We've been playing through the opening hours of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster, and we've got to say, it's quite nice to be back — despite the story opening on the end of the world and all that. You play as a high school student who, of course, is transformed into the power-hungry Demi-Fiend following the apocalypse. He sets off in search of his missing friends, and some much needed answers.
For those completely new to Nocturne, it originally released on the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2003. It's a rather hardcore role-playing game where you explore a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, which is now infested with demons. And if you've played any of the Persona games, these demons are going to look familiar; many of the designs carried over into what is now the more popular property.
But that's really where the similarities to Persona end, outside of the title's turn based combat. At its core, Nocturne is a dungeon crawler. You'll traverse long and winding labyrinths made up of dilapidated buildings and other cityscape structures. During the game's opening, you're tasked with navigating an especially eerie hospital.
Impressively, Nocturne's oppressive and horror-tinged atmosphere still holds up all these years later. It's a game with a unique air about it, but there are parts of the experience that haven't aged all that well. In particular, the repetitive design of the aforementioned hospital is a precursor to even more tedious dungeons, if we remember correctly. It's all very PS2, and not necessarily in a good way.
Compounding the problem is that there's no on-screen minimap. Old school design dictates that you have to open up your own separate map screen every time you want to check your surroundings — and that's a near constant ask when the environment is so samey.
Thankfully, combat largely carries the experience — even if you're forced to endure random battles. Fights are similar to Persona's on a fundamental level, as exploiting an enemy's weakness nets you extra turns. It's good, snappy fun, even if the presentation is pretty basic by today's standards.
But the real hook of battle stems from assembling your own team of demons, which is predictably addictive. The main character is quite proficient in speaking with these monstrous entities, and can persuade them to join his cause. This is where the game's infamous negotiation mechanic comes into play. By either saying the right thing or gifting the right items, you can coax a demon into your service. However, there's no way to tell what demons might want, other than vague personality traits and dialogue hints.
Recruiting demons becomes less of a problem later on, but it's still quite an opaque system if you're new to Shin Megami Tensei. And for the most part, that's our big takeaway from the time that we've spent with the remaster so far: this is most certainly a video game from 2003 — and it's barely been updated. Great news if you're a huge fan of the original, and there's no question that it provides a more "hardcore" experience, but don't expect any quality of life improvements (aside from the new 'Merciful' difficulty setting).
All in all, we've enjoyed playing Nocturne again — nostalgia's always nice. But aside from the updated visuals, this is a barebones remaster, and we think that its biggest problem is going to be justifying the fact that it's a full price release.