Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster Review

If I remember right, the original Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was one of the first roleplaying games I really enjoyed. By no means was it the first RPG I ever played, but it was one of the first ones that I remember replaying multiple times to get the different endings. I also loved the game so much that I unlocked some of the more obscure secrets, filled out the compendium, etc. Also, the Demi-fiend, your playable character, has been my Twitter icon for over a decade.  Suffice it to say, I’m a fan of this game and was eagerly awaiting this Nocturne HD Remaster.  Well, it’s here and mostly good but there are one or two weird hitches with it.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster: A Fantastic Game is Now on Modern Machines

Nocturne HD Remaster

Title: Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4  [Reviewed]
Genre: Japanese Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Atlus
Players: 1
Release Date: May 20th, 2021
Price: $49.99

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is a remastered port of a 2004 PlayStation 2 RPG.  While not the first-ever Atlus game to come to America, both Persona 1 and 2 hit the first PlayStation a year before, it is the first “official” Shin Megami Tensei game to come to the west. It was really a bit of an experiment back then, but it actually paid off pretty well in the long run.

The Story

Nocturne HD Remaster
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster/SEGA & Atlus

Nocturne’s story is actually pretty interesting, although a bit dreary. You start off as a normal high school kid who is meeting two of his friends, Chiaki and Isamu, to visit their teacher, Ms. Takao, in a hospital. You get there and suddenly the world is basically destroyed, the veil between life and death is ripped apart and you are transformed into a half-human half-demon hybrid. After that, you go on a voyage of trying to figure out what happened, rescue your friends, and change the world based on your own decisions.

I should note that the game has six different endings for you to see.  I’ll get into this a bit later on, but there is a lot of choice in how you actually want the game to end.

Battle Systems

On the face of it, the Nocturne HD Remaster battle system looks very much the same as other JRPG’s. You can attack, use items (only the Demi-fiend can do this), use magic or physical spells, run away, etc. However, you can’t really “defend”, per se, but you can pass your turn to the next character in your party. The Demi-fiend and each of the demons you have in your party (up to 3) each has a turn, while the same goes for your enemies as well, with their turn number being dictated by the how many characters or overall strength of the enemy. Furthermore, there is a trick with this battle system called the Press Turn System that you have to come to understand.

Pressing Turns

So, I said above that your characters each have a turn to do one action, right?  Attack, use a magic spell, etc.  Well, the Press Turn system is the whole idea of strengths/weaknesses that most games have only amped up a few degrees. Let’s say you are fighting an ice demon and you use a fire spell against it, which is its weakness. If you hit it, your turn will basically be cut in half, giving you an extra turn. So, instead of four turns, you get five.  Then with your next character, you use a fire spell on a different ice demon, and you’ll get another turn again. So in a round where you originally had four turns, you now have six turns. Although there is a limit, you can’t just hit a demon’s weakness in multiple rounds for infinite turns.

I also said above how you can “pass” your turn, which moves onto the next character in your party rotation. This is highly useful if you need to use a specific demon’s skills against an enemy to generate more turns, or just to do something useful. For example, in your party, you’ll have your Demi-fiend and demon X, Y, and Z. Only demon Y has a skill that can critically strike your enemy, but typically you can only use it once per round.  By having the DF, and other demons pass their turns, you can have demon Y actually use the skill twice in a round, generating at least one half-turn in the process.

The flip side of this can also occur. If an enemy hits your characters with an ability they are weak against, then they can generate more turns.  Also, if you hit an enemy with an element they are strong against, you will lose a full turn in your round. The same goes for the enemy in this situation as well. Suffice to say, a LOT of the whole strategy of Nocturne is taking advantage of this system, figuring out what elements what enemies or bosses are weak to, and trying to build a team with as few weaknesses as possible.

I’m Eating Over Here!

Nocturne HD Remaster
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster/SEGA & Atlus

Leveling up your demons is fairly normal, they gain a level, and if they have unlearned skills, they will learn one and you can decide whether or not to keep it, like a typical Persona or Pokemon game.

However, leveling up the Demi-fiend is something different. The Demi-fiend is unique because he can ingest Magatama, which are basically demonic parasites. Each Magatama has different elemental affinities and stat bonuses for your character. So one Magatama might give you Force skills, and boost your Strength and Vitality, but will be weak to Ice spells. So, equipping the right Magatama’s for boss fights also becomes key.

Each Magatama also has different skills for your character to learn but you can only ever use eight skills at one time. So, it is up to you on the skills you want to keep or forget. Ideally, you want to hunt down as much of the Magatama’s as there are (25 total), and while some are plot-dependent, there are a few of them you really have to go out of your way to collect.

Fusing Demons

This being an SMT game, you gain the ability to recruit and fuse demons. This operates, how it basically did in Persona 5.  You pick two demons, select which skills you want the new demon to have, and get to it.  I say “now” because in the original Nocturne it didn’t operate this way.  In that game, all the skills were randomized, so you could sit there for an hour, hitting the buttons over and over to hopefully get a new demon with the three skills you really need.  Now, you just have a nice little menu that has the skills of each parent demon to give to the new one.  It’s much more efficient and useful.

Phases of Kagutsuchi

Another unique element of Nocturne is the Kagutsuchi schedule. This is basically the Moon schedule going from a New Phase (New Moon) ascending seven steps to a Full Phase (Full Moon) then descending back down to a New Moon. During a Full Phase, demons are stronger and angrier while on a New Moon, they are a bit more docile. During a Full Phase, you can sacrifice a third demon during a fusion to gain even more power/skills for the new demon as well.

Two Quality of Life Suggestions
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster/SEGA & Atlus

While the ability to pick your demon’s fusion skills is a very welcome change, it would’ve been a bit nice if they added two additional things. One would be kind of an ending system meter where you could see which way your character is headed, as far as the six endings. One isn’t applicable, but the other five are dependent on character/dialog choices.

The other idea is a system where you could actually get discarded skills back for your character/demons like in the Pokemon games. Although You might have to pay a nominal fee or something, it would be nice to have.

For what it’s also worth, they did actually add voice acting to this game but it doesn’t mean much. Compared to something like Persona, this is a very solitary game, you don’t have five or 10 minute long chats with people. I guess this is a nice inclusion but ultimately I kind of found it pointless.  It is funny though that Forneus, the first boss you fight in the game, has voice acting when he has only about seven lines of total dialogue.

Get the DLC

I’ll break this down simply, buy the DLC for this game, specifically the Maniax pack and the Mercy/Expectation map pack, you’ll want them.

The Maniax pack adds back in Dante, from Devil May Cry, into the game. He is initially encountered as an enemy but you can go on a long quest chain to recruit him into your own party as a unique character.  It’s very cool, and while he’s not the strongest character you’ll have, he’s definitely the most unique. Without this DLC, you’ll have Raidou Kuzunoha XIV, the playable character from the Devil Summoner games.  While he’s not bad, he can’t really hold a candle to Dante.

Mercy and Expectation Pack

The Mercy and Expectation map pack pretty much breaks the game. They are maps of starting areas, specifically the hospital and construction site, just recolored slightly. The Mercy map is the hospital and the Expectation is the construction site.  The Mercy map lets you grind out for Grimoires (items) that give out experience.  A thin grimoire gives out about 20 percent of an experience bar, while a thick one fills it up completely. So, you just need to get into one battle after using a thick grimoire to gain a level, and while this map is challenging at the start, by about level 20, you can start farming grimoires and can massively pump up your own stats.

The Expectation map is the same thing, just for money. Bull statues drop from enemies which can then be sold at stores for either 4,000, 9,000, or 15,000 Macca (gold), depending on the type you have. So, you can basically farm each of these maps for infinite money and experience.  While this is somewhat game-breaking, at first, you’ll soon realize that outside of a few specialty items, there isn’t a lot to spend your cash on in Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, and also your overall player level isn’t hugely important, outside of your stats.

Technical Issues

Lastly, there are two things that were a bit wonky in this version that are worth mentioning. The first is that fairly early on (I’m talking the second town), I got into a required fight that didn’t end correctly. I beat the demon, but instead of the usual “Battle Won” screen, it was just a dead black screen.  The music was still playing but the rest of the game had locked up.  A restart fixed this, and I battled the demon again with no issues.

The other issue is a bit weirder. Basically, after you talk to an NPC or open a chest if you turn the camera, the screen goes black for about a frame or two. It may not be that perceptible, hence the video below, where it happens twice, 0:02 and 0:09.  I know others have complained about the framerate or lack of HD attention to the FMV sequences but frankly, this doesn’t bother me. The black-frame thing is a bit annoying though, especially if you have to talk to a lot of people.

Final Thoughts

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne remains one of the greatest RPGs ever. And while this Nocturne HD Remaster might not be the best thing, it is still an amazing game to play, especially for those playing it for the first time. The Persona franchise has gotten huge over the past decade and it is almost mandatory that fans of that franchise should play this to see where a lot of gameplay conventions came from. Nocturne HD Remaster might not be the perfect game, but even the small improvements they’ve made make it an easy recommendation.

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