Like many others, my first experience with the Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series came from playing a Persona game. I found a cheap copy of Persona 3: FES while browsing my local JB Hi-Fi and decided the description on the box sounded interesting enough to give it a chance. Jump forward a bit over a decade and I’ve expanded my Atlus horizons, playing most SMT games since then. Especially any that released on handhelds. But there was still a gap. While the older Persona games were easily accessible via my PSP and Vita (hooked up to a US PSN account of course), the same couldn’t be said for older SMT titles. My only real options would be to import them at exorbitant prices, something I wasn’t really willing to do. Now, I’ve had the chance to experience one of the series’ most beloved games Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne thanks to the HD remaster. While it isn’t perfect, it brings the experience of the game forwards enough to make it feel more modern and therefore engaging in a world where both the genre and medium have progressed immensely.
SMT III: Nocturne HD Remaster opens with your named Avatar arriving in Tokyo to meet your friends and teacher. It’s immediately apparent that something is up in the city, with the news and every person you find talking about a violent event that occurred in a local park. While the news talks about a violent mob, a mysterious stranger you meet mentions that the event may have been linked to a cult. As you continue on your way, you reach the location you needed to meet your teacher at: a mysteriously empty hospital. After investigating the eerie hallways and rooms, the true beginning to the game occurs: the demon apocalypse. Tokyo is torn apart and transformed into a spherical landmass, while demons have spread across it and the vast majority of humanity have died. You’re transformed into the Demi-Fiend, a seemingly part-human, part-demon hybrid, who now needs to investigate what has happened and what, if anything, can be done to save the world.
Where Nocturne HD Remaster sets itself apart from many other games, is in its trademark focus on darkness. Much like other SMT games, this isn’t about a happy group of friends on an adventure. Instead, it focuses on destruction, manipulation and despair. This game isn’t meant to make you happy, instead it revels in a darkness that is interesting and engaging. It’s helped along by characters that are a fantastic level of mysterious, as well as writing that is generally pretty good. There are some moments when the story can feel a little sparse or directionless, as it often leaves you to find your own way, but what’s there is worth sticking around for.
As you trek across this weird instance of Tokyo, you’ll have random encounters with demons. These take place in a classic turn based RPG system, where your entire team (or your opponents) performs its actions, before swapping to the opposing side of battle to do the same. Hitting an enemy’s weakness or a critical hit will trigger an additional action for your squad, missing a hit will cause you to lose one and having an enemy absorb damage causes your entire turn to end. Through this, if you pay attention to enemy weaknesses, you can quickly make short work of enemies. Conversely, if you don’t pay attention to your own weaknesses, you can quickly be wiped out yourself. It’s a system that, much like most SMT or Persona ones, requires a good bit of strategy, especially as the game becomes more difficult.
The other action you can take in battle is to attempt to convince your opponents to join your side. These negotiations involve parting with items and money, as well as answering questions, in an attempt to gain yourself a new demon follower. Sometimes you might even get lucky and a demon will approach you during battle to come over. There are plenty of times where you won’t succeed, but it’s worth trying over and again to gain demons. How else are you going to fill out your party or sacrifice your demons to combine them and create more powerful ones? It gives you an added layer of thought in battle, which is always nice to have.
Outside of what was already present for the original PlayStation 2 release, Nocturne HD Remaster makes a few changes and updates to content and presentation. The most noticeable of these is the update to the game’s visual presentation. While it’s still undeniably an older generation title, the work done cleans up a lot of the game and adds some additional detail to its character and world. While it’s certainly not going to win any awards for its visuals, it looks good enough to get by. The cutscenes, on the other hand, haven’t been redone and look pretty blurry at points. There’s also the option of Japanese or English voice overs, which is always a welcome addition to a game, and the ability to use a suspend-save at any point, which is great given the long time between save points that often occurs. There’s also an easier difficulty level available as free DLC, which is always a fantastic addition for those that want it. One of the things that doesn’t seem to have been touched much is the game’s general audio, there’s a sharpness and buzzing to its tone that can get distracting at times. Given the soundtrack itself is pretty good, it’s disappointing for points of it to be dragged down by low audio quality.
Overall, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a pretty good remaster, even if it’s not amazing. The underlying game is great and the visual and quality of life improvements are welcome, but it’s still clearly a product of its time. With that said, if you’re a fan of the series or RPGs, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy here.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster was reviewed on a regular Nintendo Switch console with a review copy provided by the publisher. It is also releasing on PC and PlayStation 4. For more information, check the official website.
- Story is well written and interesting - Combat is strategic and challenging
- World and story can feel sparse at points - Audio quality of the soundtrack is lower than I'd hoped