The mainline Megami Tensei series has finally made its way to PC. Granted, it’s the third game out of like six or so, but it’s about time people get introduced to the series that spawned Persona.
I’ll start with the base game. Nocturne is an interesting case as a JRPG. In some ways, it plays just like what you would expect from a classic PS2 JRPG, but that’s before you add all the Megami Tensei weirdness to it. Like, you get this fairly standard combat and linear game design, but this existential story with cryptic characters, religious undertones, and a truly bizarre setting on top of it. Yet, it does this while also being fairly light on exposition and dialogue – an odd combo, but one that kept me interested for sure.
At its core though, Nocturne is effectively a monster-taming JRPG. You go around the game world, collecting demons by bartering with them mid-combat, and then can fuse them together to make even stronger demons. This part of the game is great and it’s fun conversing with demons and figuring out what exactly they need to be won over – only to then betray them by sacrificing them for stronger ones.
You can summon up a few of them at any time to help out in battle and that’s pretty much where all the combat depth comes from. Each demon has different moves that do different types of damage and – just like in other JRPGs of the era – these moves have type matchups and you’ll want to take advantage of them to defeat bosses. It’s nothing too complex, but I did enjoy the combat – it’s straightforward enough that you can get into it easily, but still offers a fair challenge.
And that brings me to the topic of difficulty – which this game is notorious for. At first, I thought I was doing fine, breezing through most of the battles on normal difficulty and even outright using auto-mode on some of the early bosses. That is until you hit a certain early-game boss that completely spikes the difficulty, forcing you to take advantage of type matchups and not just auto your way through everything.
Not having played the game before, it definitely caught me off guard – but that’s just how the difficulty works in this game. It fluctuates a lot and I believe that’s part of the reason why it has such a cult following. Still, if you just want to go at it without the high difficulty, there is a new “merciful” mode that makes fights a lot easier. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to use it myself.
As for the level design, well, that’s probably the most dated aspect of the game. Dungeons are incredibly blocky and feature the same repeat corridors and rooms over and over. There is some exploration, but there’s nothing really exciting to find beyond the occasional healing item or two. Granted, those are necessary for bartering with demons, so I ended up hunting for them anyways. Still, it’s definitely a weak point – perhaps the largest.
Then there’s the story – which as mentioned previously – is super weird for a JRPG. The setup itself is kind of simple, but you don’t really know where it’s going. You visit this abandoned hospital at the start of the game and suddenly turn into a demon and Tokyo is now some post-apocalyptic vortex world full of souls pondering the meaning of life and other heavy stuff. It’s a massive departure from the tried and true tales of heroes and fantasy that we usually get in the genre and was easily one of my favorite things about the game.
So yeah, the base game itself is fine (even if a bit dated), but this is supposed to be a remaster and – well – that is where the issues mainly lie. Okay, maybe not “issues”, but rather just laziness. This is an HD remaster of an 18-year-old game that doesn’t even run at 60 fps – instead being hard locked to 30. That alone is enough of a reason to pass on the game. I mean it’s 2021 and we JUST had a solid port of Persona 4 Golden that not only runs at 120 fps, but is under half the price of this game – there’s no excuse for it.
Then there’s the complete lack of quality of life additions like battle speed, the same barebones textures, and the fact that DLC exists for the remaster at all. You would think all of that would be bundled together into one thing given this game is almost 20 years old, but nope, they split out some of the content to paid DLC – a questionable move given that some of that content was in the original game to begin with.
Still, it’s not entirely bad. The redone 3D models, higher resolution support, addition of voiced audio, and ability to choose between the different game versions still make it the definitive way to play. The PC port also has the added benefit of actually decent keyboard and mouse support (even in menus), so that’s a plus as well.
It’s just that it’s missing some other basic features one would expect from a modern JRPG PC port – some so simple that you begin question the amount of effort that actually went into it. Of course, I imagine some are going to defend it as “preserving the vision of the original,” but that is the exact kind of sentiment that continues to fuel these low-effort remasters.
That said, I will be giving Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster a split recommendation. On one hand, the base game is fine and a good time if you’re a fan of classic JRPGs like I am. It’s got a neat story, cool monster-taming mechanics, fun combat, and nice music too (although notably compressed). On the other hand though, the remaster elements are subpar at best and it is a far cry from the quality we should expect from such a classic series. Still, if you’ve never played it – this is about as good an opportunity as ever. I myself fall into that category, so I can’t say that I’m too upset at finally having said opportunity, but I can still at least recognize that more could have been done.
Quote: SMT3 Nocturne HD is a solid game but a poor remaster. Worth a look if you’re a fan of classic JRPGs or haven’t played it before, but don’t go in expecting all the usual bells and whistles.
You can buy Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster on Steam here. The standard version retails for $50 USD and the deluxe for $70 USD. Both are also available on PS4 and Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.