Eighteen years ago, Atlus released Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne, a post-apocalyptic role-playing game that many still call one of the best of all time. Its mechanics, mature themes, and demon designs live on in the Persona series, a spinoff of the Shin Megami Tensei series. However, like many games in the role-playing genre around that time, SMT 3 has a few archaic design choices that can steer newcomers away.
Thankfully, Atlus has an HD remaster of the cult classic coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC on May 25. Polygon got an early look at the game last week, and after playing around six hours with a preview code, I’ve found it seems to rectify past issues and make the game much more accessible to anyone curious about it, all while building an even better experience for veterans.
Shin Megami Tensei 3 takes place in its own version of modern-day Tokyo that’s separate from the rest of the SMT series. In SMT 3, the player can immediately see that something isn’t right. Cultists have been causing a stir, and there’s talk of the world being remade due to an event being called “the Conception.” Once the Conception comes, the protagonist gets caught in the crossfire and becomes a human-demon hybrid with the goal of surviving in this new post-apocalyptic world full of demons and lost souls. Along the way, you will have to build a team of demons to help you and interact with other characters in order to shape the future of this world, maybe even befriending a familiar guest character along the way. These interactions decide how the story will end, with a multitude of different ways it can go.
The updated version of Shin Megami Tensei 3 has the original gameplay and story elements that fans fell in love with all those years ago, with all the added bells and whistles that any HD remaster should have. The press-turn battle system that inspired Persona’s “Once More” mechanic and Demon Negotiation return in the remaster untouched and just as good as ever. Upgraded models and backgrounds remastered in HD are a big part of this new version, but also for the first time, Nocturne will feature Japanese and English voiceover, as well as a refreshed English localization and French, German, Italian, and Spanish subtitles. Players will also be able to choose between the two featured guest characters, Raidou and Dante (from the Devil May Cry series), the latter of whom is available through the Maniax downloadable content.
What really caught my attention were the new features that make Nocturne a digestible experience for more people than just the classic SMT fans ready for its sometimes unforgivable difficulty. During your first playthrough of the original game, even on its easiest difficulty (which was “Normal”), you would die a lot, as the game could be ungodly hard at times. In the past, that’s been a turnoff to anyone interested in SMT 3, including fans of the Persona series who may want to play the father of that spinoff.
Enter SMT 3 HD’s new difficulty choice: Merciful mode. For those who aren’t sure they want to take on this game in full force, this easier difficulty mode is available as free DLC. SMT series director Kazuyuki Yamai explained why the mode was introduced in an IGN interview: “We felt that we needed a mode that lots of different people can play… There are those who enjoy the high difficulty battles, and those who want to finish those parts as quickly as possible and follow the story.” This mode allows players who are more accustomed to the difficulty settings in Atlus RPGs like the Persona series to have a chance to witness where its story elements came from. Players will also have the ability to change difficulty on the fly, so anyone who encounters too much of a challenge on normal or too much of a breeze in Merciful mode can switch as needed.
SMT 3 HD has another great new addition: the suspend save. It’s a much-needed option for any RPG, allowing players to save progress whenever and wherever they need to using the pause menu. Along with these additions come the patches and updates that the original Japanese release received to fix various early glitches and introduce functional improvements.
While the game looks phenomenal, the full experience will come with an added cost, as players will have to buy the $69.99 Digital Deluxe Edition or pay a $9.99 DLC fee to play the original version featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series. Shady DLC choices aside, Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD looks like a great entry for any new fan, as well as fans of the PlayStation 2 original. Let’s just hope it can help hold everyone over until we finally get more news on Shin Megami Tensei 5, which was announced all the way back in 2017 and is slated to come out in 2021 (but does not yet have a release date).
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the Deluxe Edition of the game would cost $99.95 and that the Maniax Pack DLC would cost $14.95. (Those prices are accurate in some territories.) This story has been corrected to refer to North American store prices.