Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster Review
Up until its fourth installment, Persona usually had the Shin Megami Tensei title attached to it, and only recently in Persona 5 do we no longer exactly see it anywhere. The point is, while there’s no doubt how big the Persona series has become, it can be easily overlooked that it is actually just a spinoff.
The Shin Megami Tensei series of RPGs was revolutionary for its time. In contrast to many RPGs released back then, the game would usually be set in more modern and urban times. These titles can get pretty dark in their themes, centering on the occult, and there is a lot of religious and mythical imagery mixed in with fantasy elements.
There is definitely a strong following for the Shin Megami Tensei series, which is why it has endured this long, partially in thanks to the massive popularity of Persona. In 2021, Atlus saw it fit to re-release a classic title from the series, which is why we now have Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. Is this a title worth picking up in the current video game landscape or should it have stayed in the past generation of gaming?
As someone who is only experiencing Shin Megami Tensei for the first time but has been following its spinoff Persona series since Persona 3, it was a great experience to see just what makes the series tick. For brevity we’ll be just be referring to Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster as just Nocturne from here on out.
The Beginning of the End
Nocturne, like most games in Shin Megami Tensei, takes place in modern Tokyo, Japan. As a protagonist that you name yourself, things started out slowly with you meeting your friends and teacher at a local Shinjuku hospital, despite the recent tragedy involving a riot of a demonic cult which resulted in the loss of many lives.
Things take a turn for the weird when you and a select few, including your fellow classmates and teacher, bear witness to the Conception, a phenomenon that practically wipes out everything outside the hospital, leaving only a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with demons and souls.
As if things couldn’t get any more bizarre, you undergo a change and actually become a demon, dubbed the Demi-fiend, and circumstances have set you on a journey to discover what has happened to the world and through your actions decide its fate.
If anything, playing the Persona games made the premise not so surprising anymore as they also dealt with apocalyptic and occult settings, but Shin Megami Tensei feels more serious and heavy. It’s a tale that was definitely worth following to one of its conclusions.
This is because in your journey as the Demi-fiend to decide the fate of the world, you will be making some very important decisions in who you would align yourself with among all the characters you meet. In other words, there are multiple endings to be discovered, and it’s this gameplay mechanic that you can say is one of Nocturne’s strong points to encourage more than one playthrough.
Not your typical RPG tropes
Like any other RPG, Nocturne still uses the tried and tested turn-based system. You alternate turns with your enemies choosing various commands like attacking and making use of your various physical and magic based skills. These all should look familiar to old school RPG veterans, but Nocturne actually changed up the formula a bit here where only the Demi-fiend can use items, and the Demi-fiend falling in battle will result in a Game Over.
Post-Conception Tokyo also doesn’t strictly follow the traditional RPG sense where you traverse vast lands and visit towns. Instead you visit ruins of old Tokyo like Ikebukuro and Ginza and it is here where you will find the souls of humans who have been wiped out. What will at least feel familiar are various shops set up by the denizens of the new world where you can still buy essentials like items.
Another definite throwback to classic RPG’s are the random battles. Fortunately, in contrast to most RPGs, there is a counter in the lower right of your screen that indicates when a random battle is about to start. What some might not also expect is that in Nocturne, battles can occur pretty much anywhere, even in seemingly safe places.
It would have been also appreciated if your UI also enabled you to keep the map visible as it does get frustrating have to constantly switch between your map and game if you get lost.
Aside from these slight deviations from the usual RPG mechanics, what sets apart Nocturne the most is its demon management system, along with a few elements that will feel very familiar.
Welcome to the Velvet Ro…
Being the series that Persona came from, it’s no surprise that the fusing system and compendium can also be found here. Nocturne will let you fuse two demons together to make a new one, which is a hallmark feature in the series.
To complicate things, even the “phase” of a demon needs to be considered, as a full moon lets you sacrifice an additional demon during fusion to give your new demon more power. In all of this fusion gameplay, it’s definitely great how the game gives you the freedom to choose what skills the new demon can inherit from its predecessors. It’s a system very reminiscent of recent Persona games and very much appreciated.
The world after the Conception has been nearly wiped clean of humanity, leaving only souls to wander about. And in humanity’s place, demons have run amok. And it is these demons that you can fight and recruit into your party. You can pretty much say this is post-apocalyptic Pokemon we’re dealing with here.
This character building mechanic also applies to the Demi-fiend as you can find and ingest various Magatama that each have different strengths, weaknesses, and skills you can learn. In other words, part of the fun in Nocturne is actually forming your ideal parties to deal with certain enemies, as well as equipping your Demi-fiend with the right Magatama for each battle. For those looking for a pretty deep RPG battle customization system, Nocturne has that in spades.
I have nothing left to teach you, Persona
Having started with Persona, I was really curious to play a game from the main Shin Megami Tensei series, and there were some high hopes since it’s the series that Persona spun off from. After my time with Nocturne, I’d have to say I was rather underwhelmed. You can very much say Nocturne has been overshadowed by its own spinoff.
First, it’s at least clear that this is not a full-blown remake of Nocturne. With that said, the blocky and outdated looking graphics of this HD Remaster can be forgiven, but the game does look pretty average – not mind blowing, but not terrible. However, as interesting as the story was, the dull settings didn’t help much in pushing the player forward through the game. The ruins of old Japan that you go through like Ginza and Ikebukuro looked very bland in design and the dungeons you traverse, while a little varied in design and colors, were just not pleasing to the eyes.
Now while Tartarus from Persona 3 and Mementos from Persona 5 looked just as simple, it helped that these weren’t the only places you get to visit in those games. Sure it fits the narrative that Tokyo now looks like a barren wasteland, but overall Japan after the Conception incident just looked dull.
It would have also been nice that as a re-release of a classic game, they could have done away with some of the tedious aspects of the previous incarnation. For one, it got pretty frustrating after a while that you still need to be asked before you want to open a basic treasure chest. Another is while saving your game, we could do without the short video sequence showing your data being saved. Small tweaks that could have made the experience so much better.
It doesn’t also help that there weren’t exactly any memorable soundtracks in the game, another far cry from what the Persona series has accomplished. From the battle theme to the dungeon music, there weren’t any tunes that stuck. The music was decent, just not very memorable, which is a shame since the voice overs were decent, both in English and Japanese.
It’ll cost you extra
This HD Remaster is based on the Maniax version of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, which was an updated version for the PlayStation 2 that lets you meet and possibly recruit another known character in Shin Megami Tensei, the devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha, and everyone’s favorite cocky demon hunter, Dante.
Yes, Dante from the Devil May Cry series is actually a guest character in the Maniax version of Nocturne that you can fight and possibly recruit into your party. The good news is Dante is also included the Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. The catch? Fork up some extra cash as he is part of the Maniax Pack, which is sold separately. Considering that usual remasters already include the latest and most complete versions of the games, this doesn’t quite sit well with me.
The charisma of these 2 characters unfortunately can’t be replicated by the various characters in Nocturne itself. Your friends that survived the Conception with you have their moments in the game, but they’re just not very memorable. Compared the cast to the colorful, diverse, and sometimes deep people that you meet in the Persona series, the characters in Nocturne just pale in comparison.
What We Liked:
- Unique occult storyline
- Multiple endings
- Engaging demon system
- Challenging battle system
What We Didn’t Like:
- Forgettable soundtrack
- Dull dungeons and cities
- Looks outdated for an HD Remaster
- Some content made into paid DLC
Verdict: Wait for it.
Overall, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster was more of an average experience, especially for a newcomer to the series. It’s by no means a terrible game, as the unique story with multiple endings is interesting enough to follow. The demon recruiting system even had the same drive to catch them all, allowing you to tailor fit your party to deal with the various fiends throughout the game.
Ultimately, it was Shin Megami Tensei’s own Persona that didn’t make this foray in the main series exactly enjoyable due to the very stark contrast in styles, personality, and overall presentation. I understand that this is obviously a matter of preference, but the heavy themes and lack of quality of life tweaks make it a tough entry point for newcomers.
Even if my first foray in the series wasn’t exactly as mind-blowing as I could have hoped, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne remaster is a welcome revival of a classic that fans of the series will surely enjoy.
*Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 5 via a review code provided by the publisher.