Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster – Some Things Never Change
Expectations of video game remasters have recently changed, thanks to the likes of Super Mario 3D World: Bowser’s Fury, NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139, as well as Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. Those titles, as opposed to what can come before, stand out due to the accoutrements that come with these modern takes, and fans have lapped it up. In the attempt to drum up anticipation for the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei V, Atlus has delved into the archives to restore an older franchise entry, that of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. The PS2 era title was meant with a largely positive reception when it launched in 2003, but nothing extraordinary, and 18 years on, with a remaster that does boast a small selection of nifty (though not groundbreaking) additions, it’s fair to say the title hasn’t lost any of its acclaim, but nor has it enhanced its reputation either. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a competent remaster of a very good, but not superb game, one that should certainly be played by fans of JRPGs or the franchise, but not by those looking to be converted.
A number of mysterious deaths in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park have sparked interest in the community, dastardly deeds are afoot. Compounding things further for you, an unnamed protagonist is the plight of your hospitalised teacher; you and some friends intend to meet up and go visit your Mr Takao, but in transit, you hear stories of a missing business executive from a communications company, as well as reports of deaths stemming from warring cults. Eventually, you arrive at the hospital to find it disturbingly abandoned, and naturally, things escalate from there. An awkwardly named, but a horrific event called the Conception takes place, leaving our troupe to emerge from the hospital only to find a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, with things never to be the same again. Discoveries and events that transpire in the basement of the hospital lead to our primary protagonist becoming a “demi-fiend”, a human X demon entity, that requires a precious resource known as magatama to grow in power. Things get unnecessarily convoluted at numerous points, as is often the JRPG way, but things do get a bit more generic from this point on, leaning on many an established JRPG trope in order to progress the narrative forward. If what you’ve read of the game’s narrative foundation so far appeals, then what you’ll get from the remainder of the story is likely to keep your interest too with the tug of war between good and evil constantly being fought, as the narrative continues evolving.
HD Remaster or not, the 2021 release of SMT3: Nocturne is a time capsule in many senses, from the aforementioned narrative to the gameplay. Random, turn-based encounters are the name of the game here, with players navigating multi-levelled grid-based dungeons. Players have the ability to harness the services and powers of demons in a Pokemon-styled system. Growing your party and carefully selecting demons that complement one another is a key pillar to success. Similar to sister-series Persona, players want to fight strategically to ensure that the majority of the turns in combat are yours, by juggling combos and exploiting opponent weaknesses, though, unlike Persona, there’s more emphasis placed upon protecting yourself from your own weaknesses being exploited. The more defensive focus will likely feel a little jarring, and boss encounters can devolve to a point of trial-and-error at times, meaning you’ll fail often early in the piece until you’ve worked out how to best defend and then counter-attack. The 2003 release was known to be particularly difficult, so the remaster sees the inclusion of a ‘Merciful’ difficulty for those keen on the narrative, but not the grind, nor the horrible difficulty spikes that you’ll find in the other standard difficulty level. It does wonders for speeding up the flow of the gameplay, but also the story, which takes a significant backseat, and naturally gets a little fuzzier in your mind, the longer you’ve spent bashing your head against the challenges of any given dungeon.
As much as Nocturne still labours under the weight of its 2003 design philosophies that underpinned it in the narrative and storytelling spaces, the 2021 take has seen a number of presentational improvements. The remastered voicework is particularly strong, while the character models, as well as demon designs, that it must be said were already quite good before, look even better with a newly applied coat of paint. It’s not all positive news though, cutscenes have been seemingly left unaltered, something we’ve seen in previous remasters of PS2 titles to some degree, but to see no work done at all was incredibly disappointing.
Though not a lot has really changed in this HD Remaster, the inclusion of Merciful mode cannot be understated. It has given players, who might previously have been pushed away by the game’s renowned difficulty, an opportunity to tick off a bucket-list title, and even for those hardened fans, gives them an opportunity to revisit a beloved story, without the filler. They say that some things never change, and in the case of SMT3: Nocturne, that statement applies 100%. For the most part, this is perfectly okay, the game is a product of its time, and for those looking to crack open the time capsule, either for the first time, or as a returning fan, they’re sure to find something that speaks to them, but given what we’ve seen in the remaster space lately, it’s also hard to not wonder what else might have been possible.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster was reviewed across PS4 and Switch with code kindly provided by 5 Star Games