At one point, the Persona series was the benchwarmer series for Atlus with Shin Megami Tensei being the top franchise seed. It was an, of course, a spin-off that began with the original kicking off a string of successful hits. In 2003, during one of the best periods for JRPGs, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne arrived for the PlayStation 2, receiving a positive critical response, and named one of the best RPGs of that year.
Times have certainly changed since then but the release Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster offers an excellent look at the past and an experience that just might surprise you.
Atlus games have never steered away from using religion and many of the monster designs are inspired by all sorts of religions and mythologies. Few video games allow you the opportunity to fight Satan or Lucifer and or socialize with archangels but in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, it’s just another day and quite often one of the last for humanity.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster holds up well
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster pits you in the middle of the worst situation. Stuck in Tokyo, you and your class arrive at a hospital only to witness the end of the world in an event better known as The Conception. This world-changing spectacle kickstarts the start of the new world where you as the Demi-fiend, a human with the body of a demon but without the loss of self. And what stuck with me about this game when it originally launched was how it wasn’t really about how to go back to normal but how to deal with the reality in front of you.
Some video games can mentally drain you and Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster fits neatly into this category. Humanity has vanished and all that’s left on Earth are demons and you’re left to figure out why you have these new abilities and what happened. Things get weird, things get dark and it’s an absurd story that uses various concepts to satisfying results.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was the first game that introduced the Press Turn system and has since been used several times in other games within the series. Each battle includes a counter in the top-right corner indicating how many turns you have before the enemy strikes. You can extend your turns by nailing an elemental weakness against your opponent and you can effectively double the number of actions you’re able to choose before the enemy can strike back. Persona has a similar system but the importance of studying your opponent and learning to experiment with the mechanic and various demons is necessary.
Some have all the luck
The Demi-fiend has the ability to recruit demons to his cause and if you’ve ever played Persona 5, you’ll be familiar with the system. By recruiting demons, you mix and match and build a team to support you in battle and by entering the Cathedral of Shadows (similar to the Velvet Room), several services are available including the option to fuse demons, purchase duplicates and fine-tune your team’s abilities, a new feature that newer Persona games offered but one that Nocturne originally didn’t.
One persistent issue is negotiations are all based on luck and are completely up to chance. I’ve had many instances that I was certain I had been successful only for the demon to reject me. I’m not sure if the process was this tedious before but it can be when things don’t go as you’d hoped they would.
Atlus has done a great job at remastering the game, keeping the models fairly similar but given the texture and resolution bump into a new generation. I’m a fan of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster’s aesthetic years later and the added voice-acting make a great impression on newcomers, especially for a narrative that isn’t afraid to get dark and often weird.
A boy and his demons
And while I liked the visual tweaks, you’re reminded that this game is almost 20 years old by things like the dated overworld or clumsy camera angles. Environments are firmly stuck in the past and early dungeons are uninspired mazes and pre-rendered cutscenes only offer a 4:3 aspect ratio. I’m a bit letdown these weren’t given the same treatment but they feel out of place. I appreciate Atlus adding the new Merciful difficulty that dials the game’s challenge down, the original featured some rather nasty boss encounters.
If you’re looking to get the full experience my recommendation is to purchase the Maniax add-on. Adding guest character Dante from the Devil May Cry series by replacing normal guest character Raidou Kuzunoha from Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon. Dante appeared in the original Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and is a great ally to recruit in battle, otherwise, Raidou serves the same role with different abilities.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is an essential game for any RPG fan. It’s a relevant title that holds up almost two decades later and benefits from the uprezzing and quality-of-life improvements. Fusing demons and negotiating with them is fun but the fact the process is luck-based makes it harder than needed. Learning how to exploit an enemy’s weakness and the Press Turn system offers a great way to experiment and stay focused on ensuring survival in the post-apocalyptic, hellish version of Tokyo.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch