Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Review: The beauties and pains of a classic JRPG

Written by Louis

June 15, 2021

Real gamers play Nocturne.

The cult classic makes a comeback in the modern-day as Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne gets the HD treatment from Atlus. One of the well-known mainline Shin Megami Tense titles, Nocturne was well-received during its first release and was deemed one of the best titles that the PlayStation 2 has to offer. However, as tastes and preferences in gaming have drastically changed since 2003, was Nocturne still able to hold up to its status, or did it fail to appeal to the modern gamer?

Story Brief

You’re a high school student, you meet strangers, the world gets destroyed, and now it’s up to you to fix it. Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne’s story is as anime as it could get, and for anyone who’s played any Persona game, then you’re probably know how the usual story formula works. For those that are new and want to dive into uncharted waters though, Nocturne follows a nameless protagonist (that’s you!) as he survives the apocalypse, gets reborn as a “demi-fiend” and travels through a sundered version of Tokyo in search of answers as to what happened and why it happened. Along the way, you will get to meet old friends, other demons, and as well as a god which you can either team up or go up against depending on the choices that you made as the story progresses.

Witness the end of the world, get reborn with superpowers, just an average day for your typical JRPG protagonist.

Production 3/5

Being just a straight-up HD remaster, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD carries both the good and bad in terms of production level from its own era. There’s not much, heck there’s even nothing in terms of character design because your look is predefined, music can feel bland, although not jarring, and voice acting is…okay, not bad, but it doesn’t stand out well either. It’s not all just okay and bad though as Nocturne’s balance between cutscenes and gameplay is really well thought of and you’d happily spend more time-fighting demons and progressing through the story before triggering another animated sequence. While the story itself is very linear, Nocturne still gives the player a certain level of freedom in exploring levels to perhaps check on secrets and interact with NPCs for hints, story tidbits or trigger random events. The game does not exactly telegraph where you have to go or what you have to do next just like what modern era games do though, so none of the hand-holding that we’ve been used to for many AAA titles, but rather it does encourage you to explore on your own and find out the path progression yourself.

When in doubt, ask!

Mechanics 3.5/5

Despite being a game released in 2003, complete with all the cliches of your typical JRPG, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD’s mechanics are surprisingly easy to get a good grasp of. Of course if you’ve been playing SMT ever since the series came out of Japan or have experienced Persona games, getting through the game’s mechanics is a full breeze. Nocturne does not leave the newbie completely behind though as an ample amount of early “tutorial” is available, and much of the game’s early systems are quickly accessible, meaning that you don’t have to spend hours of game time just to unlock that one key element to the gameplay. The battle system is relatively straightforward, a turn-based battle between your party and a party of enemies although the battle isn’t always fair in terms of numbers and strength so yeah, always expect to be in a handicap when entering the battle sequence. Battles can also feel randomly triggered although there is an indicator at the screen to tell you the likelihood of enemies initiating combat. Just like most turn-based battle systems, Nocturne’s combat follows the typical rock-paper-scissors mechanic with enemies weak to certain types of attacks which, along the way, would have you thinking and refining the composition of your party. There is an added layer to the combat though in the sense that strong attacks can equate to additional turns, and having attacks dodged or evaded will result in losing battle turns.

Take that!

Leveling up allows access to increased stats although the game does not tell you exactly what each stat increase does. While the stats feel very straightforward, skill unlocks feel random, and unless you have a wiki open, you wouldn’t exactly know what skill gets unlocked next and what stat choice unlocks it. Skills are also limited meaning that you’d probably stick to one build as soon as you started it, with little to no variation as the game progresses.

I think I’ll invest in Luck.

As limiting as it may sound, Nocturne’s combat and character stat systems aren’t completely chained to stat growths and skill choices as you can still refine your combat approach with the party system. One of the key elements in any Shin Megami Tensei game is the ability to hire or recruit enemies to be part of your party or to use them as recipes to summon more powerful allies to your disposal. Knowing how the recruiting system exactly works can be a bit confusing though as the events feel random and the conditions as to when or how enemies can be recruited aren’t exactly told by the game. Also as recruitment is part of the battle system attempting to initiate it can mean losing battle turns, or, depending on the result, can prematurely end the whole battle and losing out on EXP and some loot.

Enemy recruitment in progress.

Progression 3/5

Progression in Nocturne is perhaps the lowest point of the game when compared to modern standards. While you are free to explore the map as you wish, it doesn’t always mean that the path to the next sequence in the story is readily available and could have you stuck n an area longer than you intend to be. As stated earlier, this game does not completely hold your hand and it does not have the usual map markers and journals to tell you where to go or what to do next. This is easily remedied though with NPCs giving you clear hints on where you have to go, although finding the right NPC can also be a dizzying task especially when certain levels are made to become mazes sprawling with enemies.

Okay, now what?

The most interesting part of progression though, and perhaps a signature in the Shin Megami Tensei series and is becoming a norm with many other RPGs is how choices affect the outcome of the story. Of course, we’re not gonna talk more about that because of spoilers, but the game does offer “good” and “bad” endings depending on key decisions made as you progress.

Where do we go, where do we go now?

Content 2.5/5

For a JRPG, Nocturne sits at the middle ground in terms of the content that it has to offer, not a lot to go around but not significantly lacking however, the more interesting ones are locked behind paid DLCs which is a bit of a downer. The game’s straightforward approach offers limited variations in gameplay with most of that neatly tucked within combat elements and there’s really not much to go through aside from dungeons, a few secrets, and other unlockables.

Overall Rating 3/5

Despite the HD treatment, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD is still a product of its time and while it’s not as strong compared to modern standards, it is still worth experiencing what it has to offer just like the many classics remastered for the modern day.

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