SMT III Nocturne HD Remaster on Switch
Perhaps one of the greatest injustices of the video game world is the shunning of the Shin Megami Tensei series as soon as it birthed its cooler, more popular sub-series, Persona. Without the glossy shine of Persona and the ability to date and romance your favorite characters, SMT felt like a more self-serious version of Atlus’ breakout JRPG series, but with less interesting characters and an even less appealing protagonist.
If there was one SMT game that could ever stand a chance of winning over the hearts and minds of the Persona fans, though, it’d have to be Nocturne.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a re-release of a PS2 JRPG that launched back in 2003. Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series, Nocturne takes place in modern Tokyo, or at least a version of modern Tokyo from 2003.
Like in all MegaTen games, you take control of a teenager, who obtains supernatural powers after a decisive event. In this case, the world abruptly comes to an end, but the protagonist and a couple of his friends manage to avoid getting wiped out by taking refuge in an abandoned hospital under instructions from their school teacher. The protagonist, henceforth referred to as the Demi-Fiend, gets all sorts of cool glowing tattoos on his body, along with the power to summon demons to fight alongside him.
If you’ve played an SMT game before, you know what comes next: you’ll traverse across the map of Tokyo, fighting demons, recruiting them, fighting tough bosses with them, and going through grueling dungeons until you reach one of the possible endings. Each of the endings in Nocturne correspond to your choices and sense of morality displayed throughout the story; will you remake the world in your own vision, or revert it back to the status quo? Is there even another option you can consider?
Nocturne’s characters seem painfully one-dimensional at first. You have the stubborn boy who’s reckless and thinks he knows better than you do, and the meek girl who serves as nothing more than a mouthpiece for plot exposition. But give them time, and they eventually evolve into fully fleshed out characters. They never become quite as complex or interesting as the party members from the recent Persona games but that’s also sort of the point: they’re meant to be stand-ins or representations of the different ends of the morality spectrum.
If you’re coming fresh off a Persona game, getting used to the character interactions (or lack thereof, as most cutscenes are just NPCs talking at you before fighting you or walking away) can take some getting used to, but I promise you that it’s worth it. Nocturne is long and grueling, but the overarching story and journey of the Demi-Fiend is compelling. Every choice you make shapes the world and determines its fate, and there are enough variations to the ending that give the game a decent bit of replay value.
The ambience of Nocturne is appropriately dark and moody, and you’re always weighed down with a sense of dread that something’s about to go wrong. But of course, the game punctures those moments with light bits of humor every now and then, too.
Dante, from the well-known Devil May Cry series, makes an appearance in the game, and can even become a potential ally later on down the line. If you’ve played the original NA PS2 release, you’ve seen what Dante can do. Included with the HD Remaster, though, is the option to replace Dante with Raidou Kuzunoha from Digital Devil Story instead. He plays the exact same role as Dante does in the story, just with a new skin, and some new abilities to match.
The combat is just as unforgiving as ever, and requires that you master its intricacies in order to do well. The Press Turn system is in place in Nocturne, allowing you to deal critical damage whenever you hit an enemy’s weakness. When you do that, your next attack is a guaranteed crit as well, and landing these are crucial to winning some of SMT Nocturne’s toughest boss battles.
Enemies can hit the Demi-Fiend’s weaknesses too, but you can cover those up by equipping different Magatamas. These are trinkets obtained through winning boss battles, purchasing from shops, or finding them during exploration. Ingesting a Magatama allows the Demi-Fiend to change his affinities; one might make him weaker to fire attacks but immune to ice, while another may have the inverse effect.
Magatamas also allow him to learn different abilities as he levels up, which means that finding different Magatamas and getting as many useful abilities on the Demi-Fiend as possible is extremely vital to doing well in combat.
You also need to manage your demons properly, and make a point to recruit new ones as you play on. Making use of the Cathedral of Shadows, you can fuse demons together to make even more powerful ones. Persona fans should be familiar with this mechanic, as it works in pretty much the same way here. The HD Remaster also makes it easier for you to pass on new skills to newly fused demons by allowing players to manually select the ones they want to keep, which provides greater control over how you want to build your party.
The battles in Nocturne can be rough, but thankfully the HD Remaster does offer a new difficulty option for new players or those who might just want to experience the story. The new Merciful setting lowers the encounter rate and decreases the amount of damage you take, allowing you to get through dungeons at a decent clip. It’s a welcome addition, especially as the battles start to seriously ramp up in difficulty later on.
For all of its strengths that worked so well back in 2003, however, Nocturne also brings all of its flaws into the modern age. Now don’t get me wrong, the HD Remaster looks good visually. Even on the Switch, everything looks sharp and crystal clear, and you can see all of the creepy character models in their full glory. The addition of voice acting also helps to add depth to the characters, something that was sorely lacking in the original.
However, virtually everything else about the game remains unchanged. The early hours of the game are still pretty rough on newcomers as there’s a severe lack of tutorials explaining key mechanics that you absolutely need to know. Did you know that the phase of the moon changes whenever you walk around, and that enemy encounters can become tougher depending on the phase? Did you know that other demons in your party can negotiate with enemies and you don’t always have to rely on the Demi-Fiend?
There’s no easy way to check enemy weaknesses even after you’ve discovered them either, and traversing the world map is still a pain like always because of how difficult it is to see where you can pass, and where you can’t.
For fans of the series or those who are already in love with Nocturne, this won’t be a problem. But for newcomers looking to get into the series, I must warn you that there is a pretty high barrier to entry here. Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne is still the best of the bunch, and if you’re willing to put in the time to learn its various mechanics, you’ll get a lot out of it. The problem is, that’s a pretty big if.
- Nocturne still has the strongest story in the SMT series.
- Combat is tough and grueling, and requires good strategy and planning.
- The Magatama and Press Turn systems add a lot of depth to the gameplay.
- The added voice acting and improved visuals are really nice.
- High barrier to entry.
- Characters aren’t as fleshed out as you might like, especially if you’re coming from a series like Persona.
May 24, 2021
PS4, Switch, PC