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The main character in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne Image: Atlus via Polygon

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Shin Megami Tensei 3 HD is the definitive version of an already-great game

Atlus adds some polish to a beloved classic

With the recent booming popularity of Atlus’ Persona series, the next logical step for the company was to reintroduce their true staple series, Shin Megami Tensei, to roleplaying game fans everywhere. While SMT fans have been waiting for the new entry in the series, Shin Megami Tensei V, Atlus has attempted to satiate that hunger with a remaster of one of the series’ highest-praised entries, Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. I found it to be a remaster in the most basic form possible, but that might just be all a game like SMT 3 needs.

In SMT 3: Nocturne, you take control of a high school student caught in the middle of a global apocalyptic event dubbed the “Conception,” brought about by a cult with the goal of rebooting the world. You are reborn, along with the rest of the world, as the Demi-fiend, a human-demon hybrid. While traveling this demon-filled world, you recruit demons to join your team as party members, while also finding other surviving humans who seek to help or use you in order to save or conquer this new world. Your choices when interacting with characters will decide which ending you obtain at the end of your journey.

One of the standout changes that veterans of Shin Megami Tensei 3 will immediately notice is that this new remaster looks a lot prettier than the original. Atlus gave the game a nice overhaul, cleaning up and fully retexturing models and upgrading the lighting. That may not be enough for some, but I found that these new changes added to the game and visually improved the experience. However, don’t expect the same for the FMV cutscenes, as they still have the same 4:3 aspect ratio you’d find in the original version.

Chiaki talks to the player character in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne Image: Atlus via Polygon

Nocturne HD’s team didn’t set out to only improve the visuals, but audio as well. For the first time, Nocturne features full Japanese and English voiceovers, along with a refreshed English localization. It has also added German, Italian, Spanish, and French subtitles. The voice acting brings a whole new feeling to these characters and the game overall. I really wish I could say the same for the music. Its heavily compressed quality had some charm on the PS2, but this remaster deserved more. A remastered official soundtrack has been released in the past, so it’s a mystery as to why Atlus didn’t import that over the original game version here.

The story has been untouched in this remaster, and the classic gameplay remains as great as it was in the original PlayStation 2 version. Shin Megami Tensei 3 at its most basic level is a dungeon-crawling, turn-based RPG with an added twist of being able to recruit the demonic foes you meet in battle, similar to Pokémon. It also features the father of Persona’s “One More” battle system, here called the “Press Turn Battle System,” which determines how many times your party can act depending on the critical hits and weakness attacks landed on the enemy. The bonuses of this attack system are also applicable to the enemies you encounter throughout your post-apocalyptic vacation, adding an extra layer to which demons you choose to recruit.

Speaking of demon recruitment, it isn’t all cut and dry. In order to recruit allies, you pay them in money or items, or sometimes simply persuade them with words in order to tilt them to your side. At times these tactics don’t work at all, despite how good your negotiation seems to be going, which can result in a bit of frustration for those unfamiliar with this SMT installment, especially when compared to subsequent sequels and spinoffs.

One of the menu screens pertaining to Demon Fusion in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster Image: Atlus via Polygon

SMT 3’s remaster has made some changes to its more frustrating aspects, though, and the changes buff the accessibility and enjoyment I found in the game by a mile, compared to the original. One of those changes stems from one of the core mechanics, “Demon Fusion.” This system entails combining two or more of your recruited demons into a more powerful version, a system that may feel right at home with fans of the Digimon series due to its similarities to “Digivolution.” In this new remaster, Atlus thankfully has given players the direct choice of setting certain skills that the new demon fusion forms can inherit. The original system had left it up to chance. This gives players more leeway in the fusion process and will save newcomers a lot of stress when strengthening their team, without having to randomly lose important moves.

Another change any RPG fan is sure to fall in love with is the suspend save feature, especially if you’re in the group that plans to purchase the game on the Nintendo Switch. This new addition allows players to save anywhere in the game without needing to find a save point. This makes the trial-and-error parts of the game an almost non-issue, and for Switch fans, it makes the game much easier to play on the go.

The ability to save before certain battles is made even better for those who weren’t fans of the infamous difficulty of Shin Megami Tensei 3. That would be the free Merciful Mode DLC, which introduces a new, easier difficulty. You can even change your difficulty on the fly in the options menu.

Dante from the Devil May Cry series crosses over into Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster, if you’re willing to pay extra for his DLC Image: Atlus

Perhaps the most talked-about addition to Nocturne HD is that Western fans of the game are finally able to experience the Chronicle Edition version featuring Raidou Kuzunoha of the Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner series. This comes as a breath of fresh air, as the version of the game featuring him was a Japanese-exclusive title, while Western fans received the title featuring Dante of the Devil May Cry series. Sadly, bringing up Dante’s name with this version can leave a bad taste. While the new HD remaster boasts the ability to choose between the two demon-hunting guest characters, in order to play Dante’s version, you’ll either be paying an extra $9.99 fee for him as DLC, or purchasing the $69.99 Digital Deluxe Edition. This feels like a bit of a rip-off considering the version Western fans have been playing for years was the Dante edition. The choice to lock that behind a paywall feels a bit odd and unnecessary.

Looking past my few gripes with this remaster, Atlus has done an amazing job at making this cult-classic RPG a lot more accessible for just about anyone interested, from Persona fans to players who just want to witness a great story. While some mechanics show the age of the game more than others, that just comes with the territory of playing an older RPG. Despite these shortcomings, which are few and far between, this new release of Nocturne is easily the one I’d recommend to anyone who wants to finally jump into the apocalypse for the first time. If you’ve already ventured through this hellish battlefield on PS2, the added bells and whistles will make this the version you’ll want to revisit: it is easily the best version of Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne to date.

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster will be released May 25 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Atlus. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.