As a Persona fan who has thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the games in the franchise over the past several years, both main line and side entries, I have never played any of the Shin Megami Tensei games, the series that Persona stems from.
I’ve always had an interest, but I just never made that jump forward to try them. With the upcoming English release of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD, however, and given the opportunity, it seems like now is a better time to try out this interesting series and incredibly beloved game, and see where this journey will take me. All while seeing how well this game is in its HD format, as opposed to the original PlayStation 2 release.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster’s story begins with the apocalypse. Yes, the apocalypse. With absolutely no shortage of instant chaos, your character witnesses the destruction of the world before their very own eyes, referred to as ‘The Conception’. More strange things happen, involving being force-fed a worm (I’m not kidding!) and mysteriously being turned into something called a ‘demi-fiend’, allowing you the powers of a demon and even taking on a slightly different look to your normal human-counterpart appearance.
From here on, things start to get weird as you progress through the destroyed vortex world and encounter wandering demons that have replaced the human race, as you question why you have been granted this ability and generally wonder what the hell is going on in this apocalyptic wasteland.
The story is fascinating, is definitely very different to any Persona game I’ve played, and absolutely takes its time to answer any questions or theories you may have as you progress further in the game. Seeing the way demons live their life and how their is society created is interesting, but I wasn’t absolutely blown away with its storytelling.
On the surface, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster’s battle system is pretty basic. When you are not simply dungeon-crawling or traversing from one place to another on the world map screen, it’s your standard turn based JRPG enemy encounter that certainly looks like it comes from the early 2000s with the ‘my turn-your-turn’ battle mechanic JRPG that players will be familiar with. But when you look further into Nocturne’s gameplay mechanics, this is where the game really shines, for the most part. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a turn based JRPG that allows you and your party members to use one turn on the enemy before they can have theirs. However, if you are able to identify an enemy’s weakness in battle or land a critical hit, you get another turn. This makes for some fun and strategic battles against enemies once you’ve figured out how to play and have understood elemental weakness and strengths with your party members. Be warned, enemies can do the exact same thing to you, so it is comes down to being smart and constantly arranging your team around various elemental weaknesses and strengths with the demons in your party.
Did I just type ‘demons in your party’? Yes, yes I did. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster employs a kind of monster-collecting feature where you can talk to an enemy in battle to potentially join you and aid you in fights. This causes a conversation between yourself and the demon, where you can negotiate an outcome to recruit the demon and can convince the enemy to convert by giving them items or HP.
On paper, it’s a cool idea but in practice however, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster does feel a little frustrating and definitely shows its age of PS2-era JRPGs that require endless hours of grinding for potentially just one thing that you are after. I’m surprised that Atlus decided not to revamp this mechanic or slightly alter it. I would have liked if Atlus made it similar to Persona 5’s monster negotiation, where the game gives subtle hints to the monster’s personality that related to the preferred answer to be chosen, in order to recruit them to your team. Nocturne’s method of demon recruiting feels like a lucky dip draw in that no matter what you do, you are never guaranteed anything, even if you feel like you have done the right thing by what it wants from you, which I wasn’t the biggest fan of, especially considering this is the HD version that had potential to add more quality-of-life enhancements to it.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is difficult, at times unforgivingly difficult. Aside from the somewhat frustrating demon negotiation mechanic, this is not a casual type of JRPG that you can just breeze through without issues or find one here and there, you really need to know your stuff and pay close attention to your enemies as to what they are weak against and be strategic with the variety of demons you have in your party. One slip up and enemies can be pulverizing you and your party within seconds, resulting in instant regrets. I couldn’t imagine casual JRPG players or people who have only ever played a Persona game to find this something they would thoroughly enjoy a great deal with its high difficulty learning curve. But once you have an understanding of how things work and think it through things carefully, there is a feeling of total satisfaction once you get a rhythm going.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster has brand-new mode, Merciful, essentially this game’s version of Easy. This makes damage dealt to enemies much more effective, as well as receiving less damage from enemies and more money after a battle win. Merciful mode is available for newcomers or those who wish to play purely for the story. To help even further, there is a new Suspend Save feature, which allows you to save at any given point when accessing the main menu and then suspends you from the game, rather than being allowed to only save at specific locations like in the original game.
But that’s not all of the new features added in the HD release of Nocturne. Similar to what the Persona series has borrowed from its predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster includes a feature called Demon Fusion, something that was included in the original game. Fusing two or more demons in your collection, allows you to fuse your chosen demons into a demon of much more stronger capabilities. In the original release, once the demon fusion is complete, the skills inherited from the fused demons are chosen at random and cannot be picked by yourself. The HD remaster now allows you to personally pick what skills you would like your demon to inherit, rather than it being at total random. I fully welcome this addition because I could not imagine how annoyingly hard and tough this would have been in the original PS2 release. It’s a great addition and was mostly likely made to help welcome newer players, like myself, ease into the series a lot better than before. It’s a minor change made but makes a BIG difference for planning your team and strategic battles ahead.
But what about the HD presentation? How does this look, compared to its original outing? Well, the game is a nice 1080p when playing but cinematic cutscenes are still at their native 4:3 aspect ratio, still appear in ‘PlayStation 2-ish’ quality. The game is also capped to 30fps, so any of those looking to play this in 60fps, you will be disappointed. Personally, I am not someone who cares a great deal about 60fps, as long as the game runs smoothly and isn’t a frame rate mess. Unfortunately, Nocturne cannot seem to keep up with the basic 30fps as the game does drop here and there, particularly in battles. It’s bewildering that this seems to have frame rate issues for a game as old as this on a console such as the Switch. I can’t help but feel that Atlus should have spent a bit more time polishing this, and I have no idea how the original PS2 version played but I cannot imagine it was like this back in 2003. It just seems bizarre for frame rates such as this on a HD remaster.
The audio is also strangely compressed in game, noticeable whenever entering a battle. From my understanding, this was the case on the original PS2 version in order to contain all data on one disc, which is understandable given its time. The fact that this was not changed, however, for the remaster whatsoever is even more bizarre to me than the frame rate issue. This just seems kind of lazy, disappointing and it surprises me that Atlus would not have done something to change this. The HD release also features fully English voiced acting for the first time and is a nice touch as part of the new features of the HD release, although there is not much else to be said about this other than the voice actors all do a decent job at the task given to them.
In the end, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is an interesting and fascinating game that I enjoyed but was more mixed on the HD presentation itself of a cult classic. Iffy frame rate and compressed audio, not changed from the original, seems a little lazy and rushed on Atlus’ behalf. However, with the addition of the ability to choose inherited skills for demon fusing, suspend saves and an added easy mode does make this classic enticing for newcomers of the series who are interested to try this out, issues combined.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is available from May 25th 2021 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows. A Nintendo Switch review code was provided by Five Star Games, for review purposes.