Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne on the PlayStation 2 is still one of the most memorable RPGs of all time. I didn’t experience it until long after it’s release day, yet my time with it was amazing. It aged remarkably well. Thus, the idea of it getting an HD remaster seemed a bit odd’ borderline unnecessary. Great news: this modern version of Nocturne has extra accessibility and improvements that make it easy to recommend to both newcomers and veterans. Indeed, I recommend it to everyone.
Players can jump right into this game since it has no relation to previous entries in the SMT series. Set in early Aughts Tokyo, Nocturne focuses on a protagonist that you name yourself. After waking up from a strange dream, he arrives at Shinjuku Medical Center to meet two of his friends: Chiaki Hayasaka and Isamu Nitta. The three have agreed to check on their sick teacher, Yuko Takao. However, things are far from normal. Days prior, rival cults got into a fight that resulted in some fatalities. The hospital is completely abandoned, with the exception of the protagonist and his classmates. And as your character wanders the hallowed hospital halls, he encounters strange individuals that almost kill him on the spot. Just when things couldn’t get weirder, the protagonist finds his teacher who warns him that the world is about be reborn due to an apocalyptic event called The Conception. The Conception occurs and Tokyo is turned into a bizarre Vortex World. The protagonist turns into the Demi-fiend: half-human and half-demon. You must guide the Demi-fiend through post-apocalyptic Tokyo. The choices you make will determine his, and the rest of the world’s, ultimate fate.
The thing I really like about Nocturne is how the Vortex World feels both empty and full at the same time. The Demi-fiend is truly all alone in this strange, new world. And yet, there are plenty of demons, souls, twitchy beings called Manikins, and other entities that are trying to claim the world as their own. The story in Nocturne is excellent. It’s dark, atmospheric and filled with some disturbing situations. Throughout the game, you can make choices that influence which ending you will receive. Will you try to retain your humanity? Or, will give in to your demonic powers and become the world’s new supreme being? No matter what you do, you will have to face multiple obstacles and come face to face with demons that want nothing more than to see you destroyed.
Most of your time in Nocturne is spent going through various demon infested areas. On the world map, you can head to different locations, as well as interact with NPCs and discover treasures. Dungeons are where you will be spending the majority of your time. You will go through a series of mazes and labyrinths, most of which have some sort of puzzle for you to solve. They are always exciting; full of dangers and discoveries. Each dungeon usually has a series of Terminals that allow you to save your game and act as warp points. At the Junk Shop, you can spend your hard-earned Macca to buy new items. The Fountain of Life allows you to recover your energy, and Rag’s Jewelry lets you trade in precious gems for exclusive rewards. Most importantly, there is the Cathedral of Shadows where you can fuse your demons to create new and more powerful ones.
In Nocturne, the Demi-fiend doesn’t fight alone. You can recruit demons during battle to fight alongside you. Most of the time, they’ll ask for some money or an item in order to be convinced. Sometimes, they’ll ask you a philosophical question and join based on your answer. The effort that you need to go through to earn their trust is worth it. Each demon has the potential to learn new skills as they level up, and many of them have the ability to morph into new demons that don’t exist in the wild. The potential to build the perfect party is limitless due to the fact that each new area houses new demons. As a result, you need to build new parties with the right demons. Of course, the Demi-fiend can be molded in a way that suits your play style thanks to the various Magatama he can ingest. Magatama are living parasites that grant the host various abilities and powers. When the Demi-fiend levels up, you can upgrade a statistic of your choice. At various levels, you will earn new abilities from the currently ingested Magatama.
The battles in Nocturne, while simple in theory, will cause you lots of hurt if you’re not prepared. Most battles occur randomly. Your side and the enemy’s side take turns walloping on each other until only one side remains. Nocturne uses the Press Turn system. By hitting an enemy with its weakness and/or landing a critical hit, you get an extra turn. Similarly, the enemies can do the same to you. However, you can negate their turns by nullifying, voiding or absorbing their attacks. You can also cause them to lose turns simply by dodging what they throw at you. As simple as it is, exposing enemy weaknesses and being prepared for their arsenal will make or break you. This especially holds true during the boss battles. Without the right skills, chances are you’ll get a game over sooner than you think. Even with the right set up, all of the enemies in Nocturne hit hard on the standard difficulty. There is always a sense of tension as you wander through new areas because you never know what new demons await. New to this HD version is the option to switch difficulties at any time and a Novice difficulty level for those that want the challenge to ease off.
Nocturne already offers plenty, so I won’t go into the phases of Kagutsuchi, sacrificing demons, the Fiends, the Labyrinth of Amala, or the rest of the content. However, two more features deserve praise. The first is the crisp graphical presentation now in HD. This is still a fantastic looking game. The unique demon designs range from demure to despicable. Watching your team decimate gargantuan bosses with a variety of skills and spells is as rewarding as it is entertaining. Tokyo might have been destroyed, but it still looks amazing. The music, composed by Shoji Meguro, deserves equal levels of praise. A combination of metal, 1980s punk, and jazz make this a soundtrack worth listening to long after the game ends. The script is now fully voiced and allows for English or Japanese options.
For those that wish to experience as much as possible their first time through Nocturne, you can easily clock in 100 hours. A new scenario with Devil Summoner Raidou Kazunoha has been included in this version to add extra incentive to revisit Nocturne’s world. There a are a few minor flaws worth mentioning in Nocturne. The first is that the random encounter rate can get tiring. The second is that there is a boss battle early in the game that is notorious for being extremely difficult, even with the right preparations. These issues aside, the Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster comes highly recommend to all RPG fans. Since its announcement, I kept wondering what Atlus could do to improve a game that hardly needed any improvement. The answer is, “Not much.” That doesn’t stop this new version of this timeless classic from being great. A few touch ups and extra options added here and there add more to the staying power of Nocturne.
Overall, 9/10: A fantastic game that didn’t need an HD makeover got one anyway! Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne looks and plays better than ever.