Review – Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster

Shin Megami Tensei lives! For years ,Shin Megami Tensei V has seemed nonexistent, with the sublime Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE having to carry the torch all on its own. Now no longer. Before Shin Megami Tensei V’s long awaited release later in 2021, Atlus deigned to give us a remaster first. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has long been celebrated as one of the best titles in the entire MegaTen franchise. And now this classic JRPG masterpiece is available for modern audiences. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a fantastic game, with plenty of work done to bring the game up to more modern standards. The definitive version of an absolutely amazing game.

Clearly, only happy and good things have happened in this room.

Firstly, the elephant in the room. Shin Megami Tensei is the franchise that spawned the Persona series. But no, they aren’t the same thing. Both share a core of demon/persona recruitment and fusion, but outside that vary dramatically. Persona games have more personal plots, in a school environment, with a focus on social sim features. SMT however features grander theological plots, a post-apocalyptic environment, and more hardcore gameplay. Shin Megami Tensei also uses the Press Turn battle system, of which Persona uses a pared down streamlined version. So while there are some similarities, they really are two widely divergent series. That’s not to say that Persona fans shouldn’t give SMT a shot, far from it! Only know what you’re getting into first.

The overworld is filled with entities you can interact with who are having the most interesting conversations.

Now the game proper. As the game opens, the protagonist is on their way to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. You’re planning on meeting up with some friends and one of your teachers from school. Of course, this all goes south and you end up trapped in the machinations of cultists trying to bring about the end of the world. Or rather the beginning, depending on who you talk too. Called The Conception, it’s said to bring about the death and rebirth of the world in the image of one’s choice. This image of choice is called a Reason, and is the driving force of this game’s plot. See a variety of people across the staging world that Tokyo became post-Conception (called The Vortex World) have their own visions of the future. Their own Reasons they’d like to see become reality. And that’s where you come in. 

You’ll come across a variety of challenges in your journey, some harder than others.

You didn’t escape the Conception exactly unscathed. After an encounter with the man behind the Conception which you barely survived, you met a mysterious stranger. A child who gave you a “gift”. Something that would give you great power in this new world, with unknown prices attached. This gift was something called magatama, which left you as changed as the Conception left Tokyo. You were turned into something less human, more demon. Dubbed the Demi-Fiend, you were unleashed on this brave new Vortex World. What happens next is your choice. You could decide to ally with one of the Reason bearers and remake the world in their image. Or you could choose to reject these self-appointed gods and make your own choices as to the fate of the world. You could even choose to do nothing. The fate of the world is all yours to shape.

No pressure though, alright?

You won’t be alone on your journeys through the Vortex World. Core to MegaTen games is the demon recruitment and fusion systems. And that system remains intact and core to Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. Starting with the classic Pixie as the first demon you recruit, you are then open to choose and build up whatever demons you want. You obtain in three general ways. First off is recruitment during battle. Almost any enemy you face can be talked too instead of attacked. And if you make the right choices during the conversation, that enemy demon will join your team. The second main way is via fusing demons you possess into stronger more powerful ones. Finally, you can use the demon compendium to summon any demon you’ve previously possessed back to your roster. Altogether the system is very Pokemonesque, but with a lot more to it.

Even the Vortex World has wrong neighborhoods.

Combat is similar that way. Its turn-based team battles where you and your demons face off against the forces of the Vortex World. And while at first it can seem as simple as Pokemon, you’ll quickly sense the deeper mechanics at play. Mainly there’s the Press Turn system, and the importance of buffs/debuffs. As for the latter point, in Pokemon it’s all attack. Non-attack moves really only come up in the competitive meta. Not so in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. You will need to use them, and frequently. Can’t just erase them all for attack moves, gotta use all the tools you have to win. And one of those tools is the Press Turn system.

Nothing quite like earning the respect and approval of your new allies…

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster was the game that debuted this fantastic battle system which has now spread beyond. Persona 5 uses a faster form of this in its own battle system. Basically, it’s very simple. When you attack an enemy with a move that targets one of its weaknesses, you gain an extra turn. This also applies to enemies as well , so battle is a game of exploiting weaknesses while covering up your own. That’s only a part of it though. In most games, dodging attacks simply means avoiding damage. Not so here. Missing attacks causes you to LOSE turns, and this applies to enemies as well. So raising evasion and lowering enemy hit rate further increases how many times you can attack versus the enemy. It’s a very intricate battle system, with a variety of ways to play. Perfect for multiple playthroughs.

Don’t tell me what to do game.

Now for what’s exactly been remastered in this remaster. Believe it or not, actually a lot. New character models which are a huge improvement on the original. Remastered backgrounds and environments as well. What’s more interesting are the game changes. There’s some new features and balance changes. Some are from the Japanese version of the game (such as customized move inheritance), while others are new to this version. Then there’s the new translation. Like a lot of JRPGs from the late 90’s/early 2000’s, the English translation was…questionable. Not anymore, as the game’s got a brand new translation as well as new voice-acting to match. They used the old VA work and mixed it with new lines for one cohesive whole, that didn’t change the voices or feeling of the original. Truly, this is the way you treat a classic.

Where there’s demons, there’s gunna be demon slayers.

I love this game. Unashamedly. Everything about this game called to me then, and still does now. I love the heavy theological themes, which are shown through a very eastern lens. I love the setting, the progression systems, and the demon recruitment and fusion mechanics. The music is fantastic, the memes are timeless, and the new features and changes make this even more of a masterpiece.

This is the game that set my standards for a turn-based JRPG, and revisiting it showed me why. Make no mistake, I loved Shin Megami Tensei IV, Apocalypse, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE as well. But this one stands triumphantly as the best of MegaTen (although TMS is a solid second, salty Fire Emblem fans be damned). At least for now. Shin Megami Tensei V is on the way, and it’s coming for Nocturne‘s crown. May the best God-rejecting simulator win.

Graphics: 8.0

It’s a huge improvement over the original in every way, even if it doesn’t match today’s biggest titles.

Gameplay: 10

This was the game that gave us the Press Turn battle system, and alongside classic MegaTen demon recruitment mechanics created a true masterpiece.

Sound: 9.0

The soundtrack is a classic and the voice-acting, both original and new, is fantastic.

Fun Factor: 10

Story and characters are phenomenal, gameplay top of the line, demon recruitment and customization incredibly addicting, it’s a damn near perfect JRPG.

Final Verdict: 9.5

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.