REVIEW – Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a “remake” of a 2003 Japanese role-playing game in which a young schoolboy with demonic powers must survive the end of the world in Tokyo.
The third instalment in the Shin Megami Tensei series was a prequel game in which Atlus told the complex story of the end of the world and its rebirth. We begin our adventure as a simple student who has luckily survived the destruction of humanity, but soon we become the tools of much greater forces. In 2003, Nocturne impressed many players with its unique post-apocalyptic atmosphere and its more sinister, darker feel than JRPGs.
The first oddity at the beginning of the game is that you can rename many characters: from the character, you control, to the pretty teacher who calls you to a hospital, to your classmates. Then, wandering around the Japanese capital, the second astonishing twist is that there is no one on the streets, only a photo-journalist in a park. We soon discover that something is very wrong. Later, we arrive at a completely deserted hospital, where only two of our classmates look at us, wondering where their supposedly bedridden teacher who had called us here has disappeared to. But soon that becomes the least of our heroes’ worries as an evil force is about to overthrow the entire outside world.
After a strange encounter, we finally find our teacher, who turns out to be part of some strange otherworldly conspiracy to reshape the planet and destroy humanity – something few survive, luckily (thanks to our teacher) we’re part of it.
So we survive this cataclysm without really understanding how, and we wake up with a power we do not yet understand. Our hero encounters strange demonic figures and becomes a half-demon himself, able to command the evil beings that inhabit a devastated Tokyo.
Persona-game should not be expected…
For most people in the western world, all they knew about the Shin Megami Tensei series was that Persona was a spin-off from there, with a stronger occult story thread. Although there have been instalments of the Shin Megami games outside of Japan, they have not been as successful as, for example, Persona 4 and especially Persona 5.
I think it was because of the huge success of the Persona titles that Atlus dusted off Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, which was released in 2003 for PlayStation 2, and was a real groundbreaker in its day, but 18 years have passed since then… And the years have not been kind to this game, and unfortunately, a remaster alone couldn’t help.
The basic problem is with the presentation. An eye used to the highly visual Persona 5, or Persona 5 Strikers – or any modern game – will find it very difficult to get used to the incredibly bleak visuals and presentation, which, unfortunately, the remaster (upping the resolution of the textures) alone won’t help. Back in 2003, the PS2 wasn’t exactly new, and a better PC made better games than this. It takes a huge fanbase and real rose-tinted glasses to see the graphics of a 2003 game with simply higher resolution as even tolerable. A remaster for such an old console game is a very small step, and the game would have had to be redesigned from the ground up.
Strange encounters, traditional combat
The Persona instalments have also improved a great deal in terms of gameplay, and Shin Megami Tensei III is outdated in this area too, full of tedious random combat, boring crawling around in deserted locations, outdated game mechanics and map structure. Even the gradually exploring part of the map is extremely monotonous, spiced up only by bizarre encounters with, for example, a hooded old woman and her rather creepy demonic child. A lot of these sinister incidents have been included in the story, which is otherwise really very atmospheric and intriguing.
The basic problem is the terribly old-fashioned graphics and the characters with axe-headed, by today’s standards, characters who should be taken seriously, but unfortunately are impossible to take seriously. Not helped by the antiquated way of combat, with round-by-round battles where you can punch and cast spells. Of course, Persona 5 is also divided into rounds, but that’s spiced up by so many modern solutions. Not to mention Persona 5 Strikers, where you can now fight demonic creatures in real-time.
In addition to the otherwise great, dark atmosphere, another positive aspect of the gameplay is that you can put so-called Magatamas on the protagonist – these are “suits” that give you different characteristics and special abilities. During the fights, you can summon demons, which means you can summon a lot of other characters. Obviously, these creatures also evolve, level up, gain new abilities, so we choose whether or not to include them in our team.
You might also be familiar with the Personas solution of combining these demons in exchange for a stronger, newer creature – that adds a lot to the enjoyment factor.
Why, oh why?!
I had a lot of questions before and during the test, such as why they didn’t do a full facelift of the very first episode, or if they are “remastering” this third episode, why couldn’t they do it more normally? Moreover, the game is being sold at full price, which is hard to justify when comparing this JRPG to a modern role-playing game. I would really only recommend Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster to die-hard fans, and with reservations.
+ A classic revamped
+ Strange encounters
+ More Persona-like game
– Extremely dated graphics engine and visuals
– Extremely dated gameplay and level design
– Lazy port
Release date: April, 2021