There are always iconic games for any genre and long running series, I’m sure that any person who’s tried to discuss Persona online will have no doubt been slapped with the “PLAY NOCTURNE” sign. Well Atlus heard you loud and clear and have brought Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne/Lucifer’s Call to modern consoles.
Shin Megami Tensei is a long long long running series that started off life as Megami Tensei, I won’t give you the full history here as there are plenty of videos on YouTube for that. This is the third title in what would be the center of the ever expanding umbrella that houses such titles as Soul Hackers and Persona, often referred to as a “Main Line” title.
Set in Tokyo around the late 90/early 2000 your thrust in the role of a teenage Japanese boy who as luck would have it survives the event known as “The Conception”. Rather than this be his parents gifting him a sibling this infact signals Tokyo being turned to ruin and overrun with Demons. Naturally the Demons are all split into factions, couple that with your friends being missing and the mysterious characters surrounding the Conception and you’ve gone yourself a bonafide JRPG adventure to tackle.
What you need to remember when coming into SMT 3 is that this is a PS2 era game and came long before Persona 4 brought so many eyes to the series. The story is a slow burn and doesn’t have the deep character driven plots that people are familiar with, I know for a lot of people this will be their first time in Shin Megami Territory and it’s important to understand this is different gravy.
The story focuses a lot more on the various factions within the new world, their ideologies and how they want to usher in the new age post Conception. There are multiple endings to the game that tie into the often meme’d Law, Chaos and Neutral and the lack of social links and barrage of narrative means it’s much easier to play and certainly less demanding clocking in at around 30 to 40 hours on your first playthrough.
Visuals is where the product started to crack for me, I’ll make it no secret I’ve played Nocturne many many times over the years and absolutely love the visual style, the tone and of course the iconic art of Kazuma Kaneko who unfortunately is being left behind and even overwritten (looking at you Strange Journey Redux).
While the port isn’t exactly egregious, it seems they just boosted the colours, dulled the sharp edges and put it out to pasture, gone are the dulled tones of repression, instead everything is clear to the point it makes the art style look frankly goofy at times. This reminds me of the time fog got removed from Silent Hill 2, making everything crispy and HD sometimes isn’t the best choice and the way the developer has gone about it here has gone the wrong route making the game look rather bland and daft instead of incredibly atmospheric and mysterious.
Performance is something we really need to sit down with, bare in mind this is Nintendo Switch so other versions may vary but this port/remaster is rough, especially compared to other recently released remasters.
The frame rate likes to drop to I’d estimate around the mid 20fps frequently, this is a nightmare in an early game dungeon which is already headache inducing on its own but coupled with this is one you may need to take a break from while exploring.
Sometimes the battle animations are out of synch with the sound, while rarer than the framerate drops I still noticed this a good few times, especially in the early game.
Cutscenes use the original recordings for this remaster and when they are displayed have that “double video” affect on the borders due to the lower aspect ratio. On bigger screens I’ll have this but when played in handheld (aka a much smaller screen that most PS2 players used) these borders still exist, the obvious drop in quality with blurring of character models and dulled colours also creates an uncomfortable contrast.
One final performance curiosity was something that would happen after opening a chest or speaking to someone. The screen would quickly fade to black once I’d gotten control over the main character, like I’d gotten ahead of the scene ending, not game breaking but really bizarre.
In terms of this remaster the extra content and additions currently extend as far as the Suspend Save option, this creates a temporary save until you get to one of the games save terminals and full voice acting in Japanese and English.
The newly recorded dub is excellent as you would expect from the team at Atlus and this extends to both dubs, while the entire game isn’t voiced, the important characters and story exposition scenes are and are done well.
That’s your lot for main game extras, there are various DLC packs coming including the Dante + Extreme difficulty on Day 1 but nothing really added into the base game which was disappointing. On the plus side fans of Lucifer’s Call will now get to play the “Maniax” version of the game with Raidou Kuzunoah instead of Dante if that’s your kind of thing and let’s face it, if you played the original chances are you’re down with the Devil Summoner!.
The gameplay in Nocturne will seem quite different from what is seen as the “norm” for the series now, it follows a more classic JRPG system of towns and dungeons rather than social links and a timer ticking down.
Exploration and combat are both done in 3rd person which was a series first at the time and still manages to capture the mystery and allure of Nocturne, it feels immediately familiar even if it is ready to kick your ass.
The combat uses a modified turn based system called Push Turn, trigger a weakness you get an extra go, miss an attack you lose two, same rules apply to the enemy so if you’re not careful you can be looking at the gameover screen in seconds.
Buffs and debuffs are your friends and you can also find items called Mahatama which completely alter your character and act as somewhat of a “job” system for the main character.
Of course what budding Hero or Villain would set out on a universe changing adventure without assistance? A system most Persona fans are familiar with is back here and that’s the negotiation system. You can choose to stop during a battle and talk it out with demons, not every demon and there are also moon phases (displayed on the UI) which affect their mood, in this you can ask them for items or to join your party.
It wouldn’t be an SMT game without the ability to sacrifice and fuse demons to create an even stronger army and less the Cathedral of Shadows is here to assist with this essential and addictive feature.
It’s a tough ol’ time in Nocturne town, if your main character dies it’s game over, instant death attacks tend to be really effective on your main character and a certain legendary Matador appears rather early on to teach you the importance of buff, debuff and how to be real humble, real quick.
The dungeons are a mixed bag of real world inspired areas and otherworldly avenues, Some are much better than others with a special mention to the headache inducing Amala Network which is a maze, hard on the eyes and the frame rate tanks here.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remastered is the most convenient way to play what is often hailed the best SMT title, though I would argue the issues with the port knock its title as definitive.
It is still at heart a PS2 era title with its wild difficulty spikes, save spaces and at times pain in the ass dungeons but it is still a title I think any fan of the Persona series should play, heck any JRPG fan.
The game poses a great challenge and the satisfaction on completion is great, the story has a slow but fantastic build and the gameplay here is pure JRPG greatness with addictive monster collection/fusion and a fast, fun and fluid combat system.
A rather mild celebration of one of the greatest PS2 era games.
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Straight from the streets of SouthTown, all Dunks Powah'd and ready to Bust A Wolf. Catch me on Twitch/YouTube.