The Nintendo Switch has been starving for some Shin Megami Tensei games since it launched. ATLUS has mainly supported it in recent years with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, Persona 5 Strikers, and Catherine Full Body. None of them are true SMT, but they’ve all scratched parts of the itch in various ways. However, since the Switch’s announcement they’ve been holding a mouth-watering carrot in front of our eyes with Shin Megami Tensei V. With a confirmed release date of this year, we won’t have to wait for much longer, but ATLUS has made the wait a lot easier. Last year the PlayStation 2 cult favorite Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (or Lucifer’s Call for those in Europe) was announced to be getting a remaster in the form of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. A bit more of a mouthful, but at least it’s numbered in the west now!
If you read my Persona 5 Strikers preview earlier this year, you might remember that I have an unhealthy tendency towards importing ATLUS games months before they release in the west. I have no excuse for this, and you can bet I did the same thing for Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster. I love the original game a lot, even with the gameplay aspects that haven’t aged the best. There are few RPG series that have the aesthetic and pure game feel of Shin Megami Tensei. So you can imagine how excited I was that ATLUS gave Nintendo Insider (and by association, me) a head start to try the Switch version of this upcoming remaster. We’ve been limited on what we can talk about, so parts like the story I’ll go into further in my review next month.
For this preview, I was given the chance to play the opening hours of the game. As someone who has gone through this section of Nocturne several times in the last few years, the first thing that stood out to me was the updated English localization. The original localization is good, especially for a game that came out in 2004, but can occasionally read stiff compared to many modern localizations. For the content I was able to cover in this preview window, I went through the remaster alongside my PS2 copy to compare the two scripts. No exaggeration, it’s like night and day in terms of quality. Care has been put into providing the same intent but with much more personality. Knowing ATLUS WEST, this updated script is likely also meant to be more faithful to the original Japanese. Characters no longer feel like they all share a single voice, and the dialogue flows better than ever before. The charm has been brought out to an extent the original script was never able to, and the emotional beats hit even harder. This is further improved with the addition of English voice acting.
During our preview event, we were informed that the recording was once again done remotely, and the sound designers at ATLUS continue to impress. Persona 5 Strikers was the last title to do this, and while it was a great dub some of the voice lines occasionally stood out. Every character in Nocturne I’ve heard so far sounds like they were all recorded in the same booth, and the performances are wonderful. For those who would prefer to play the game with Japanese voice acting or even no voice acting at all (for the purists out there), you can easily switch on the fly. The new voice acting and localization adds a whole new level of immersion to playing through the game, and it makes it feel like I’m playing through the game for the first time all over again.
The aesthetic of Nocturne is timeless. I know this, fans know this, and those who haven’t even played it know it as well. The visuals have held up excellently, and the remaster has cleaned them up without taking anything away. From the moment I stepped out into the overworld I found myself falling for Nocturne’s stunning visuals all over again. I had always thought the pre-Conception world map was an image file, and maybe it was, but I wasn’t ready for how they recreated it. The detail to the city is insane, and I spent far more time than any previous playthrough just roaming it before the inevitable destruction. This is a gorgeous game, and it looks incredibly crisp on my Nintendo Switch Lite. It’s crazy to think that years ago if I wanted to play a Shin Megami Tensei game on a portable system it was on the Nintendo 3DS’ 240p screen. Now I can take a full console Shin Megami Tensei experience on the go, or in my case on my living room couch while my roommates watch TV. Life comes at you fast. Anyway, the game is now presented in widescreen. I can now no longer go back from the beauty of widescreen Nocturne. It’s really good.
The only parts remaining in 4:3 are pre-rendered movies and certain event images. Granted, those do look a little jarring when they pop up, but they don’t bother me too much. Since the title screen is itself a pre-rendered video, that means it too is in 4:3. The pitch black background of it makes it blend in, but I feel this could have been remade. All the UI and text were updated to HD and look stunning, especially the font. The original game has a very basic font. It’s certainly nostalgic, but it’s nothing special. The new font is striking, and feels like it fits the game’s tone much more. It’s readable on any display thanks to the size scaling up beautifully. I want to send a Starbucks gift card to whoever picked this font.
Combat has retained its classic charm, but ATLUS has made some effort to modernize the experience if players wish. The original game can be extremely difficult for those who don’t properly prepare themselves, and now a Merciful difficulty option has been added for those who primarily care about experiencing the story. I’d still recommend the Normal difficulty at least, especially since it feels like the game was rebalanced to be more manageable early on. It feels like a more gradual increase in challenge, which will be useful for those who want to get a grasp on the mechanics. I found Merciful a bit too easy to find enjoyable, but I’m glad it’s there for those who want it.
What excited me the most about this remaster as soon as it was announced was getting the Maniax Chronicle content officially localized in English. Here’s a history lesson. The version of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series, we got in the west in 2004 was not the original version. Dante was not in the original version of the game, he was added in the Maniax re-release a year later alongside a plethora of new content. Years later Nocturne received one final version, Maniax Chronicle. This replaced Dante with ATLUS’ own Raidou Kuzunoha from the Devil Summoner series, which makes more sense in terms of the series’ lore. This is now the standard version we’ll receive in this HD version, with Dante being in the Maniax Pack as DLC. The reason why can be speculated, but for those thinking content was being taken away from the original game don’t need to worry. Raidou and Dante share the same role, and while I got to see only a glimpse of them in this preview period I’m excited to share more about them later.
Nocturne HD’s Japanese launch was faced with a bit of criticism. Since then there have been several patches to clean the game up, and I’m happy to say that the version I was provided with has the improvements of all the patches already applied. Glitches were addressed, slowdown was fixed, demon fusion has been updated to fit with modern games, and further improvements were touched upon. I’ll need more time with the game to study performance for the Switch version, but running around the first dungeon in the hospital in the English version is a much better experience than when I played it in Japanese back in October. I’m excited to dive in further and see how the game holds up.
While I’ve only gotten a small taste of the English version of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster, I have to say I’m rather impressed. I’ll be honest, seeing Nocturne this clean still doesn’t feel real. As of now, I think it has a chance of becoming the most approachable way for newcomers to experience Nocturne. By that extension, it also makes this a great entry point. The new English script reads wonderfully and is almost worth recommending this remaster to fans just because of it. It’s a surprisingly fresh and clean way to experience the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up becoming my go-to way to replay it in the future. It’s hard to find too much to fault with revisiting one of my favorite games with a new coat of paint, especially with the patches that have been applied since the Japanese release. I’m looking forward to taking a critical look at this remaster as we get closer to launch in my full review, so make sure to stay tuned!
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster will release for Nintendo Switch worldwide on 25th May 2021.