Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is worth playing, even after all these years – Hands-on impressions

A solid update with little extra trimmings.

Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne

Image via Atlus/Sega

When Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne first released in 2003, it offered a hard choice to players: What kind of world would you create if given the power? Nocturne forced players to conceptualize their answer through repeated conflict, both internally and through physical combat. Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster offers a chance to reexamine this cult classic, both on its own merit and with the enhancements of its remastering.

As the protagonist journeys through the newly created Vortex World, he encounters a myriad of philosophies called Reasons, which are meant to shape the world in its creator’s image. This ties into the alignment system, and that determines the ending based on how players interact with the world and its denizens.

Dialogue and environment designs are both minimalistic and efficient, adding to the bleak and oppressive tone. This is a world stripped of all excessiveness, its true essence laid bare. Nothing is spelled out in the narrative; players must draw their own conclusions to finding the right path. It’s a narrative style seldom seen in any other franchise, and here it shines.

The Press Turn’s system made its debut in Nocturne, and it holds up remarkably well, a near perfect marriage of an accessible premise with deep and complex mechanics. In Press Turn, each party member receives a turn represented by an icon on the top-right of the screen, up to four icons in total. Successfully targeting an enemy weakness or scoring a critical hit nets you another turn, with eight turns maximum. Enemies also are able to exploit weaknesses, meaning that players must be mindful of their own parties’ weaknesses to avoid a complete wipeout.

At this battle system’s core are demons, beings of great power that represent mythological deities. Recruitment through demon negotiation is still the same motley mix of strategy and random chance, yet the conversations are oddly charming and grounded. Once demons are recruited, they will most likely be used in demon fusion, a system in which two or more demons are combined to form new demons. Unlike recruitment, this mechanic takes the opposite approach with precise and wholly predictable results.

Nocturne HD Remaster boosts reworked assets, dual audio voice acting, and several DLC packs that add additional content. Quantity-wise, it’s a decent, if not inconsistent, variety of bonus material and enhancements. The character models and dungeons look absolutely phenomenal, with improved lighting to boot, but the background assets are often low-res and tend to pop out.

Meanwhile, voice work in both languages is excellent, with Kijiri’s being the particular standout, but the bizarre choice to not fully voice the game means that the voice cast isn’t able to truly flex their acting muscles. And though the soundtrack itself is still fantastic, the audio quality in many of the tracks is audibly compressed.

The Maniax DLC, featuring Devil May Cry’s Dante, is easily the best buy, followed by the soundtrack packs from the other mainline titles. Merciful mode DLC is free and a solid fix for newcomers struggling with Nocturne’s infamously merciless difficulty. It awards experience and money too readily, however, with players able to easily gain tens of levels in an hour. It’s poorly balanced enough to make the two map DLC packs largely irrelevant, even though the latter’s sole purpose is to quickly amass levels and money.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, despite its age, is still an excellent JRPG. Both the battle system and demon fusion mechanics have aged considerably well, while the philosophical questions posed by the narrative are just as poignant as ever.

It does falter as a proper HD Remaster at times, with inconsistent graphical improvements, compressed music, and new content that’s more of a mixed bag than genuine upgrades. But it’s by and large the best way to play Nocturne, and has more than enough to draw in new players to the franchise.