Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster brings a classic to a new generation – Hands-on preview impressions

been almost 20 years since Atlus Japan released Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne, the third major installment in the Shin Megami Tensei series, on PlayStation 2 in 2003. The flagship game of the JRPG franchise follows the protagonist of each game as he navigates through an apocalyptic Tokyo and interacts with the demons that populate a devastated world in an attempt to bring justice, chaos, or something in between. In addition to a variety of demon recruitment and fusion mechanics, the series is best known for its leveling up system, which changes the ending based on your actions and dialogue settings throughout the game.

Unlike previous games, with Nocturne Atlus tried to change the SMT formula by adding a more modern setting, a half-demon hero, a third-person dungeon crawl, and cel-shaded graphics. The original version was so popular in Japan that Atlus released several new versions with more content and guest characters. In 2004, this became the first SMT game released in the West, bringing this unique franchise to the attention of a new wave of JRPG fans.

Now Atlus hopes to recapture that magic with Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster and attract a whole new audience to the core series. This brand new remastered version will be released in two versions on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC: Standard for physical and digital devices and Digital Deluxe Edition which comes with all digital controllers.

I was able to get my hands on the game during the initial previews and gave up as soon as the main character arrived at the underground shopping mall in Shibuya. And judging by what I’ve played so far, Nocturne HD Remaster is the best way to experience this classic title.

Visuals

Image via Atlus/Sega

The visual effects – both character models and environments – have been upgraded to a much clearer high resolution. This makes the game a lot more accessible to newcomers who are used to the HD graphics of Persona 5 and Royal, and it’s a much-needed improvement over the messy graphics of the original.

Apart from the obvious improvements, the art-style holds up well with cellular shadows and bright, almost simplistic lighting, despite Nocturne’s age. The animation of the battles is still charming, fluid, and surprisingly well adapted to each demon’s personality and abilities.

Navigating the Overworld Nocturne map is easy: Each of Tokyo’s surveyed prefectures has been recreated with impressive detail and accuracy. The contrast between the time before and after Tokyo’s conception is striking: The former is a bustling, crowded urban jungle, while the latter is filled with empty wasteland, occasionally interrupted by small patches of urban debris.

Past history

Image via Atlus/Sega

You play as a main character who witnesses the destruction of Tokyo during an event called Concept. A strange young man then imposes a Magatama on him, turning him into a half-demon called Half-Devil. From there, he and his ally Hijiri set out to explore a newly created spherical version of Tokyo known as the Whirlpool World.

Nocturne is a deep story of intrigue and tragedy, where you witness people struggling to make their mark in a broken world. Minimalist fairy tale pairing with a dark color palette that perfectly captures the oppressive and gloomy aspect of the wormhole world. It’s full of complex characters and well-crafted twists, combined with the weight of your decisions throughout the game that ultimately determine each contestant’s fate.

Gameplay

Image via Atlus/Sega

Nocturne is the name under which the Press Turn sound system was first presented. You have a set number of turns depending on the number of demons in your group, and for every critical hit or attack with a weakness, you get an extra half turn. If you miss an attack or instead aim for your opponent’s strength, you lose your momentum. The premise is simple, but it offers unparalleled strategic depth as you strive to maximize your moves while minimizing your enemies.

The pillars of the franchise, demonic negotiation and demonic fusion, are back here. Demon Negotiations are combat orders that allow a demon (or possibly a party member) to negotiate with a demon for money, items, or to join you in combat. The exercise itself is not only important for gaining new allies, but it is a profound mechanic that takes a lot of effort to master. Demonic personalities belong to different archetypes and also have individual characteristics that must be taken into account when choosing dialogue options and answering their questions. There is always an element of surprise in this process, even after mastering this ability, as some demons can suddenly leave you while others can join you without any effort.

The Cathedral of Shadows is a demon fusion site where you combine two or more demons to create an entirely new demon. Mergers are a hodgepodge of complex rules, both broad and specific, and consistent in every outcome. Mastering each rule is not necessary to win the game, but rewards you with stronger demons than are normally possible. For example, using an elemental demon increases the rank of the result in that demon race, while using a mitham demon in a fusion significantly increases the stats of the resulting demon.

There’s also the Magatama system – parasites that give the protagonist demonic powers and teach him various skills. Combined with the ability to distribute status points as you level up, you can fully customize the Half-Find build to suit your play style. The Magatam system is relatively balanced, and both physical and magical constructs are viable. The biggest drawback, however, is that a Halfling can only have eight skills at once, and once you forget a skill, it’s gone forever. Building a physique with the right synergy between static growth and extra skills takes some thought and planning, which many beginners don’t realize until it’s too late. And given the complexity of Nocturne, screwing up the main character’s physique can make the game almost unplayable.

New functions

Image via Atlus/Sega

The DLC also includes Merciful Difficulty, a light mode in Nocturne HD Remaster, meant for those who just want to enjoy the story. Also new is the ability to pause saves, which makes working in dungeons much more forgiving as players no longer have to rely on scattered terminals. While one of the selling points of the game is its notoriously brutal gameplay, these two features will make Nocturne more accessible to a new player base that has moved on from the more forgiving Persona series.

The title features both English and Japanese voices for the first time, and both are exceptional, perfectly complementing the updated localization and breathing new life into the already exciting characters. For someone who played the original version, the voice acting fits surprisingly well.

Players can purchase three additional DLC packs: the Maniax pack, which replaces the default guest character Raidou with Dante, the Mercy and Expectation card packs, and the Shin Megami Tensei BGM packs, which replace certain battles and background themes with appropriate music from SMT I – IV/IV : Apocalypse. They are optional, but offer some customization options for those willing to spend money.

Final thoughts

Image via Atlus/Sega

Aside from the quality changes, such as the interrupted save, revised localization script, and English and Japanese voices, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is most compelling for its strong story and gameplay. It’s a well-made and engaging JRPG with a dark and intense atmosphere, enhanced by a minimalist story and a morally challenging cast. And thanks to the patches taken from the Japanese version and applied for the western version, the port is much smoother and more functional. We noticed a rare case of lag while gaming, especially since the game normally runs at 30 frames per second.

Veterans of the franchise will find enough new features and content, both paid and free, to make this remaster worthwhile (besides the main selling point of console availability). New fans, on the other hand, will be treated to a totally unique experience, both in relation to the Persona series and within the main franchise, that is sure to satisfy.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is hoping to attract a new generation of fans by bringing this title to current-gen platforms, and from what we’ve played so far, it does an excellent job.

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