Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster is a great game, but a lackluster remaster.
As video games become more widely accepted as an art form, remasters play a crucial role when it comes to preserving the art form. Unlike other mediums, you can’t just put a video game in a proverbial fridge and take them out as needed. Games are inherently ephemeral. As console generations are phased out, ownership of a game can disappear at the flick of a wand from the capitalist magician.
Ideally, a remaster preserves a game while polishing its more redundant elements. A remaster also doubles as historic documents akin to the Criterion Collection or Penguin Classics and the definitive or “Director’s Cut” version of a game, offering new context.
SMT3NR does just that. Released in 2003, the original SMT 3 is a turn-based RPG that takes place in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. In the years since, it has become a cult classic responsible for codifying gameplay elements like the third person camera, human relations, cel-shaded graphics, and more that’s now standard in modern Persona and SMT games. SMT3NR banks on the assumption that you adore Persona or SMT. If you do, the end result mostly works.
Shin Megami Tensei 3 is a timeless classic
The original SMT3 has an incredible story: After Tokyo suffers a cataclysmic event, the city is overrun by demons and the main character is transformed into a Demi-Fiend that can command demons in battle. You must reunite with your friends and mold the future of the world.
It’s dreary and wonderful — a classic hero’s journey with a tinge of hell. The world is fleshed out with interesting conflicts like those between warring demon factions, or the struggles of humans trying to find their place in the new demonic world. Despite being released in 2003, SMT3NR's relationships and setting feel contemporary.
The game strikes a great balance in difficulty, offering more of a challenge than most.
Everything that made the original so memorable remains. The new rendition is inviting to both veterans and relative newcomers alike.
The best additions to Shin Megami Tensei 3 Remastered
SMT3NR isn't made to appease long-time fans of the franchise with a polished version of a fan favorite but rather feels like inviting tasty morsel to those curious about the history of Persona or SMT.
SMT3NR upgrades quite a bit of the original. Graphics are vastly improved. The Demon Fusion system, Cathedral of Shadows, allows you to unite different party members to make stronger characters. It’s been enhanced considerably and more closely resembles that of later Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games. In the original, inherited moves were randomized, so you’d have to reroll a demon fusion numerous times to get your desired outcome. Similar to SMT3NR’s successors, you can now select what skills you’d like to pass on prior to the fusion. This removes one of the most tedious elements of the original.
There’s now nearly full voice acting in contrast to the original’s text-based dialogue. The English dub cast does an excellent job bringing life to the dour setting. The cast contains numerous modern stars of gaming voice acting that you might know from other series. Robbie Daymond, who previously portrayed Prompto in Final Fantasy XV plays Isamu Nitta. Laura Post of Fire Emblem: Three Houses fame acts as the teacher, Yuko Takao.
Each line of dialogue alters increases the weight scenes can hold. A simple line featuring a character with shaky nerves transformed from an ellipsis barrage in the original to something that made me pity the character.
For better or worse, the dialogue makes the game more of itself.
Needs more upgrades in the right places
Unfortunately, the dialogue also creates new flaws, primarily due to the numerous customizable options available in SMT3NR. There are four characters with canon names that can be given user-selected names.
For example, you could rename the character Chiaki Hayasaka to “Jenny Bookhands.” This leads to the text saying “Jenny Bookhands” while the audio uses a general descriptor for the character like “That girl.” This remains even if you’ve selected canon names for all four customizable characters. It becomes difficult to immerse yourself when there are four lead characters with these descriptors. The audio is sometimes indecipherable as a result.
While the voice cast is great, the “upgrades” don’t always feel like they were made in tandem with the original experience. When Nintendo remastered Twilight Princess on Wii U, they sped up the climbing to be on par with what the console could handle. In SMT3NR, climbing a simple ladder takes far too long. We’re playing this 2003 game on modern consoles. There’s no need for something that was presumably a dynamic loading screen to take so long.
Other than fusion and graphical upgrades, it feels like many redundancies were left in the game. SMT3NR also fails to achieve the “definitive edition” package that’s given to many remasters. Parts of the original game are locked as DLC. You can purchase the main story, complete with the aforementioned tweaks for $49.99. If you want to meet Dante from Devil May Cry, who was present in the original North American and European release of SMT3, you’ll have to buy the Mainiax DLC or purchase the SMT3R Deluxe Edition for $79.99.
The White House doesn’t make you purchase Constitution replicas by the amendment, so why should it be okay to piecemeal sell a game that’s nearly two decades old?
The base SMT3NR is still a fantastic game with a thrilling story and memorable characters. Even the somewhat dated gameplay remains mostly enjoyable. If this were still 2003, SMT3NR would be a near-perfect game. However, it’s not 2003. Peter Funt no longer hosts Candid Camera, and this game fails to fully utilize what made the original so appealing.
Sure, some elements have been upgraded, making for a better experience, but it feels lacking overall. The game’s appeal as a historical document to both the SMT and Persona franchises is the primary reason to play it, but the full package is split up between paid DLCs that make for a groanworthy commitment.
If you disagree with this sentiment, look at SMT3NR’s graphics. They look impressive for something based on a game from the early 2000s, but compared to modern standards, they’re a bit lacking.
Despite a few sizable upgrades, this SMT3 remaster deserved better. 7/10.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster will be released on May 25, 2021.
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