GAME REVIEW | "Nocturne" Gets Minimal Yet Appreciated Facelift In "Shin Megami Tensei III"
It has been a long time since Shin Megami Tensei III graced Western shores. One could argue that while it wasn't the turning point for the popularity of the franchise players enjoy today, it does mark it place as the game that got that ball rolling. Soon after, players got the more accessible Persona 3, with 4 coming soon after, at which the series finally had gained the presence it needed to become a success today. Years later, the game finally receives a long-overdue remaster on the PS4, PC, and Switch. But this release, if nothing else, will serve as a great history lesson for how the series would eventually develop.
Shin Megami Tensei III's plot is more or less the same as previous entries: your protagonist is living their normal Tokyo student life, and are looking for your teacher at a hospital. It's during this time that they are caught up in an apocalyptic event known as the Conception. What follows is that a cross-section of Tokyo is converted into a sphere and most of humanity was either wiped out or made into demons, manikins, or spirits.
It also turns out that your avatar has turned into a half-demon called the Demi-Fiend. You now must use the power given to you to seek out those that possess Reason, which is the literal embodiment of a specific kind of idealogy. Since the Demi-Fiend cannot wield a Reason of his own, he has to support others through their power to help them reach their ideals. Of course, there might be paths still open to you apart from those individuals.
The gameplay is mostly the same as the earlier entries. Fight demons after talking with them to gain a chance to get them to join your side. Fuse them later to make even stronger demons. Some demons won't join you if your alignment is incompatible with the demon you are trying to recruit. Thankfully adjusting your alignment is easier in this entry thanks to the Magatama system. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell what Magatamas give you which alignment, nor which alignment a demon might have. This leaves you to do some simple experimentation and possibly some save scumming.
Nocturne was also the first game that uses the Press Turn system which changed the series forever. In this system, whenever you strike an enemy's weakness, you'll get an extra turn. Conversely, if you dodge or null an enemy's attack, they lose turns. The same rules of combat can apply to you as well. Having the right defenses and offenses are key to victory, and that would be because the game is quite difficult (even on the normal setting).
It's a pretty fun setup, but the draw of the game isn't really the story. The draw lies more in the atmosphere and exploration. Areas needed to be mapped out, and the supporting cast has no real development to speak of. Rather, they exist to give the player a reason to do things. Later entries would eventually strengthen the narrative aspects. But here the only other compelling aspect is the fun of fusion.
As for the quality of Shin Megami Tensei III's port, there isn't much new here. Sure, the increased resolution and faster load times are welcome, but there aren't nearly as many quality of life improvements as there could have been. Welcome tweaks to the game include a larger initial number of slots for demons, and the ability to select skills during skill inheritance for fusions. Another nice addition is a full voice track in both English and Japanese for all major dialogue scenes.
Sadly, if you are doing a new game plus, you still can't skip scenes. The video cut-scenes also are horribly compressed, as they weren't remastered along with the character models and environments. The same can be said for the quality of the soundtrack. It's horribly compressed, and while some believe that to be an artistic choice, I'm not entirely sold on that idea. Other quality of life choices that are missing would be the ability to hot-swap demons out of the party in your menu outside of battle. Instead, you'll have to slowly return a demon to stock before summoning a new one.
At least there's DLC to lower the difficulty, but even that should have been part of the game proper. And I found myself using Merciful just to level up fast and lower the encounter rate since it's way too high even on normal. Tweaking things like EXP and encounter rate just highlight how poorly balanced the original release was. For those feeling a bit nostalgic, you can download the Maniacs Pack DLC to bring back Dante from the Western PS2 release. That mode does have its own saves slots though, so keep that in mind.
For version comparisons, the load times are mostly the same on the basic PS4 and Switch versions, with the longest load time being the initial game boot. If played on a PC, PS4 Pro, or PS5 with an SSD, the loads are much faster. The framerate is also mostly more consistent on a PS5, PC, or Pro, but on the base PS4 or Switch, there are some short but notably large drops during massive attacks in the game. One could chalk this up as an inherent drawback of using Unity to build the game.
This also might explain why the game runs at a locked 30 frames, which is a bit disappointing. But even with the lack of great touch-ups and good additional tweaks, Nocturne is still a fun game worth picking up. But you might want to wait for a sale. For the Shin Megami Tensei III fanatic though, now is a great time to revisit this game.
The Good: The voice acting and quality of life improvements made for a better game.
The Bad: A lot more could and should have been done.
The Ugly: The cost of the DLC is a bit much.
SUMMARY: While this seminal RPG does provide a good history lesson, not enough was done to make Shin Megami Tensei III even more palatable. Still, what's there is worth checking out.
Promotional consideration provided by Arianne Advincula of SEGA of America. Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch and PS4.
Eric is a freelance writer and has a podcast called RPGrinders, and you can support their Patreon page here.