Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster Review – Just As Difficult As I Remembered
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD RemasterMay 25th, 2021
Known probably most famously as the first RPG to feature Dante from the Devil May Cry series, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne heralded in not only a new apocalypse but a new generation of Japanese RPG's. In many ways, Nocturne was an important piece of gaming history for Atlus and the genre as a whole moving forward. Now on the heels of the PS2 title's tenth anniversary, a new Remaster is available that brings new life to the storied JRPG. Does this new release offer more Hee's than you can shake a Ho at, or Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster doomed at Conception?
Following a cataclysmic event that shook the very foundations of Tokyo, the world at large is overthrown and into a primitive state where only the strong survive, save for a select few that chose to take refuge at the only standing hospital left in Shibuya. As the Demi-Fiend, the player is given the power to convince and control demons to do his beckoning while sharing some newfound powers brought upon by a parasitic Magatama.
No matter what your convictions are going into Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, the reason for the player's motivations will be the driving factor in how the story plays out. You're introduced to a few key characters for much of the adventure that each have both the might and what they consider their right to rule over the post-apocalyptic landscape. The Demi-Fiend himself has the power to perhaps change the future of Tokyo by siding with one of these faction leaders as the story progresses, or if they seek out enough of the powerful skeletal Fiends that populate the landscape and collect their Menorahs, the Demi-fiend might attain the power to become a true demon himself.
The crux of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is in its battle system. Lauded as being incredibly challenging to the point of bringing players to tears against Mot and Matador, Atlus has pulled no punches in the combat in this remastered classic. The Press Turn system that's appeared in later Shin Megami Tensei titles made its debut here. For every party member that accompanies the Demi-Fiend into battle, the player is granted one Press Turn. Each full action consumes one such icon, while certain actions such as passing the baton to another character only takes half an icon.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster's combat system shines brightest when an attack of opportunity is performed to grant the player additional turns. By taking advantage of enemy weaknesses and player strengths, actions that might take a full turn marker may only take half. At the same time, if the player attacks with an element that the enemy resists, they'll lose a turn or even all Press Turn markers if the attack is absorbed or repelled. This goes the same for enemies as well, as they're just as vulnerable to the Press Turn system as the player. Most bosses begin their turn by casting Dragon Eye or another unique ability that grants them additional Press Turn markers, however.
This eternal cycle of strength and weakness propels the player to continuously pursue new demons and party members. New party members are exclusively the demons that the Demi-Fiend can convince to joining his cause. Most will ask for compensation, routinely an item or Macca, and give the player a simple quiz of their convictions to see if they are a good fit to work together. Once recruited, the player can visit one of the local merchants to fuse demons to create new allies. Demons you catch at a low level and spend time leveling up besides typically cap out their combat potential much earlier on than those fused or recruited at a higher level, so it's always worth taking a stop by the local Cathedral of Shadows to see who you can fuse depending on the player's level. As mentioned in our preview last month, it's critically important to keep that Pixie on hand (or at least keep track of which demon she was fused into) for an optional event towards the end of the game.
The Demi-Fiend himself gains power through the Magatama he has ingested and a stat point gained after every level. Each Magatama offers a few temporary stat increases in addition to elemental strengths/weaknesses as they're equipped but, more importantly, confer permanent skills upon the player. Just as demons can only equip up to eight skills at a time, the player must also make a tactical decision as to which skills to keep and which to discard after each level up.
Available from the beginning of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster are a few options that'll greatly affect the enjoyment you'll have traveling through the apocalyptic landscape. If you opted to purchase the Digital Deluxe edition or the separate Maniax DLC Pack, you're given the option to have Dante from the Devil May Cry series as a recruitable companion; starting a new save without it instead replaces the character with Raidou Kuzonoha from the Devil Summoner series. While both characters are nearly identical in combat effectiveness (they have the same skills but Raidou has an added perk to one of his moves), whichever character you choose is the one you're locked into for that playthrough.
You'll also have the option to play through Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster on both Normal and Hard difficulties. These difficulty options are freely changeable once the player can save their game. Normal is the way most players will remember the original release of Nocturne, while Hard is definitely geared more towards those that enjoy micro-managing their team's affinities and weaknesses. Unless you've got a good grasp on the combat system, expect even the first boss Forneus to slap you around a fair bit and send you to an early grave (those Zio rocks scattered around the hospital aren't just for show). A new Merciless difficulty is available as free DLC for Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster and might be tuned a bit too heavily in the opposite direction. On Merciless, unless you come across an enemy that's immune or can repel physical attacks, you can get by with leaving the game on auto-battle for most encounters. Just to humor myself, I tested this against one of the original game's major roadblocks, the skeletal Matador fiend, and barely broke a sweat as my whole team just kept on swinging.
New to this HD Remaster are a few quality of life improvements previously added post-release in Japan last year. With this particular title being remade with the Unity engine, some quirks to the console performance were rather hindering to the experience, such as issues concerning delay and lag when performing such rudimentary tasks as navigating through menus. All of these issues prevalent with the Japanese launch of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster have seemingly disappeared from the Western release that's arriving next week. On top of that, Atlus has implemented some key Quality of Life changes that make the whole experience that much more enjoyable, including selecting specific skills to transfer over when fusing demons together in the Cathedral of Shadows. This is worth mentioning to those who may have read reviews from the original Japanese launch and might assume the content is identical to what will be playable in English.
From a visual standpoint, it's tough to call Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster perfect, but it's by far the best-looking version of the game to date. All of the character and enemy models have been redone to look better than ever on HD screens. Unfortunately, this title suffers from heavy aliasing, a noticeable detractor that also affected Atlus' recent Persona 5 Strikers release. The few CG cutscenes that highlighted key moments in the Nocturne storyline are present in their original 4:3 presentation and look just as they did on a CRT display and PlayStation 2. That is to say, they just don't hold up well on HD screens. The prerendered cinematics are heavily compressed and immediately stand out as poorly aged messes once they kick in. I can understand that the development team might not have had access to the original materials to redo the cutscenes entirely, but the drastic shift in resolution and quality is immediately apparent, more so than other PS2-era remasters appeared in recent years.
Cutscenes and aliasing aside, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is certainly the best way to play this PlayStation 2 classic. With releases across PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC, JRPG fans can have their first chance to play a cult classic that was a defining moment not only for Atlus' signature RPG series but the genre as a whole.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (code provided by the publisher).
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is less about being a satisfactory remaster and more about just bringing this fantastic JRPG onto a new generation of consoles.
- Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series (if you pay for the $10 DLC)
- Press Turn system still feels like a solid combat system, even if future SMT titles have certainly surpassed it
- Fully voiced VA in both English and Japanese
- Merciless and Hard Modes available to customize your desire for challenge
- Features all of the patches and stability changes from Japanese release
- Image quality and resolution both have issues, especially the nearly two-decades old CG cutscenes
- Mot used Beast Eye, Mot used Makakaja, Mot used Makakaja, Mot used Megidolaon, Game Over
- 4-day early access shouldn't become the norm for more experience RPG versions
- Multiple endings requires either strategically placed saves or up to six complete playthroughs for Platinum trophy