Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster (Switch) Preview
Atlus have been on a roll with their support for the Switch lately, with games like Catherine: Full Body, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, and Persona 5 Strikers already on the platform, and two more on the way this year: Shin Megami Tensei V (it’s definitely coming folks, for reals), and the subject of this preview, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series. For once, that’s not a joke, either.
Thanks to Atlus and Five Star Games (with a little bit of clerical support from Sega Europe), I’ve had some hands-on time with the Switch version of the game, so I’m able to provide a preview based on the 2-3 hours I’ve spent with the game so far. As with previous previews, I’m going with a familiar question-and-answer format, but if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask.
Let’s get stuck in!
What is it?
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is
a mouthful an HD remaster of a game that originally released on the PS2 all the way back in 2003 in Japan. The third game in the SMT series, Nocturne was instrumental in setting the series up for future titles, introducing a tonne of new mechanics and presentation choices that would become mainstays of not only the SMT series, but also its spinoff series, Persona. It’s a turn-based RPG in which you travel around an Inception-style inverted spherical Tokyo collecting demons like Pokemon on a mission to find your teacher (who’s also maybe a supernatural immortal?) and help shape the new world. If that sounds a little bonkers, it’s because it absolutely is — but it wouldn’t be an Atlus game without a weird and wacky story, and SMT3 absolutely delivers on that front.
If you’ve played a Persona or SMT game before, a lot of what’s here will feel very familiar. To hire demons, you’ll need to negotiate with them to convince them to join, you get bonus turns in battle if you hit a weak spot or an elemental weakness, and you can fuse demons together to create different, better demons. If you’re new to the series, you’ll notice that there’s a LOT of mechanics you have to take note of, and some you’ll need to figure out all by yourself. Thankfully, the HD Remaster version does have some new things to help make that transition a little easier, which brings me to…
Not a lot! But also, quite a lot. It’s complicated, but let’s break it down.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne had multiple different versions to release on the PS2 over its lifetime. The first was the game in its most basic form, while the second was a Director’s Cut, also known as the Maniax version in Japan, and famously featured Dante from the Devil May Cry series. That’s the version that released in the US, Europe, and Australia back in the day. After that, yet another version called the Maniax Chronicle edition released in Japan, incorporating all the additions of the Director’s Cut and completely replacing Dante with Raidou from the Devil Summoner series. And it’s that Maniax Chronicle edition that the HD Remaster is based on.
So if that’s the case, why did I say that it features Dante? After all, the Maniax Chronicle version of the game replaced him completely. Well, that’s where things get a teensy bit complicated. If you buy the base version of the game, you’ll get Raidou in your game, not Dante. But if you get the digital deluxe version, or buy the Maniax DLC, you’ll be able to choose between a standard game (with Raidou) or a Maniax game (with Dante) when starting a new game. Ultimately, the difference is little more than a cosmetic choice, but for those who grew up with SMT3 and want to relive their glory days, the DLC or digital deluxe edition is the only way to go.
There’s other DLC on offer too, such as a map pack that adds new dungeons to make grinding easier, a background music pack with music from other SMT games, and a “Merciful” difficulty option, which I can confirm makes the game much much easier. That last one is available as a free download no matter which version of the game you buy, which is great, and the other two are available either as part of the digital deluxe version, or as separate purchases on the eShop. Preordering the digital deluxe bundle also gives you access to the game four days earlier than if you’d bought the standard edition, a trend that Sega seems to be continuing after introducing it with Persona 5 Strikers.
In addition to the (frankly, a bit weird) DLC situation, the HD Remaster features new, high-res models for all the characters in the game, an option to change the difficulty at any time during gameplay, and an option to quick save and resume if you want to stop playing but aren’t near a save point. On top of all that, the game’s English script has been retranslated to give a closer localisation to the original Japanese version, and they’ve added a tonne of voice acting — both in English and Japanese — which to my knowledge is a first for the game.
How does it look, run, and play?
Normally this section would just be named “How does it run?” but I thought I’d expand it out just a little bit to give you a better idea of what you’re getting into. Visually, SMT3 HD Remaster looks pretty damn good, with sharp character models and an environment that, while simple, doesn’t feel too dated. It’s not a gigantic visual update from the original, but the game’s cel-shaded art style lends itself very well to rendering in HD on the big screen, and even better in handheld or on the Lite. As for how the game runs, it’s fine, really. It’s running at a locked 30fps, which absolutely gets the job done in a turn-based RPG like this, and there don’t seem to be many, if any, major frame drops, which I understand was somewhat of a problem in the original.
The only small gripe I have is that at least some of the game’s pre-rendered cutscenes are taken from the original game instead of being remade, and upscaling can only do so much to address that, resulting in a kind-of ugly, smeary cutscene in 4:3 ratio. Not ideal, but in my time with the game so far it’s just been one cutscene like that, so hopefully it’s not too common of a thing in the rest of the game. It’s far from a dealbreaker, in any case.
As for how it plays, honestly I have little to complain about. My short time with the game, which comprised of a couple of dungeons, some early cutscenes, and a boss fight, were all an absolute pleasure to play. Some animations — like the save animation and a couple of the battle animations — feel a little bit slow and clunky at times, the camera is a little bit unwieldy, and adding a minimap would have been a nice addition. There’s no escaping that this is, at its core, a PS2 game, for better or for worse. But even with that caveat in place, its combat system seems incredibly well-rounded, the atmosphere is satisfyingly spooky with juuuust a touch of goofy thrown in, and the new additions like voice acting are a nice touch, building on top of a rich foundation to make something even better.
Who’s it for?
If you’re a fan of JRPGs, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is absolutely for you. SMT3 is one of the most instrumental games in the genre, and it’s likely to be a fun experience for anyone who vibes with turn-based games. If you’ve played Persona before, but haven’t taken the leap into the series proper, this is as good a place as any to start — it’ll be familiar, but also kinda fresh. If you’ve tried the SMT series in the past but found it too difficult, this is also a fantastic point to jump back in, as the Merciful difficulty setting makes it much much more enjoyable for those who don’t particularly want to grind. And lastly, if you played SMT3 in its original form, all the way back on the PS2, there’s enough new stuff here to keep you engaged and entertained — and as an added bonus, you’ll get to choose between the experience you remember with Dante, and the experience you missed out on with Raidou. It’s a win-win!
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster launches on the Nintendo Switch on the 21st of May for the Digital Deluxe Edition (buy here) and on 25th of May for its standard edition (buy here). Keep an eye out for our full review a little closer to release.