Title: Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Way back in 2003, Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne was released on Playstation 2, and it would remain a Sony exclusive, available later digitally on Playstation 3 as a PS2 classic. Out of the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, Nocturne happens to be the most notable for several reasons, so it only makes sense that it would receive an HD remaster. Further, it would leave its Sony exclusivity by arriving on Nintendo Switch and PC alongside PlayStation 4. Being able to return to this title on modern consoles should entice fans and newcomers alike. Thankfully, it holds up incredibly well.
In the Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster has players assume the role of a male high school student wearing bland shorts and a dope jacket as they are on their way to meet up with their teacher and a couple of classmates. As you make your way around the city, you get a little sidetracked by reports of a series of deaths in the local park. Being the inquisitive teenager, you are, you meet a writer for an occultic magazine who tells you about some opposing cults. The detour doesn’t last too long, and you’re at the hospital before you know it. However, aside from your friends, it is eerily void of any other people. Not one to sit around your go and look for your teacher who invited you all here.
This is when the plot is revealed. You find yourself in a basement face to face with a terribly dressed man named Hikawa, who tries to kill you with a demon before your teacher steps in. They begin talking about stuff you have no concept of at this point, and you watch the world end on the roof. Just to make things more strange, a child shoves a demon worm thing in your eye and turns you into a demon. Yes, and this all happens in the first 20 minutes.
This end of the world phenomenon is called the “Conception,” and it’s pretty much earth reincarnating itself. Luckily, occult magazine man is here to help and look at mystery drums used as save points while you wander the remnants of the world and try to make sense of things. If navigating “the expanse” wasn’t enough, you’ll also have to fight off the new demonic denizens.
Navigating the expanse is easy enough given that the encounter rate isn’t very high and buildings you can interact with glow a nice faint red. While there aren’t any objective markers pointing you where to go, you shouldn’t get lost unless you take a very long break. While exploring, you can access a map that creates itself as you go, making the maze-like dungeons easier to navigate. Upon entering an area, you’ll be able to wander around in 3rd person, which was new for the series at the time as it made the jump from 2D to 3D, and still works well here selling the empty and lonely environments. Despite that infodump of the opening moments, Nocturne is rather minimalist when it comes to a supporting party which works wonders for the tone as our protagonist has to suffer through most of this experience alone.
The HD visuals provide greater detail to the dated dungeon designs and the layout works even through a modern eye. I should note that the game has a framerate locked at 30fps. However, this wasn’t an issue to me, and I don’t really see it as an issue at all.
The small cast of characters is delightful, and within this remastered version, they are now fully voiced. The performances are fantastic and really add to the drama of later scenes. Raidou (or, more specifically, talking cat Gouto) and Dante (a DLC option) also enjoy the buffs they get from having voices. The audio is just fantastic in general, as Shoji Meguro didn’t miss a beat in perfecting the soundtrack for this title back in 2003.
Within battles, you’ll have up to three demons by your side. Nocturne uses the “press turn” battle system, which means that instead of everyone on your side attacking, you have a certain number of icons. This icon total matches up with as many party members as you have, and by exploiting weaknesses, you can gain more per turn, all while missing or having your attacks voided, which will cause you to lose them.
Opponents will also use this system, allowing them more attacks if they strike your weaknesses and less if you null them. It’s enjoyable and rewards players who take the time to prepare and strategize around their fights. As all future SMT games since would all build upon this system, you know it’s good.
There are two ways to obtain demons that fill out your party to use in battle. You can negotiate with demons in battle or summon previously obtained demons from the compendium at the cathedral of shadows. In negotiation, you’ll ask demons to join your party, and they’ll request Macca and items from you to convince them. Those demons won’t be able to keep up stat wise though, as both you and your enemies become stronger. You’ll need to smoosh them together with fusion to make more powerful demons. New to this remaster is the ability to select which skills you pass through fusion, something the original did not have. It’s a quality-of-life feature that would be coincidentally added in the next game in the series, Persona 3, and present in all games after.
However, the system doesn’t come without flaws. Negotiation is luck-based, and it’s awful. Even with extra negotiation skills to convince demons to join you, it’s an arduous process to go through with the only guarantee of decimating your early-mid game money supply. But summoning from the compendium also costs a ludicrous amount of Macca. This means you’ll rarely be grinding because you aren’t strong enough. You’ll be grinding money so you can afford the demons to fill your party. If you can swallow your pride, an extra easy mode makes things easier for an underequipped party.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is the definitive way to experience this PS2 classic. The updated visuals, voice acting, and quality-of-life changes make it a must-play for fans both new and returning. There are some heavy and impactful moments of storytelling telling here that have aged incredibly well, with the only downside being not having enough money to fuse demons for a Yaksini or Loki.
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