Arriving on Nintendo Switch, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster revives the original PlayStation 2 Atlus RPG with completely redone graphics, a refreshed localization, and new voice acting. Otherwise, it’s deeply faithful to the original game — perhaps to a fault, as it lacks some simple quality-of-life features introduced in Shin Megami Tensei IV. This in combination with some little but persistent performance issues causes the game to lose a bit of its luster, but it’s still a high-quality dungeon crawler that packs a challenge and will suck up 60+ hours of your life.
Apocalypse and Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster
Shin Megami Tensei is known for its apocalyptic narratives that deal with order, chaos, judgement, and what constitutes an “ideal” world, and Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster has all of that in spades. However, it’s hard to say story is a focus of the game, as most cinematics are short and enigmatic and the protagonist is silent. Character development for the supporting cast often occurs off-screen, and although most of their motivations make sense, I seldom found the characters engaging. Ultimately, the ruined world of Tokyo is a lot more intriguing than the story itself.
Speaking of which, that world looks a lot nicer in Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster on Nintendo Switch. Environments are still a little bland, owing in part to the fact that all dungeons were designed like modular mazes, but the character models look great. There are definitely a few bosses I ran into that made me think “uh oh.” The new voice acting is also on point, as is expected of Atlus, and the voice acting choice for the secret final boss certainly caught my attention.
The game also offers new assorted DLC, most of which costs extra but is included in the Digital Deluxe Edition if you purchase it. Notably, purchasing the Maniax Pack can reintroduce Dante from Devil May Cry to the game, which has minimal effect on the story but is still really cool. More concerning, however, is the Mercy and Expectation Map Pack, which effectively adds two new areas to the game that make it extremely fast and easy to grind for experience and money respectively. If you abuse it, it can break the whole game, but if you use it in moderation to speed things up just a bit here and there, it’s fantastic. However, it’s ridiculous to make something that makes the game easier paid DLC; it should have just been included in the base game.
Endless brutality in Tokyo
Since story so often takes a backseat, most of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is spent navigating Tokyo, traversing maze dungeons with assorted gimmicks like surprise teleportation and moving block platforms, and engaging in endless random battles. You can get into battles almost anywhere in the game, including in town-like areas, and the random encounter rate can get awfully high in some places. It can become a bit exhausting after you’ve been playing for dozens of hours, but it’s at least easy to run away from fights.
Plus, a piece of new free DLC grants Merciful Mode, which drops the encounter rate enormously, makes enemy encounters way easier, and grants a ton more experience and money. I refused to use Merciful Mode to tone down battle difficulty, but I had no problem toggling the mode on whenever I was backtracking and didn’t want to be bothered with running away from a fight every seven seconds or so. It’s much more effective than the game’s limited special abilities for lowering encounter rate.
Fortunately, when you are engaging in battle — which will be extremely often — you are greeted with an excellent battle system. The protagonist builds a party of demons to help him battle, whether by convincing demons to join his party or fusing two existing demons into a more powerful new demon. Bargaining with demons feels annoyingly luck-based, even when you take steps to hedge your bets, but it’s manageable. The majority of your demons will likely come from fusion anyway.
The fun of fusion in Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is selecting a total of three-to-five abilities from two existing demons for a new, stronger demon to inherit. This can also include passive abilities like immunity to certain types of attack or the ability to counterattack. The right combination of abilities can turn a formidable demon into a literal beast. Meanwhile, the protagonist himself obtains all of his abilities by collecting special items called Magatama that grant new abilities when you level up. Magatama also give stat boosts and grant extra strengths and weaknesses when equipped, making them the game’s equivalent of armor.
Being victorious in battle is all about hitting enemies with overwhelming force while trying to mitigate what they can do to you. Scoring critical hits or exploiting elemental weaknesses grants you (or the enemy) extra turns, while missing attacks or hitting enemies with things they’re immune to will take your turns (or the enemy’s turns) away. Winning the game’s myriad boss battles often comes down to forming a party that can exploit relevant strengths and immunities, and a few battles are really tricky. (Strategy guides are your friend for this game, especially if you don’t want to miss a ton of optional stuff.) Level grinding is almost never the solution to a difficult fight, and that’s great.
Also, out of nowhere halfway into the game, you get access to a spectacularly fun full-fledged puzzle game that takes a few hours to beat. So, when you find it, don’t ignore it!
Quality of life does not exist in this dojo
The major disappointment of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is that it hasn’t adopted some basic quality-of-life features from its sequels. For instance, the menus are a bit cumbersome all around, and in battle, there is no way to look at the stats of your characters, which is bizarre. Additionally, the robust system for sorting potential fusion demon combinations from Shin Megami Tensei IV is just absent here, leaving a pretty barebones fusion menu. It’s also annoying that you can’t skip cinematics.
The technical performance of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster on Switch has some issues too. Frame rate struggles during some battles and story scenes, and there’s a weird glitch where the screen flashes black for an instant after collecting items or talking to people. On a couple occasions, the map stopped functioning properly, the music stopped playing during battle once, and the game also crashed on me twice. (But honestly, that’s not too bad, having played more than 67 hours.)
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster mostly holds up
When you set aside the little performance issues on Nintendo Switch and the lack of some quality-of-life additions, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is still an excellent dungeon crawler with tons of demons to experiment with and several different endings for hardcore players to find. The game feels like it’s dragging on sometimes by so heavily emphasizing gameplay over story, but when the gameplay is this solid and with the world renewed in HD, it’s not much of a complaint. This is quite the appetizer from Atlus as the wait for Shin Megami Tensei V continues.
A review code for Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster was provided by the publisher.