Thanks to the mainstream success of Persona 5, the entire Shin Megami franchise (and its spin-offs) have been given a new life in the West. While both parts of the Megami Tensei franchise are entirely different, they share similar DNA and have experienced growing popularity over the past few years. It’s how we got rarer spin-offs like Persona 5 Royale, Strikers and Dancing in Starlight. It’s also likely the reason we’re about to get Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster on Switch, PS4 and PC.
Shin Megami 3 was originally released for PlayStation 2 way back in 2003, but with a shiny lick of paint and a brand new array of features, it’s back and ready to lap up the attention of a whole new audience in remastered form. This go around, the game sports a low difficulty mode (perfect for experiencing the entire story), HD textures and dual game modes that change which ‘special guest’ character you can recruit to your team.
Chronicle mode (the base game’s default) lets you fight and recruit Raidou Kuzunoha from the Devil Summoner series while Maniax mode (selectable from the main menu in the Digital Deluxe Edition or available as DLC for the base game) pits you against Dante from Devil May Cry. Outside of minor changes, both versions of the game are the same — and you can choose either, depending on your preference.
Regardless of who stalks you in your adventures, the Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster is a great little package, and one that spotlights one of the better RPG adventures of the early 2000s.
Gaming’s changed a lot over the past two decades, and it’s easy for older games to feel worn out with age. A natural consequence of technology evolving so rapidly is games are becoming increasingly complex with better graphics, better writing and more interesting mechanics — but despite other games like it being left in the dust, Shin Megami Tensei 3 has aged rather well.
While it’s still very clearly a PS2-era game and the textures often look blocky and odd in the remaster, the gameplay and story hold up particularly well.
If gothic tales about ancient demons and plots to end the world are your jam, then SMT3 has you covered. Here you’re playing as an unnamed protagonist who is unwillingly transformed into a half-demon called the Demi-Fiend when a deadly cult kicks off a world-ending event called The Conception. This causes the entire Earth to morph into a “Vortex World” where the sky and the land twist into a sphere and demons populate the streets.
As the Demi-Fiend, it’s your unfortunate responsibility to untangle your world and restore the balance between good and evil by recruiting and battling demons you meet in your quest. If you’re a fan of dense lore or stories with nuance, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.
But it’s not just the game’s story that shines.
SMT3 relies on turn-based, random encounter battles — and you’ll often stumble into fights as you traverse the game’s various gothic palaces and underground lairs. While turn-based games are slowly going out of fashion today, SMT3 is buoyed by a fun combat system that helps build the game’s story and player progress.
If you’ve ever played a Persona or Megami Tensei game, you’ll find combat operates in familiar ways: you defeat various demons in turn-based battles (or chat with them if you want them on your side), and you use a variety of melee or magic-based attacks to make it happen. As a first time Megami Tensei player, I was surprised by how familiar combat was, but its familiarity made the system easier to master.
There’s not a whole lot of strategy here, particularly if you’re playing on the new “Merciful” mode, but quick-time action means battles are stylish and never outlast their welcome. They’re also very accessible for new players and never feel too much like a grind.
What does become a bit tiresome is SMT3‘s tendency towards padding out gameplay with confusing corridor puzzles and maps that loop around multiple times before you can reach your goal. This isn’t a problem unique to SMT3 — it’s a feature of most PS2 RPGs — but it does become very annoying just a few hours into the game.
In the opening journey through the Amala Network, for example, you have to traverse a series of corridors in the right order. If you get it wrong, you’re sent right back to the beginning and have to re-memorise where you failed last time. Unlucky players can end up traipsing the same corridors over and over until they finally give up and look for a walkthrough. While that’s a perfectly fine way to get through the game, you shouldn’t have to go through the rigamarole of looking up the answers when the solution should be simple.
If anything, it’s these corridors which have aged the game the most. Sometimes, they feel more like padding than anything else — and in a game that’ll take you at least 50 hours to beat, it sucks that you’ll spend a lot of it trying to solve puzzles that require little skill.
When you finally do solve puzzles in the Amala Network the game really sings, but moments where you get stuck trying to advance can be very frustrating, and a real reminder of which era this RPG hails from. (That is, if the main character’s love of jorts doesn’t give you the indication first.)
Still, despite all its 2000s-era hang-ups, including puzzles with silly difficulty, Shin Megami Tensei 3 is an RPG that’s held up surprisingly well and is sure to find an audience amongst modern day Persona and SMT fans.
The popularity of Persona 5 in particular has really highlighted the appetite for more turn-based RPGs, and while we’re yet to hear what’s going on with the future of SMT, this remastered collection is a great way to experience its past.
If you’re feeling nostalgia for the golden eras of gaming past or you just want to experience one of the best RPGs of the 2000s, the Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster is a fantastic way to do it.
Even if you didn’t play the game the first time it came around, it’s a title with surprising longevity that anyone can enjoy. Look past its blocky appearance and you’ll find a game with real heart, a great story and timeless gameplay.
Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster launches for Switch, PS4 and Windows PC on May 25.