Over the years, I’ve been trying to recollect all of the Shin Megami Tensei games I can get my hands on. My love affair with the series began with Revelations: Persona on the original PlayStation, and now I have the pleasure of adding SMT 3 Nocturne HD Remaster to my played game list. Nearly two decades since it was originally released in Japan, Atlus has given Nocturne a facelift and brand new voice overs, breathing new life into this classic.
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A trip to Tokyo to visit their teacher in the hospital turns into a life changing event for our Protagonist and his friends. Things are already dangerous here; just the day before warring cults slaughtered one another in Yoyogi Park. So when tech industrialist turned cult leader Hikawa triggers the Conception—an apocalyptic event turning Tokyo into a self-contained sphere overrun with demons—it’s kill or be killed for those who remain. Not many humans have survived the Conception and thanks to some questionable otherworldly razzmatazz, our avatar is one of them. He’ll visit the remaining wards of Tokyo, battle his way through treacherous labyrinths, and recruit the best demons to help him achieve one of the various endings to this JRPG.
If you’re coming to SMT 3 Nocturne HD Remaster after only ever playing Persona titles, you’re going to need to get familiar with the new (old) system. The Protag needs to recruit demons to fight beside him. Instead of masks dropping, you have to Talk to the demons you encounter. They ask for money or items and want you to answer questions for them to determine whether or not they’ll join your party. Sometimes you can get a helping hand from another demon in your party if they have a skill like Nag or Intimidate. Other demons are influenced by the waxing and waning of Kagutsuchi; if you get them during the perfect phase, normally incoherent demons will converse with you. Collecting and fusing as many demons as you can is just as essential here as in Persona games.
The Protagonist learns new skills by ingesting wormy creatures called Magatama. These are acquired in a variety of ways, such as defeating a boss or purchasing them from one of the shops. Magatama have strengths and weaknesses, and if you aren’t careful they can damage you every so often. He has eight skill slots to fill. If you decide to overwrite one with a newly learned skill, the forgotten one is lost forever. With so many Magatama to collect it can feel a little overwhelming at times. Do I want to hold onto Fog Breath until the very end of the game or do I drop it to make room for War Cry? Balancing your skills with that of the demons in your party is crucial. With bosses like Matador and Ose in your path, you don’t want to be underprepared.
Should you pick up the digital deluxe version, you can start your game in Maniax mode. This replaces the Devil Summoner Raidou encounters with Dante from Devil May Cry. I chose to play through my experience as though I purchased a physical copy, even though the code provided to us by Atlus was the digital deluxe. As much as seeing Dante in an SMT game intrigues me I prefer my in-universe cameos. Neither character has a major footprint in the game except for a couple of encounters with altered dialogue based on your choice. Both present a solid challenge to the Protagonist should you choose to pursue their storylines.
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I feel it is very important to remind everyone going in that this is most definitely not a remake of SMT 3 Nocturne. If you came here expecting textured backgrounds, clothing with better definition, and cutscenes that will blow you away, you will be disappointed. Atlus did what they could, but this is a remaster of the original, not a full blown remake. Environments and characters look sharper for a game old enough to vote. Outfits like Chiaki’s ribbed denim ensemble remain very much 2D and cans of mega-hold hairspray keep every strand blurred into one unwavering chunk. We do get brand new voice overs in English and Japanese with some cleaned up translation. Aside from a couple of weird name pronunciations in English here and there, I am still trying to determine which one I prefer.
One area that I feel may be the victim of lost assets is the audio soundtrack. From the very first encounter I had in SMT 3 Nocturne HD Remaster something sounded “off.” At first I wasn’t sure but as I kept playing it hit me. Most of the audio is crisp and clear. But every random encounter featured muffled and slightly tinny music. After a while it stopped bothering me; I’ve gotten used to it and accept it as one of those things that happens when studios go the remastered route.
Videos are another bit of the game that haven’t seen a major update. After all, there’s not much you can do with twenty-year-old pre-rendered 4:3 aspect ratio clips. In order to fill our newfangled high tech televisions, Atlus is using that blurring technique to fill out the missing resolution on videos that need it. You will notice the aging; pixelated scenes, like when you fly through the Amala Link, might make you a little nauseous. Don’t do what I did. Staring at the videos to watch for the aliasing and imperfections right after dinner is not a smart move.
Another aspect I wish could have been corrected is the camera control. When exploring dungeons and buildings, I found it rather difficult to move the Protagonist in diagonals. If I angled the camera towards my chosen destination, the camera would re-orient itself to face directly straight ahead. It’s annoying but not the worst thing to deal with (I’m looking at you, red mist). Obviously we’ve come a long way in eighteen years, but it’s a shame the remaster didn’t take the opportunity to fix these issues.
As with most SMT games, the grind to recruit and level up your demons in SMT 3 Nocturne HD Remaster is fairly decent. Registered demons can be recalled from the compendium at the Cathedral of Shadows, which is perfect if you accidentally dismissed your Jack-O-Lantern and it’s been a while since your last save. Also handy when you are trying to fuse some of those higher leveled demons. I rarely found myself lacking for money even when I dropped 40,000 macca on two Magatama from the Manikin shop. With the frequency of random demon encounters, it’s easy to earn macca and rebuild your bank.
If you want the very best experience with all the bells and whistles you need to spring for the digital deluxe version. Unfortunately the Maniax content featuring Dante from Devil May Cry, maps, and background music are only included in that particular digital edition. There’s no word yet if or when they will pop up for sale separately on the PSN Store for those with physical copies of the game. These things do tend to show up on the Store after a while so keep your eyes peeled.
SMT 3 Nocturne HD Remaster is a trip down nostalgia lane, one new and returning players will sink hours into for the full experience. Whether you stick to the main story or chase down every side quest in pursuit of power, you won’t be disappointed.
SMT 3 Nocturne HD Remaster review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a PlayStation 5. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.