Disclosure: The deluxe edition of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster for Steam was sent to the Otakultura! Team for free. As such, our game review reflects the PC version of the game.
Warning: While we try our best to keep the review spoiler-free, there may be entries and/or screenshots in this review that you might consider as spoilers. As such,
Possible spoilers ahead

Atlus is no stranger to amazing RPGs. Their bread and butter, the Megami Tensei franchise, has been one of the staple sleeper hits throughout many console generations. It comes as a caveat, however, as most of the earlier games were barely given a chance at localization. It’s no surprise that when Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was announced to be the first Megami Tensei game to get localized back in 2004, the game received widespread critical acclaim and record-breaking sales. This shot Atlus and the Megami Tensei franchise into mainstream popularity, which eventually led to a steady flow of localized and highly successful releases up to now.

True enough, the past decade has been a very productive one for Atlus, having the Persona spin-off series reap in profits and grow into its own franchise. But the larger Shin Megami Tensei series stayed true to its identity as sleeper hits amidst the former’s mainstream popularity. The series has been a mixed bag of re-releases and new numbered entries; most of which have garnered generally positive reception and gaining the attention of RPG fans and turn-based purists alike.

Seventeen years later, the very game that opened Atlus’s door to a bigger gaming audience is finally making a remastered return in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster.

A New Tokyo Revisited

Not gonna lie, we’ve been craving for a Nocturne re-release or remaster since the Playstation 3 came out years ago. Nabbing a copy of the original Nocturne for the Playstation 2 was a futile endeavor. Although we were able to nab a near mint copy of the game (localized) around half a decade ago, we resolved not to find any more copies out of its rarity in the second-hand market. Instead, we pinned our hopes that a remaster would give us another chance to replay the game. Granted, there was a digital re-release of Nocturne on the PS Store as a Playstation 2 Classic, but we did prefer a physical copy back then.

Nocturne finally got its HD Remaster treatment, both for the Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam, this year. While we would generally expect a sweeping overhaul when it comes to remasters, Nocturne’s HD comeback has been a true to its moniker, a conventional remaster. Graphically, the game maintains its old Playstation 2 look and feel, albeit with a few smoothing over on the polygonal edges of characters and demon models. Environmental details are also given a fresh coat of paint, with most of the blocky and pixelated images now replaced with clearer textures. The hazy fog covering most of the game back in the Playstation 2 version has also been toned down in the remaster to make the overall look pop out more. The fonts are also now stylized with a more appealing serif font as compared to the original game’s sans serif lettering in the UI.

Unfortunately, the extent of the remastered work falls short of just these in-game graphical tweaks. The new version is hardcapped at a stiff framerate of 30fps. While this is generally acceptable, issues of screen tearing and image blurring pop up in moving or action scenes (like running around, or physical attacks in battle). There were also some cases of split-second black screen flickering during scene switching, often happening mid-transition while interacting with elements like NPCs and chests. The occurrence is quite common, a bit annoying and takes some getting used to, but hardly game-breaking. The framerate also sometimes dip into the single digits in heavily-rendered environments and playback of select cutscenes. This also became palpable in the rare few in-game videos that play in-between sequences. In connection to that, the videos were also left out of the remaster, having been retained to a 4:3 aspect ratio and an upscaled resolution that shows a bit of the graininess in quality.

Sounds in the game have also been conservatively reworked. Most of the sound effects have been retained in its old 32-bit glory, albeit upscaled for a bit more clarity in the current version. Music has also been largely retained and remastered, but none have been remixed or re-recorded to an updated version. Thankfully, we’re also getting a number of BGMs from other Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games as an option to replace the music like during battles. But perhaps the best bit in this area of the remaster was adding voice overs to most of the cutscenes and in-game interactions. The additional dubbing on both English and Japanese voices certainly enriches the mysterious vibe and overall experience of the game despite it initially feeling out of place. Traditionalists and purist RPG fans might disagree, but the voiceovers certainly don’t diminish anything from the game.

Fusion of the Old and New

Although the world around Nocturne is dying, the game still has a number of quality of life changes that come with this new version. Perhaps the most important change is the inclusion of a skill inheritance system similar to the more recent Megami Tensei games like Persona 4 and Shin Megami Tensei IV. Demon fusions will now include selecting a set number of skills to transfer to the fused demon, while also retaining a set number of random skills coming from the parent demons. This inheritance system is not as forgiving as that of SMTIV’s, but it now allows for a bit more flexibility in fusing demons without having to rely solely on RNG for the skills. Mind you that this was initially not a feature default to the game. The console release of Nocturne HD Remaster had the original game’s RNG-based skill inheritance system, but was eventually patched to this new one by the end of 2020. The PC release was lucky enough to have the new system up by default, perhaps to soften the blow for new players of the game.

The localization in Nocturne’s remaster has also been changed to read and sound more nuanced and mysterious befitting an RPG. The original PS2 game was roughly a direct translation from the Japanese source without any coloration on the scripting. For its time, the translation certainly did its job staying faithful to the original content. But given the length of time that has passed, the remaster’s updated script in some (if not all of the scenes) is certainly a warm welcome. More so, the voice acting serves as a perfect complement to the updated script. Adding to the updated localization are corrected character, item and demon names, like for example: “candelabras” to “menorahs,” Chiaki Hayasaka to Chiaki Tachibana, Rakshasa to Vetala, Uzume to Ame-no-Uzume, Pyro Jack to Jack-o-Lantern, and many others. The updated names now reflect the naming convention based off the newer Megami Tensei games to avoid any further confusion and possibly to associate the demons with the more accurate names based off their respective mythologies.

Most of the game’s content have been largely unchanged from its PS2 version. The plot and overall experience is still similar from the original, and returning players won’t have any trouble retreading the steps back to the Amala Network and beyond. For newcomers, however, this might prove to be a daunting task. Unlike the more recent RPGs, Nocturne still follows the classic RPG trope of not having to spoonfeed all the information to the player. There are no markers to the next area or objective, and the only guidance provided are context clues left by NPCs in dialogues, or basically going the next (and sometimes only) interactable location deeper in the map. The game is still keen on teaching new players a brutal lesson on how classic Atlus RPGs work. Unlike other tank-and-spank style RPGs, Nocturne’s remaster has not strayed away from its formula that requires a bit more forward-thinking and tactics. Given the right set of skills and demons, the game’s Press Turn combat system can be extremely advantageous or extremely debilitating for Demi-fiend and his party.

Nocturne HD Remaster also does away with the releasing just one or two of the confusing versions that the original game had. This is the only Nocturne release that offers all of the different versions through its deluxe edition. The base game is in essence the game without the guest characters, while a Chronicle Pack DLC with Raidou Kuzunoha of Devil Summoner is made available as a free download. The Maniax DLC contains Dante from Devil May Cry, which is also the original version of the game in the western release before he was replaced by Raidou. Other downloadable contents include the Mercy and Expectation Map Pack, which adds two new optional dungeons: Little Master’s Mercy, and Master’s Expectation, and the Merciful Difficulty option. The aforementioned dungeons in the map pack are similar to SMT IV’s optional maps that are populated by magatamas that drop items giving additional EXP and Macca, Nocturne’s in-game currency. Despite the dungeons being an easy way out of the grind, the demons that populate the two areas require a certain level and luck to defeat. At the very least, it’s not until after the Matador boss in Ginza that the map pack becomes manageable to grind through. Meanwhile, Merciful difficulty adds a token “easy” mode for players who want to run through the game in a breeze. Encounters are rare and few in between, EXP and Macca are almost tripled, and demons are easier to negotiate with. But where’s the fun in that, right?

True Demon Ending

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is one of the games that defines a game remaster in its most basic sense. Most of the changes are graphical in nature, alongside the addition of voiceovers. The graphical changes are quite unpolished, but none of those prove to be game-breaking in the long run. However, the true spirit of the game still lies in its gripping post-apocalyptic story, demon taming and fusions, and challenging, classic-style turn-based RPG. Even for today’s standards, Nocturne still stands as one of the best and must-play RPGs, and is still a gold standard when it comes to storytelling. It has withstood the test of time, and we’re glad that it made its return.