Last week I checked out the HD remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne to get a first impression of the revisions Atlus made for overseas players. I didn't play the PS2 original back then, but I know the series from the 3DS spin-off Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, which takes over (and simplifies) many of the series' mechanics. Part 3 is 18 years old as of now and this becomes noticeable right when you start the application when upscaled polygon graphics introduce us to this nostalgic journey through time.
At first glance, the overall setting still looks succinct. We are experiencing the rebirth of the earth as a survivor and shortly after we start the game, an apocalyptic event called Conception is happening. It transforms Tokyo into the 'Vortex World' which paves the way for the beginning of a new world. We are a young student who takes part in some kind of excursion with his fellow students, only to escape the annihilation of humanity by chance. Being stranded between dimensions, we meet forces whose abilities we cannot even begin to grasp and quickly become their plaything. That's why we are transformed into a being called Demi-fiend - half human, half demon with great potential. In this form we are able to rebel against the will of the higher authorities, if we survive the tests that the game puts us through.
As you can see, a lot happens within the first three hours: Occult schemes meet religious concepts that are taken out of place to explain even more mysterious occurrences. You start this adventure with a lot of questions and this premise carries over to the gameplay in a certain way, too. Although the game is overall communicating what we should do, I already consulted a walkthrough in the prologue in order to understand the meaning of unclear game mechanics and simply to save time.
In Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, we explore gloomy 3D dungeons that are very nested. If you leave the maze-like main path, you can find helpful items or fall into a nasty trap while random encounters take place at regular intervals. The third instalment of the main series introduces the so-called "Press Turn" mechanism, which later became the "One More" system you might know from the Persona series. This term refers to the concept that critical attacks grant additional actions. If you use an attack that targets a demon's type weakness, or land a lucky punch, you can act one more time. If you miss, however, one of your group members loses its turn. Opponents make use of this system as well, so keep that in mind.
In addition to your main character, which shall not die, because otherwise the game will end and you will be sent back to the title screen (having to reload your last save file), you can summon up to three demons in your current party. Instead of ganging up isolated targets with your demonic squad, you can try to persuade enemies to join you. This mechanism is much more fleshed-out in later instalments of the series, but the core is already here: Each demon has different traits that you have to respond to accordingly with your choices and answers. These little lechers often ask for items or additional cash, so don't let them rip you off.
If you meet ghosts or friendly demons on your journey, talk to them if you have the chance. They will tell you interesting things to notice about your environment, sometimes introduce new game mechanics or even heal your party for free. Since fighting and exploration are the two main gameplay pillars of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, new players should take their time to get to know all the mechanics that the game offers. For example, spend some time maximising the potential of your comrades who (similar to Pokémon) become stronger, learn new attacks and even develop into new forms. Skill inheritance is part of the game too, so you can build your own capable demon army.
The latest re-release of SMT3 will not introduce any content changes, but players can buy additional add-ons as DLC. In this version, for example, you will usually meet Raidou Kuzunoha, the protagonist from the Devil Summoner spin-offs. If you activate the Maniax DLC, however, you will instead be confronted with Dante from Devil May Cry. Another thing to note is the new difficulty option that has been added to the base game. This makes your Demi-fiend very strong and largely removes the tactical component from most battles. Apart from that, players from France, Italy, Germany and Spain can look forward to localised subtitles that are superimposed on the original Japanese sound or an English voiceover. Lastly, you can also pause and quit the game without recording your current progress at a nearby save point. Doing so will let you continue your adventure at that exact point next time you resume.
Starting Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster feels like a journey back through time. Since I don't feel nostalgic about the original, this version looks like an old retro game that can now also be played on modern devices. The early cel-shading look takes some getting used to, as does the slow pace that defines both the battles and the linear exploration. I'm curious to see where this extensive religious story will lead me, but to be honest, I don't expect a revelation from a gameplay perspective (developer Atlus kicked that off a few years later with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3). We'll be back in a few weeks to see if this game can bridge the waiting time until the Nintendo Switch-exclusive release of Shin Megami Tensei V.
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