I really wanted to love Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster: a re-release of the 2003 Japanese roleplaying game (JRPG) on the PS2. That said, I approached it as a fan of developer Atlus' more modern games: Persona 5 and Persona 4: Golden. This is no Persona game, even though it shares some of the same DNA.
While Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster has some of the same turn-based, monster-fighting structure of the more recent Persona games, it's lacking a bit of Persona's charm. That's not necessarily a bad thing. As I'll explain in this Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster review, the bigger problem is that it's a punishing game (even on Normal difficulty), and does little to help the gamer. Consider it Persona 4 and 5's goth cousin — one that doesn't really care if it's the life of the party or not.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster review: Story
I didn't expect SMT III to be a lot like a Persona game, but it did leave me longing for the streets of Inaba and Yongen-Jaya. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne begins with your character exploring a creepy hospital, and then the world seemingly falls apart. Tokyo goes full Inception, with the plates of the planet seemingly folding in on themselves. This is something called The Conception: an apocalyptic calamity triggered by a demonic cult holed up in the basement of an abandoned hospital. The game gets really dark and spooky quite quickly.
While you have friends at the start of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, they don't join your quest, which may be confusing to Persona fans such as myself. Instead, you fight on your own, and later recruit monsters to fight alongside you. Gone is the party-based camaraderie, replaced with a weird and unique sense of humor where monsters barely talk in English, and mostly growl.
That said, I credit the translation and localization work that went into Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. While the game seems weird at times, that never appears to be a mistake.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster review: Gameplay
SMT3 is hard. Almost mercilessly so. I played enough of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster (on Normal) to realize that I'd probably want to go back and set the game on Merciful if I wanted to finish it without wasting a lot of my time. I don't say "wasting" lightly. Even early on in the game, I found that battles just would not end, with new enemies constantly respawning until I died. Atlus has added an easier Merciful mode via free DLC, which is nice to have.
Building up my party of demons and monsters — an essential task, as I could not last long with just one character — was also tricky, as the game doesn't really walk you through the active recruitment process. If you don't realize that the Hero (and only the Hero) has a Talk command (buried in menus), you'll rely on monsters volunteering to join you, which is especially rare. Recruiting monsters can be pretty annoying, as they will often demand a lot of treasure, and still walk away once you give it to them.
If you don't put some effort into figuring out what's going on, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster will punish you accordingly. Heck, it will even kick your butt for fun, such as when the Angel monster casts the Hama magic spell, on you. While this spell's success rate isn't high, it's an insta-kill attack, which always feels unfair. That's not a criticism of difficult games. The Dark Souls games are hard, but fair. SMT3:N, though, just seems like it's out for revenge.
The interface is a bit obtuse, and you'll need to talk to everyone to figure it all out. For example, you'll probably stare at the Kagutsuchi moon phase counter in the top left corner for a while before you understand that it correlates to treasure, fusions and more.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster review: Graphics and performance
The Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster ran perfectly on the PS5, which it should, since it was a PS2 game originally. Its truly low-fi visuals — the world map may remind you of the game of Life, moving a peg around a map — are a big reminder of how basic games had to look in the PS2 era. The underworld's visuals — a bunch of red dots flowing through the floor — don't tax the system much at all. Still, it's nice to see older games kept alive.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster review: Verdict
After dying a lot in the early hours of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster, I can say with some confidence that it's a game or diehard Atlus and JRPG fans. The folks who loved Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal and need more of Atlus' magic, even if it's not as polished, may also enjoy it. The main takeaway from this Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster review should be that Atlus has done a good thing here. Keeping its back catalogue in circulation, without the need for retro consoles and emulation, is a good thing. I just wish the game weren't dead set on killing me.