Would it be a strange feeling, casually living through the end of existence? Aware of matters evidential demise? A lacking urgency, or omission of stress within civilisation? Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne’s campaign entails one of gaming’s most unconventional narratives, yet amassed a bizarre cult following upon its initial release back in 2004 on PlayStation 2. I – like many – were confounded, almost hypnotised by its enthralling premise. With this being the West’s gateway title into the franchise, it was my first foray into the mad and maniacal Japanese Role-Playing fantasy world. A weird lustre permeates from this title alone, establishing a baseline for gamers that had yet to familiarise themselves with this unorthodox universe. However, Nocturne was set on captivating its audience outside the intended market.
Delivering confronting set-pieces and illustrating a plot that would challenge logic itself, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne pushes the envelope and encourages the player to dig deeper into their beliefs, touching upon the sacrilegious while devilishly daring to defy nuance and respectable tropes that progress society. The title itself cemented its legacy for being the one JRPG in the West that would trigger a dichotomy between the suspected tropes seen in established titles of the same genre. While a myriad of role-playing action titles had been instituted to pursue similar storylines, Shin Megami Tensei sought to distance itself from a perpetuated psychology that contrasted hero versus villain. What if the villain was the hero? How could we know that destiny is or isn’t predetermined by falsehoods of hope or manipulation? This is where Nocturne’s mission statement makes for one of gaming’s most radical recounts.
The Devil Inside...
While numerically labelled the third entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series, Nocturne is in fact the fifth sequential story and the first title to carry a premise that stands completely separate to concurrent events within SMT’s lore, akin to the Persona franchise. For those uninitiated with the 2004 release, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne follows the traditional route of an unnamed protagonist in form of a student that is trapped within the confounding plot of an ongoing apocalypse. Canonically named Shin Managi within other adaptations, the teen traverses through the bustling metropolis of Shibuya, only to discover that the city itself is helplessly under a world of conflict due to a supposed war between two cults. Explained to him at Central Station by a lone conductor, a confrontation between the two gangs had lead to a massacre at Yoyogi Park.
Managi heads into Shibuya’s busy district, where there a giant screen relayed a news alert informing residents to stay on high alert after aforementioned events. Once the booming and busy capital, now a shell of its former glory. The bright lights of its boisterous and animated domain has succumbed to a depressed dystopia. A bleak outlook burdens the public as the town is transformed into an eroding wasteland inhabited by demonic spirits that toy with its patrons. Arriving to the Yoyogi Park, Managi surveys the scene of the crime; barricaded with police tape an investigative reporter informs him of the war that broken out. Jyoji Hijiri, an occultist editor introduces himself to our hero, handing Managi his magazine to learn about ongoing incidents that have been occurring across Tokyo.
Source: ATLUS JAPAN
Our protagonist leaves the Park to meet with his close friends Chiaki and Isamu at Shinjuku hospital, where their Teacher Yuko Takao, is currently rehabilitating. Arriving, the hospital seems completely deserted, with Chiaki and Isamu being the only two there. Chiaki tell Managi that Takao seems to have been discharged or had left on her own accord. With no one around to confirm, she requests Managi find Isamu, so that the trio could leave the desolate medical centre. Exploring the second floor of the empty hospital, the teen encounters a young blonde maned boy that seems almost intrigued by Managi’s presence, but is in fact the manifestation of Lucifer as a child. The deity disappears after our protagonist tries to approach him only to be threatened by the lead of the Cyber Corporation as well as the Cult of Gaea, Hikawa, who vows to eliminate him, only for the student to be saved by his teacher who transports him to the rooftops of the establishment.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster revives a classic. This is an essential for the devout, and a recommended for the newcomer.
There they witness the next phase of the Conception, the apocalyptic event that sets the universe on an endless reset created by Hikawa, which are determined by a law of Reason within the Vortex World. This state of endless recycle, forms the revolving alternative to reality that has modern-day Tokyo trapped within it. Tokyo has become its own reality, separating itself from Earth that is encumbered, encased, manipulated and overruled by a defiant miscreant that seeks to antagonise and control its populous. In events post-Conception, Managi is contacted by Lucifer in hopes of meeting with the young hero again, an wishes to infest his body with a parasite known as Magatama. Harmless to our protagonist, the bug awakens a surplus of unimaginable powers. Shin Managi is the Demi-Fiend. A demon that acts upon saving those trapped in the Vortex World; the divine being that could lead Tokyo to salvation and safety, or could be the reason for its demise.
Through its complex narrative, choices are made along the way that will mould our protagonist’s tale. Certain factors and combat outcomes may determine your Reason and Path. The best thing about Nocturne’s plot, is aligning your own morality with how you intend to engage in its broad landscape. Essentially, a choose-your-path like structure is made prevalent towards your adventure’s outcome. Aligning reason and resolve with each character’s own ambition within the Conception may sway your decisions from good to evil and vice-versa. It’s not a battle of true karma, but rather human nature – the infinite struggle to determine what’s right from wrong. Quite possibly one of gaming’s most outlandish and creatively thorough blueprints to be implemented in role-playing with a cause. Choose wisely.
Total Eclipse of the Heart...
✔️Mercifully forgiving. Given the option to enjoy Nocturne’s narrative with an easier difficulty option.
✔️A recount of JRPG Royalty. Pushed ATLUS in conceptualising Persona past its Revelation roots.
✔️Reprised with love. It’s the original experience with a fresh coat of paint.
❌Little-to-no refinement in its aging mechanics.
❌In-game cinematics aren’t HD, nor remastered.
In a first for Shin Megami’s mainline entries, the series portrays our protagonist on-screen in third person. While the title begins similarly to the corridor like familiarities of its prequels, a key focus is made for the player to engage in the appearance of our hero, with obvious intention. While Nocturne’s framework stays intact from its initial release, so does its outdated mechanics. We’ve come a long way since the title made its debut in 2004, and respective sequels and spin-off’s have generously refined character controls, with simple fluidity, style and grace that falls in accordance to what is industry standard. Without “greasing the wheels”, Nocturne’s controls feel somewhat stiff while exploring areas in third person. While my rose-tinted goggles may have erased this from my memory bank, its imperative to highlight this blatant omission.
While minor, don’t let it discourage you from pursuing the title to its end. If anything, the one feature that will most certainly seem out-of-character is map exploration. For the average Shin Megami fan, utilising the GPS like navigation through multiple maps is nothing out of the ordinary, but for newcomers, you may feel somewhat overwhelmed. It’s actually a lot easier than it seems; using your analogue stick to move the cursor through different paths, you can interact with people, engage in friendly discourse, and seek out clues across town that help you progress and formulate your next move within the campaign.
With onlookers that have been introduced to the franchise via Persona, Nocturne would entice many to jump aboard the hype train and discover its roots. For those that are devout to the spin-off franchise, may be confronted with the differing style of combat. Instead of harnessing demons, you aid them as party members with helpful command prompts. Forgings confidants, and recruiting demons will raise your offense with multiple techniques at your disposal. Choosing a combat formation, and controlling each step of the combat can be quite perplexing, and yes there are some unexpected circumstances that unfold, analysing each turn will lead to a perfect formation to obliterating the opposed swarm. Now here’s the thing, you will die. A lot. This game is not for the weak at heart. It aims to elevate stress levels, and test your patience. How long can you endure the grind?
Lookin’ Sharp (Credit: DashGamer & ATLUS JAPAN)
It conceives a repetitious stir that asserts its dominance. If you can’t succeed, try-try again right? Well forget that, it’s merciless. Which is why its apropos that Nocturne’s HD Remaster would include the newly implemented Merciful mode, allowing newcomers to adjust, and comprehend its elaborate experience or for the experienced player to revisit their favourite adventure title with no-strings attached. I will admit, the casual delivery of Merciless mode may seem quite cumbersome to those that are knee-deep within the lore and know-how of the illustrious role-player, but is quite the welcoming embrace to whimsically rejoice in its return. A feature that places a disparity between Nocturne and its predecessors is the Turn Press. In each battle, your party is delegated a certain amount of Press Turns depending on the size of your group.
This gives the offense an opportune chance in defeating the opposed party. A counter in the top right will deplete upon each action, but is also dependent on critical’s or weaknesses. Much like Persona, you may gain an extra turn if you hit either the aforementioned, and gain an extra Press Turn, but if an attack is deflected or successfully nullified then your party may lose Press points. Chaos and Law factions make their return, but the original choice of keeping neutral stays intact here in Nocturne. Players may also align with one of the three Reasons on offer, but may escape this by ignoring the faction system altogether. Merciful mode will also award players double damage to opponents, Triple EXP, and quadruple Macca. Yes, this mode aims to hold the hand of many inexperienced, but it’s for good reason – Nocturne is inexplicably difficult.
Aesthetically, Nocturne HD Remaster is a sensational in-game upgrade that recollects the title’s initial vision, and applies a new overlay to its inertia. Practically unhinged, its re-release demonstrates a timeless expedition that inspired a new wave of Japanese role-playing titles. Amalgamating certain facets that have become the norm, Nocturne’s redesign is a distinct and deliberate revival that rejuvenates the awry benevolence of the Vortex World and its happenstance. The Mandela effect hits strong while replaying Nocturne HD, but after booting into my copy for PlayStation 2, on the original hardware (as seen in the screencaps above), there’s unequivocally an astounding amount of reappraisal that has been grafted into its re-release. From remodelling each character, to re-texturing environments, Nocturne deservedly gets the royal treatment.
Adding a new element of immersion to its overall experience, Nocturne HD welcomes an esteemed panel of voice actors that have established themselves as mainstays within the franchise, and the Anime dubbing scene respectively. Laura Post (Persona 5: Royal, Great Pretender) portrays opposing cult leader and our guide for the campaign Yuko Takao, while Robbie Daymond (Persona 5, Sailor Moon) plays the part of our mischievous associate and classmate Isamu Nitta. Ray Chase (NieR Automata, Persona 5), Reuben Langdon (Devil May Cry, Street Fighter), Christian La Monte (Case Closed, Cells at Work!), Chris Hackney (13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, Pokemon), and many others take on numerous roles, and surprise cameos within the remaster. While I may have been presumptuous to expect a rearrangement to Nocturne’s incredibly memorable soundtrack, the entire composition’s playback remains with an awfully compressed output.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster revives a classic. This is an essential for the devout, and a recommended for the newcomer. For fans that adore their JRPG’s this is unquestionably a must have for your collection. One of gaming’s greatest creations in terms of story, sequence structure, action, combat, morality, engagement and immersion. The original holds a special place in my heart for being the exemplary expedition that convinced me to give turn-based combat a second chance. There’s so much to unpack from Nocturne’s 90+ hour campaign; almost a lamenting period of grief when it was over. A reflection of how gaming’s golden era enamoured us in such unusual ways. This was in no way a kids game, but it was a transitional phase for teens that had the pleasure and privilege of playing it through back in mid-naughty’s. It’s a love letter that will undoubtedly tug on emotions, and make those question their morals and ambitions. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne will always be, one of the greatest of all time.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is a post-apocalyptic role-playing video game developed by Atlus for the PlayStation 2. It was published by Atlus in Japan and North America, and by Ghostlight in Europe. It is the third entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series.
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