Bottom line: Completionist fans of the series might enjoy playing Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, but it's an often frustrating and tedious experience due to clunky and repetitive gameplay.
Negotiating with demons is always entertaining.
A dark and philosophical story about human desire.
Lacks UI upgrades that improve more recent games.
Dungeons are long and use tired gimmicks
Questionable changes in localization
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I first began playing the Shin Megami Tensei games when they were published on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, meaning I missed the earlier console entries in the series. I was hoping that Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster would rank among the best remakes and remasters on Nintendo Switch 2021, but the game is still largely stuck in 2003. While the upgraded visuals and audio are definitely well done, not enough has been changed. That makes the game feel extremely dated compared to more recent entries in the franchise.
While the core gameplay element of the SMT series involving recruiting, evolving, and fusing demons like a Satanic version of Pokémon is excellent, the Nocturne HD Remaster lacks quality of life improvements that make playing more pleasant. It also feels overly long, with puzzle dungeons that drag on even if the plot payoff is rewarding.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster: What's good
There's a lot of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster that will feel familiar to anyone who's played an SMT game before. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where your protagonist is one of just a handful of human survivors. Imbued with demonic power, you have the ability to recruit demons to fight on your behalf. If you can achieve enough power and fight off the opposing factions, you'll be able to remake the world in your image.
|Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster
|Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster
Dealing with demons is by far the best part of this game. Every random encounter offers the chance for surprising and amusing interactions. The turn-based combat system is pretty simple, mostly pushing you to figure out your enemy's weaknesses to deal more damage and hit them with nasty status effects, but you can also talk to demons and try to persuade them to join your cause.
Sometimes a demon won't understand you or will want to fight, but more often than not, you'll be able to bribe them with items, money, or some of your health in an attempt to win them over. Demons you've already recruited can act as your wingman, helping to improve your chances or even letting you automatically succeed against demons of the same family. Sometimes you'll have to try to suss out a demon's personality by answering questions ranging from how much you like fighting to the very meaning of life.
If you're successful, a demon might join your team, reward you with an item, or leave and make a fight easier. You'll want to collect as many types as possible to fill up your Demon Compendium, which is like a Pokédex that can also be used to summon demons you've already acquired. Between fights, demons might talk to you and offer up items, change their skills, or even evolve into more powerful forms. You can also fuse them into entirely new powerful demons to keep up with your level. Beyond being key to succeeding in combat, these demons also feel like they have real personalities, often bragging, insulting you, or just sharing how excited they are to fight.
The updated visuals look great for the most part, providing the game with a distinctly creepy vibe with creatures that undulate strangely and corridors that shimmer due to magical illusions. The plot and characters are also compelling, providing philosophical debates about the nature of humanity and the pursuit of power. You'll be asked to join various factions as you try to forge your own path, and even if you don't agree with their views, the promise of power can feel genuinely tempting.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster: What's not good
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is missing many of the quality-of-life improvements to its user interface found in SMT IV and other more recent games. Demons will often ask you for things when negotiating, and while you can see your money total, you don't have any indicator if you have an item they want or not. That's particularly frustrating since if you offer them something you don't have, they'll view that as a betrayal.
There's no quest log or other indicator of where you should go next, which would be fine in a game based on exploration. But Nocturne is both extremely linear and remarkably unclear about its objectives. For instance, an NPC asks you for a bill to let you pass through a zone and says you might be able to find one in a city. To get it, you actually need to break into the back room of a nightclub that was guarded when you were last there. It's not particularly intuitive, so when you're stuck, the best option is often to try to remember the last place you were that was gated in some way or break down and consult a walkthrough.
While the visuals largely look good, the forced perspective in some environments makes your character look super tiny. Dungeons, in general, can feel like a slog as you plod through random encounters and corridors that all look the same. There are some pretty clever mechanics, like an illusion that makes it impossible to talk to certain NPCs until it's turned off but will block your progress when it's on, but most of the dungeons are filled with cliche gimmicks like defeating four mini bosses to get the keys to open a path. Some are extremely frustrating, like a dark subway system that requires you to trek back to the nearest shop and drop a bunch of money on items to light your way for a short period of time.
As part of adding English voice acting, the Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster has changed some of the translation from the Japanese version to be more faithful but also more problematic. The Shin Megami Tensei series has always borrowed Judeo-Christian iconography and cosmology, combining it with a mix of Norse, Celtic, and Japanese mythology. One of the manifestations in Nocturne is that your protagonist carries around a menorah and has to beat up various bosses to steal their menorahs and claim their power.
While menorah is the word used in the original Japanese, it was translated as candelabra in 2003 to avoid religious connotations. Now it's back to being a menorah, and the idea that holding a Jewish ritual item is an indication that you are seeking supreme power is not great.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster: Should you play it?
I'm not unhappy to have played Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster. The visual and audio quality are high, and it seems particularly well suited to the Nintendo Switch. Fans of old school dungeon crawl RPGs and the SMT series, in particular, will find it to be worth playing as a look back at how the genre and franchise have evolved. The grandiose plot and amusing demons also will keep you invested even when some of the other gameplay is frustrating.
But mostly, I'm now more excited than ever for the release of Shin Megami Tensei V. I'm really hoping that game has the style of the Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster with the mechanical improvements I've come to expect. If you're looking to dive into the series, you might want to wait until later this year for the best experience.
Samantha Nelson writes about gaming and electronics for iMore, Windows Central and Android Central while also covering nerd culture for publications including IGN and Polygon. She loves superheroes, RPGs, cooking, and spending time outside with her dog. You can follow her on Twitter @samanthanelson1.