Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne was lauded as one of the best and hardest JRPGs of its time back when it released in 2003 on PlayStation 2. Its brutal difficulty, strategic battles, and hardcore music all came together to create a memorable journey that players still remember fondly to this day.
Now with an HD Remaster, Atlus has brought the game back on modern hardware for both old and new players to experience. As someone who didn’t play the original release, it's easy to see why the game was celebrated back then. Unfortunately, it can’t outrun its old age.
Facing Your Demons
You play as the Demi-Fiend, a half-human and half-demon hybrid that scours a post-apocalyptic Tokyo after an event called the Conception occurs. Throughout the game, your goal is to make certain choices that lead to particular endings, usually guided by a Reason. Reasons are deities that can shape the incoming world after the Conception and are usually coexisting within several supporting cast NPCs. The story itself is pretty basic, but the gameplay is the main vehicle of this title.
The game features a turn-based system and the Press-Turn mechanic. Exploiting enemy weaknesses will allow you to earn more turns and keep the battles in your favour. Each side has a certain number of icons per round, and after each side uses them up, it switches over to the other. The Press-Turn mechanic offers a lot of experimentation, especially when you swap out different demons in your party.
You’re able to have up to three demons in your party at a time, and they function similarly to Pokemon. Those who’ve played Persona 5 will be familiar with this, as you have to convince demons to join your side through different dialogue options. If successful, they join your stock of other demons and you’re free to switch between them as you see fit.
Modernizing a Classic
In the Cathedral of Shadows, you can also fuse demons to create new ones as well, so there is plenty of variety within the strengths and weaknesses of demons. Forming your own party of favourite demons or optimizing a specific setup just to take down a boss really feels fun and satisfying.
Additionally, one welcome change that wasn’t in the original is that you can now select which specific skills you want to pass down to your new demon when fusing your old ones together. In the original release, the skill was chosen at random and oftentimes players would load up a previous save file if they didn’t get the one they wanted, wasting hours of time trying to get their desired result. Gameplay-wise, this is by far the best new feature introduced in this remaster.
The voice acting is stellar too, with great performances from the supporting cast. While the Demi-Fiend is a silent protagonist, you can still hear the effort that voice actor Christian La Monte put into his grunts. The original release didn’t contain any sort of voice acting, so its inclusion in the remaster really brings life to all of the characters in this desolate world.
The cast and demons look pretty good too. The human characters retain their unique, signature art style that’s present in many of the Shin Megami Tensei games, including the mainline series as well as non-Persona spin-offs like Devil Summoner and Digital Devil Saga.
Showing its Age
However, this remaster is quite lacking in quality of life updates, and still feels very much like a PlayStation 2 game. For starters, controlling the protagonist feels incredibly awkward because the camera is stiff. Whenever I’m moving the camera to look at a different angle, it always wants to pull the perspective back to behind the protagonist.
Additionally, the game’s overworld looks incredibly dated. When travelling on it, the protagonist is represented by a very generic blue avatar. It gets the job done, but the presentation here is sorely lacking. While a complete overhaul of the overworld isn’t necessary, it would have been nice to have a sprite of the Demi-Fiend running around rather than something that looks like an old-school chatroom icon.
It’s also incredibly easy to get lost in the game as well. You’ll have to pay extra attention to the dialogue to know where to go in order to advance the story. The navigation part here really could have received some much-needed improvements, such as objective markers or minimaps, which are sadly absent. I followed along with an old walkthrough of the game based on the PlayStation 2 version to get me through, and it worked perfectly with the remaster.
Small Steps Forward
Luckily, this localized version of the game features patches that were applied to the Japanese version after launch, so known problems such as certain trophies not unlocking on PlayStation and laggy performance were fixed. Expanding on that note, the game runs great playing on the PS5 via backwards compatibility with the PS4 version. There aren’t any noticeable frame drops and loading times are very quick.
While I did previously mention that there was a lack of new quality of life updates, there are still some added. The new easier Merciful difficulty will help ease first time players in, and the Suspend Save option allows players to pick back up at any point outside of battle and cutscenes without having to formally save every time. These are definitely nice to have, it’s just that these aren’t nearly enough.
I came away from Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster with mostly positive feelings. There’s a great game here filled with exciting battles, head pumping music, and interesting themes. However, I really wish that there were simply just even more quality of life changes and modern conveniences implemented in the game. It’s fantastic that a new generation of players has better access to this title now. But in many ways, it still feels like it’s stuck in the past.
Reviewed on PS4
Review code provided by the publisher