Although the Shin Megami Tensei series is nearly three decades old, for most of us the series may feel like it has only been around two decades. This is because the franchise’s first two entries were never released outside of Japan back then with Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne serving as the first proper Western appearance for the series. Back in 2004 few could have guessed that it would turn into a challenging classic that would find itself a solid fan base that would only increase in size as its spin-off series, Persona, continued to grow. Now that Atlus has brought this classic back to the forefront with a number of quality of life upgrades as well as some improved graphics for potential newcomers and longtime fans to experience, is Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster still just as strong of a JRPG after all these years?
The player character begins their day meeting with their friends in Tokyo the day after a massive clash between two rival cults resulted in multiple deaths. When the group travels to the local hospital to find their teacher, they find it abandoned and shortly afterwards, the “Conception” happens. This apocalyptic event has nearly wiped out all of humanity and even the player character awakes to find that he is now the Demi-Fiend, a being that is part-demon, part-human.
With their new powers and the ability to sway demons to their side, the Demi-Fiend must track down their surviving friends and find out what has happened to the world. Of course, unlike most games that find players trying to save the world, the darker tone of the Shin Megami series is at its best here as players will find that the world will change, one way or another and it will be up to them to decide how.
In many ways, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster tells a straightforward narrative that is spiced up thanks to unique chaotic elements that can only exist in an apocalyptic world where demons run free and own shops while most humans only remain as ghosts and how nonchalant the world is now that things have changed. The player will still find that while the game features multiple endings, the actual path to each of them remains mostly the same outside of the special ending to the game that takes a bit of extra work and reveals a bit more about the story as a whole.
It is also worth noting that, outside of featuring Raidou from the Devil Summoner series, as the default release guest character this still remains mostly the same exact story that longtime fans will be familiar with, with only small localization refinements made compared to the original release. The original guest character that Western fans had, Dante from Devil May Cry, is only available as a separate piece of DLC and it is rather unfortunate that, even if players purchase this DLC, the only way to experience all of the scenes with these characters is by playing through the game twice as the game only allows the selection of Chronicle, featuring Raidou, or Maniax, featuring Dante, at the start of the story.
In many ways Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster will still play the same as players will remember as they travel through narrow passages in labyrinth style dungeons while dealing with random encounters the whole time. The series has always been known for its Press-Turn style of turn based combat where players can take advantage of enemy elemental weaknesses to extend their turns, giving their own team additional attacks if they hit a weakness or strike a critical blow. On the other side of things, a missed attack or resisted blow will remove an action and enemies will freely be able to target the players’ teams own weak points in an effort to extend their turns. This means that players will want to always be on their toes and potentially keep their team fresh outside of battle by healing when needed or swapping out a party member for another demon in their stock that is potentially resistant to the foes in the area.
Of course, even with all the preparation possible Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster can still be an incredibly unforgiving game. While players may feel like they are initially getting the hang of things, there are numerous moments throughout the title that will serve as a true test to the player’s team building abilities and combat knowledge. Even when these challenges don’t spring up at obvious points, there are times when RNG will simply lead to the player having no way to avoid a sudden game over should they be targeted and hit with an instant kill or combo attack that leads to instant death. This is primarily due to the Demi-Fiend being the only character that truly matters in the player’s party since, when he goes down, the game is over.
That being said, there are a couple of new accessibility options to make the game a bit easier as a whole, the first of all being the “Merciful” difficulty option that makes combat significantly easier and less frequent, giving players more options to simply play as they wish and experience the game. Then there is the ability to “suspend” the game by creating a temporary save at any location, allowing for players to walk away should something come up without having to make a rush to a save location, which can occasionally be rather few and far between depending on the dungeon.
Rarely do games reward players who freely throw away health, money, and items but the Shin Megami Tensei series is not like most games and the dark twisted nature of being able to recruit demons to fight alongside the Demi-Fiend remains as thrilling as ever in this HD release. Players will negotiate with enemies and often throw a little of everything at the enemy trying to recruit them but it is entirely possible that they’ll simply scoff and run off with everything in the end or simply give them an item that they likely requested from the player to begin with.
Nothing is a sure thing when it comes to recruiting a demon to your side but one thing that can be something of a sure thing, should the player choose, is skill inheritance. Coming in as one of the most significant quality of life improvements over the original release is the ability to choose what skills can be carried over to a fused demon in the Cathedral of Shadows can really help players in the long run as what used to be a trial and error situation that could result in losing valuable skills, allowing many unique combinations that can result in a powerful ally.
Visuals & Audio
Considering the original PlayStation 2 game was released in 2004, this HD remaster does a fairly solid job improving the graphics of the game but not quite as well as some may hope. While the character models remain fairly strong looking and the 3D models of most of the demons continue to impress, the clear limitations of the PlayStation 2 continue to ring true here as many areas remain fairly barren and even low-textured in some spots with cutscenes also being presented in only their original appearance with minimal improvements. It also is worth noting that not only is the camera still something players will struggle with from time to time but also there tends to be a strange flickering bug that happens for a second after interacting with NPCs and items.
Another key improvement to Shin Megami Tensei III HD Remaster is the ability to play with a brand new English or Japanese voice track. The original release of the game featured no voice work at all outside of some occasional chimes during combat from demons so the addition of voice work is a nice and noteworthy improvement as the English voice cast does a stellar job with their characters here. That being said, it is rather odd that while the developers recorded new voice work and touched up the graphics, the soundtrack for the game sounds quite awful more often than not. While some tracks may have sounded great originally, it instead comes off as rough and difficult to hear even at the best of times.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster has aged like a fine wine thanks in part due to how amazing its combat mechanics and demon recruitment system has held up over the years. With a number of graphical enhancements and some great quality of life improvements, this classic JRPG is more accessible and far more enjoyable than before but can be just as brutal and punishing if the player isn’t careful. There are still a number of rough edges as well as some elements that could still have used improvement but those looking for a great way to replay a classic or dive into the difficult origins of a series they may have only recently experienced will find this remaster a great way to do so.
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