Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster Review – Featuring Dante From The Devil May Cry Series
I am far too used to playing uplifting JRPGs. When I think about the genre, my head is filled with thoughts of trekking through Pokemon routes whilst humming the familiar tunes, the bombastic horns that blare as you cross the gorgeous green fields of Dragon Quest 11, and the cute, slightly awkward conversations your party has across the Tales series of games. JRPGs, in my head, are adorable and lighthearted affairs where even the act of killing god is candy-coated and sweet. This is why a game like Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster *inhales* makes such an impact.
We often spend our time in video games attempting to save a world on the brink of apocalypse, but SMT3 starts the adventure with the apocalypse. Tokyo is unrecognisable, all humans are dead, and the only beings you’ll be able to talk to are questionable demons, clueless spirits, and manikins that resemble people, but are bereft of sanity. This is the end of the world, the last surviving creatures willing to sacrifice everything to earn Magatsuhi – the Vortex World’s mysterious energy source – and all you can do is gather your bearings and attempt to pick up the pieces.
Yes, the atmosphere of SMT3 is miserable, but that’s exactly what makes the experience so compelling. In the short time it has taken for the apocalypse to happen and demons to crawl out of hell, factions were born in the form of Nihilo and the Mantra, and that’s when it becomes clear that in Shin Megami Tensei, enemies are more than clueless monsters that exist to feed you with EXP – although that is part of it.
Shin Megami Tensei has always had a Pokemon-like component to it, one which newer fans of Atlus RPGs will recognise from Persona 5. You can talk to enemy demons in battle and convince them to join you. The stronger you are, the more likely they are to join your side – though they almost universally need convincing with money and items. Once you recruit the monsters to your party, you can fuse and sacrifice them in order to summon new and more powerful creatures to suit your needs. What’s most surprising is that, in the thick of the oppressive atmosphere, it’s the demons that end up offering a bit of much-needed brevity.
In one conversation where I tried to convince an Oni demon to join my team, he noted that I already had a fellow Oni on board, and told me “I see my buddy is already with you. I date his sister, so I’m not gonna join.” He then ran deep into the dungeon, never to be seen again. These demons can be unpredictable – sometimes they’ll take your money and items and run, other times they’ll offer to heal you, and then there’s the unlikely chance they may just join you without much of a fuss. But before that, they’ll often ask an odd philosophical question, and you have to guess at what answer they want to hear based on their personality. That’s how it should work, anyway, but demons of the same kind have broadly the same personality type, and yet will sometimes entirely disagree on which answer to the same question is “correct.” It gives the recruitment system an air of randomness, and it’s not as endearing as watching a Pokeball rock back and forth in the midst of capture. Still, this engaging and satisfying loop did have me running in circles for enemy encounters a few times during my playthrough, which is a mark of approval from me.
Despite the likes of Pokemon doing it for more than 20 years, recruiting enemies still manages to feel fresh in SMT3, a game from 2003 – but other things feel considerably staler. The battle system is tried and tested, and since it doesn’t differ too much from modern Persona games, it manages to mostly hold up, even if the presentation is distinctly more plain. The environments however are what truly suffer here. Everything is incredibly angular, to the point where even your analogue inputs only move you in eight directions at predetermined speeds.
Every hallway is made of straight lines and right angles – every single one. This is the part of Nocturne that has sadly aged the worst. Each 3D environment you explore is made up of corridors and the rare larger room. In a game like Etrian Odyssey, where you’re mapping out every floor of a dungeon, this design makes sense, but here it just feels outdated and quickly wears out its welcome. Trudging through the same dungeons with palette-swapped designs is tiring and demoralising, and is where this game disappoints the most in 2021.
But considering how old this title is now, that’s an achievement unto itself. I keep talking about the atmosphere, and that’s because there really isn’t anything else in the genre that lays it on this thick. Modern Persona games, and even Shin Megami Tensei 4, just don’t manage to feel as oppressive and depressive as SMT3 is at all times. Maybe that’s because I feel like I’m stuck navigating the same hallways with sarcastic demons biting at my heels, an existential crisis I hit somewhere halfway through, but the worst thing is that I never stopped enjoying SMT 3.
But I keep talking about SMT3, and not SMT3HDR. That’s because this new remastered version of the game, frankly, doesn’t offer too much to get excited about. The game runs at 30fps, and the resolution certainly isn’t 4K regardless of what PlayStation you might use to enjoy it. In many ways, this feels like the cheapest possible way to remaster a game. It’s on new systems, and the picture quality is certainly much better than it ever was on the PS2. Aside from that, and a font change that has had the fanbase divided (a font change, I know), there’s not much specific to point out about this new release. It works fine, and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
Ultimately Shin Megami Tensei 3 HD Remaster is a perfectly acceptable port of a cult classic PS2 RPG. Playing this at the same time as Mass Effect Legendary Edition has definitely coloured my perception of what we should expect from a remaster, but despite the fact it doesn’t have AI upscaled textures and 4K60fps presentation, it’s still a masterful example of how to build atmosphere in a game while still keeping players engaged, instead of bored. It also features Dante from the Devil May Cry series, which always helps.
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