ve ever played, and also the least cute, with a different art style from Disgaea, Phantom Brave, and the like.
It was actually the first NIS game that I ever owned. SNatWE was a strategy RPG, and is still unlike any other I’ve ever played.
An evil-looking character graces the front cover. He looks down at you with red eyes. This is Gig. Gig is a jerk, but his one of your main allies in the game, and receives some character development over the course of the story. To his right is a black sword with a somewhat fanciful-looking hilt and a rune-etched blade. The background looks like a destroyed village with a hellish crimson laid over it. The cover is decent from a design standpoint, but doesn’t really convey the turn-based feel of the game or the real depth of its story.
“Some people just aren’t fit to play god,” declares the back cover blurb. “The God of Death is back, and he’s looking for trouble!” They’re talking about Gig. “Use his power to slay the mighty World Eaters, but don’t get carried away…”
Right. This explains how, if you misuse Gig’s power, you will be punished in some way. The game’s manual claims that the story can branch in a number of ways, but on my playthrough, the only branches I saw were marked with a skull and crossbones indicating that using Gig’s power in those choices gets you a bad ending. Maybe there were more branches in later playthroughs as part of a new game plus kind of unlockable?
Let’s look a little deeper into the manual. (Ah, the days when games had manuals that were full of valuable information…) Sadly, it’s in black and white, so you can’t see the character artwork in its full-color glory.
Page one has the prologue:
“The continent of Prodesto…
The grueling war had finally ended,
and one man had unified the land.
Lord Median the Conqueror…
Though only one man, his heroism swept across the world.
The harmonious empire stood for more than 10 years,
before it crumbled once more.
Lord Median and his son passed away,
and Prodesto returned to a state of bloody war.
It was then that a clarion vesper rang
throughout the halls of history.
Median’s daughter, Layna, had come into
her own and become a true leader.
Neighboring countries formed treaties,
and for a moment the world knew peace.
But then the world was darkened by
a single shadow and its cruel heralds.
The violent echoes of agony and murder shattered the land.
The shaky alliances were pushed to their
limits by the merciless creatures.
But human as they were, they fell
victim to weakness and temptation.
Some cowered and fled, while others pledged
allegiance to the beasts.
Layna rallied her few remaining
comrades for a final confrontation.
The venerable warrior queen sacrificed her
life to banish the shadow.
They were both consumed, and the
three behemoths fell silent…”
Pages five-seven have character profiles.
Hero: “A human who fused with Gig in order to slay the World Eaters. As the hero, you want to use Gig’s power to save the world. But use too much, and Gig will dominate your body and wreak havoc once more…”
Gig likes to goad him/her on with promises of power. His/her default name is Reyva.
Gig: “Leader of the World Eaters that nearly destroyed the world 200 years ago. He has powers beyond the wildest dreams of any mortal. He is feared by all as the Master of Death and God of Destruction. He was nearly killed by Layna, who sealed his soul in an onyx blade. Eventually, he fused with the hero, thanks to the oddly vital Layna. He’s cocky and smug, and all he wants is a physical form of his own.”
“Oddly vital” is a way of describing how Layna is still alive after 200 years that amuses me, for some reason.
Danette: “A Sepp girl who has lived with the hero under Layna’s protection since the age of 7. She has a tough time remembering names, and hates putting too much effort into thinking about anything. She’s direct and thinks the best of people.”
By “Sepp”, they mean that she is a member of the race of anthropomorphized cow people that exists in the world of SnatWE. Sepp have hooves for feet, little horns, and long, floppy ears. They are one of many anthro races that exist in the game.
As for Danette herself, she’s sweet, but a bit ditzy and simple-minded. She is obsessed with a food called “hotpods”.
Layna the Firebrand: “The greatest mage of all time whose name was known across the land over 200 years ago. She was thought to have been killed by Gig, but she’s lived in secrecy for 200 years. She founded a village to search for the one who could control Gig. She’s a mysterious woman who has lived far longer than any human should.”
Levin: “A young Sepp gatekeeper in Astec. He also works for Christophe, leader of the city’s merchant guild. His only weapons are his quick feet and solid fists. He never thinks before he acts, and he’s a horrible liar. He takes care of his sick older sister, and refuses to leave her side. He hates the term ‘sister-lover’.”
By Odin’s beard, did this game predict the strange “imouto” genre of manga/anime?!
Vitali: “Works under Christophe in Astec, just like Levin. He’s an eerily silent and sneaky man. He excels in stealth and spy missions. If it weren’t for the awful state of the world, he’d be a gourmet chef. Though normally quiet, he can talk for hours about exotic foods.”
Shauna: “Former boss of a bandit gang, before Endorph came along and usurped her role. Now she serves as Endorph’s reluctant second-in-command. She hates everyone, including herself. She comes from a rich family but disdains excess wealth.”
“Hates everyone, including herself.” An interesting detail, don’t you think? You’ll never guess why.
Endorph: “Leader of a Robin Hood-esque group of bandits. He is a man short on words but long on passion. His weapon of choice is dual pistols. 15 years ago, Queen Alexemia found him covered in burns and on the edge of death. He uses clothes to cover up the burn scars. Endorph isn’t his real name; he once went by Walnut.”
Grunzford: “A lone Redflank met during your travels. He lived in Layna’s village until 10 years ago. He left in protest of Layna’s desire to place Gig’s soul into a human. He likes to complain about the Sepps. He’s a tough, stubborn old man.”
Redflanks appear to be the equivalent of minotaurs in this game’s world.
Juno: “Commander of all the Nereid land forces. She distrusts humans, but loves children and currently cares for a young human boy, whom she spoils rotten. She’s honest and straightforward, and places high value on pride and friendship.”
Nereids are an aquatic species. They have long, pointy ears and webbed fingers.
Dio (?): “A Dracon who calls himself ‘Dio of the Evil Eye’. Though people across the world fear the name of Dio, in reality he’s kind of lame. He has a couple phynx and an old guy hat follow him wherever he goes. In order to pay them, he tries to waylay unsuspecting travelers.”
A Dracon is a humanoid with small, reindeer-style horns.
Tricia: “The only child of a wealthy merchant. She has a strong sense of justice, but she’s also very naïve, causing much personal confusion. She wants to experience the real world in order to change it. She and Grunzford seem to have a past together.”
Median the Conqueror: “The warlord who unified the land 285 years ago. He took pride in his superhuman strength, but after 10 years of rule, he was challenged and defeated. Some claim he was killed, but legend says his soul still lives on in another form.”
World Eater Feinne: “A behemoth that crept from the shadows 200 years ago. Under Gig’s command, she destroyed entire civilizations, leaving the land in ruins. Her wrath ended once Gig was defeated. She is now guarded by Raide to prevent anyone from provoking her. Her unrivaled power has earned her the title of ‘Last Boss’. However, two other World Eaters still remain.”
I wonder who and where they could be…
In SnatWE, you form “rooms” of squads. These squads can consist of up to nine units in three rows. It is a good idea to put weaker or mage units in the back row protected by stronger melee units. The game has a weird way of framing unit and squad arrangement by making it like furnishing these rooms with units and “decor”. Décor Items apply effects to every unit in the room. Similar to the Disgaea series and the Item World battles that you can do to level up your units and items, you can level up units in SnatWE by performing Inspections on their rooms. If you try to Inspect a room that is too high-level for your units to tackle, boy, does the game let you know it by steamrolling over you. Over the course of the game, you get more rooms to fill with units, and the opportunity to create new units over the course of the game.
In battles, your squads have a Stamina meter. Once this meter drops below a certain level, the squads stats drop. This is a very bad thing. However, STM can be restored with items, IIRC. Certain types of geography affect squad stats and can even give them bonuses. Certain character types get a bonus on terrain that suits them, such as Nereids on Shore areas.
Battles consist of skirmishes on an overworld between the leaders of each squad. A very important element is each squad’s Potentiality. This is the sum of the squad’s overall power. It is a way of quickly determining which squad you want to send against certain enemies. However, not all squads with high Potentiality equate to a powerful opponent if it consists of nonviolent Clerics, for example. A squad vanishes from the battlefield when its leader’s HP hits zero. When squads attack each other, the game cuts to a split-screen side view of the battlefield which shows the result of the attack and/or counterattack.
There is a bit of rock-paper-scissors/triangle system for the different types of units in the game. Melee is weak against Magic, but strong against Ranged; Ranged is weak against Melee, but strong against Magic; Magic is weak against Ranged, but strong against melee; and then, there are special units with no outstanding weakness or strengths against other unit types.
You can use Gig Edicts on enemies and allies in battle, and even use them on NPCs in town scenes. I never tried to bully any NPCs because it was a bad thing to do, I feared any potential downside while failing to see any upsides, and it would have given Gig some satisfaction to use one of his Edicts that way.