Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster Review: PS4/PS5

Reawaken your inner demon in this cult classic devilish JRPG, resurrected from the depths of hell.

When speaking about the JRPG genre, few series have gained notoriety in recent years as much as Persona. This massively popular series from Japanese developers, Atlus, has become an easily-recognizable staple of modern gaming thanks to its stylish anime visuals, catchy soundtracks, and colourful casts of characters. Though unbeknownst to many Persona fans, these games themselves are spin-offs of much a larger series, with roots deeply intertwined within the dark, devil-summoning origins of Megami Tensei.

Making its debut in 1987 for PC and NES exclusively in Japan, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei introduced a role-playing experience full of mature themes and grim undertones. Unlike most other light-hearted RPGs, which were primarily focused on traditional fantasy, this series had the player making deals alongside devils and demons in a hopeless and often depressing setting. Although popular in Japan, the series raised much controversy due to its mature content, distressing themes, and use of religious characters and imagery, making localization challenging.

Megami Tensei NES
The original Megami Tensei on NES.

This was until Nocturne.

The first mainline Shin Megami Tensei game to be released outside of Japan, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne originally launched in 2003 on the PlayStation 2, the following year in the US, and 2005 in Europe as a “director’s cut” version titled Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call. Despite remaining very much a niche JRPG, the game managed to receive overwhelmingly-positive reviews and cemented the series within a Western audience. Since then, numerous other Megami Tensei games have seen international releases across multiple console generations.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne PS2
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne on PlayStation 2.

Now over 15 years since its release, Nocturne, much like the post-apocalyptic Tokyo in which it is set, has been born again and revived in a brand new HD Remaster for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Though this begs the question: has this cult classic stood the test of time, or has it been outdone by the Persona series for which it is responsible?

Plot

All good JRPGs are set in Tokyo. That’s exactly where Nocturne begins: in the sprawling metropolis that is the heart of Japan. Playing as an unnamed silent protagonist, the story begins as a regular day in the city when tasked to meet up with fellow classmates and visit his school teacher in hospital. The hospital however is eerily quiet and the teacher is nowhere to be found – instead a mysterious figure attempts to take the protagonist’s life. It’s soon revealed that all those within the hospital are to be spared from the impending “Conception”: the destruction and rebirth of the world, which will annihilate all life and rebuild anew.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
If your hospital looks like this, maybe find another hospital.

Having conveniently survived the apocalypse, the player is beckoned by an unholy voice and infused with the power of demons: a Magatama. Undergoing changes even more confronting than those of puberty, the protagonist is forcibly morphed into an accursed “Demi-Fiend“, a forsaken being neither human nor demon. The newfound powers of the Magatama allow the protagonist not only to communicate with demons, but to recruit them to his bidding (a key gameplay element of the series).

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Sick tatts, Demi-Fiend.

Upon leaving the hospital, Tokyo now lays in complete ruins, having been reconstructed into a spherical “Vortex World” where the majority of the game takes place. Now occupied by two opposing demonic cults, The Mantra Army and The Assembly of Nihilo, these warring factions seek to take control of the Vortex World and rebuild it as their own creation. This can be only be achieved through the manipulation of Magatsuhi (a term you’re going to hear a LOT in Nocturne), the life essence extracted from the suffering of living beings, particularly a race of disturbing artificial humans known as the Mannikins.

Though ultimately it comes down to the Demi-Fiend to decide whose pursuit to rebuild the world may succeed. In discovering new areas of the Vortex World and recruiting demons for your cause, it falls upon you to unravel the motives of each cult and their leaders, and oversee the fate of all who are left within this post-apocalyptic demonic dystopia. It’s a bleak, morbid, and often depressing narrative that is absolutely gripping from start to finish.

Gameplay

Nocturne is very much a traditional JRPG, and features most of the gameplay staples that you would come to expect of the genre, which is divided into several key elements: exploration, dungeons full of clever environmental puzzles, intuitive combat, and character/party customisation.

The Vortex World acts as an overworld hub, which represents Tokyo and is split into areas based on each real-life suburb. Having been to Tokyo multiple times I found it quite amusing to stumble across places that I recognised (though in a dilapidated state). Traversing this overworld as a simple icon allows you to enter more detailed locations, dungeons and labyrinths, where the majority of the game takes place. Most dungeons feature brilliant designs making exploration thoroughly enjoyable, and include puzzles to hinder your progress which will at times require some serious thought.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I don’t remember seeing this in Tokyo.

Exploration is made even more satisfying with the souls of the deceased and disturbing demons also scattered throughout the new world. These offer hilarious dialogue in between the plot details obtained by conversing with them. Also featured is a quick travel system known as the Amala Network, where you travel via mystical steel drums that are linked together by some sort of satanic internet.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I guess it’s like a demonic internet modem?

Those who have played Persona will be immediately familiar with many aspects of the combat, as the summoning and fusion of Persona is directly inspired by the demon summoning found within Nocturne. During battle you play solely as the Demi-Fiend but possess the ability to recruit and summon up to three different demons to fight alongside you in combat, each of whom offer a unique skillset. Demons can be recruited during combat by talking to them, offering up items as a sacrifice, or sometimes even seducing them.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Some demons even run shops, like everyone’s favourite, Jack Frost, ho!

Outside of combat, party customisation comes in the form of swapping demons to/from the player’s stock, which expands with progression through the game. Stopping by the Cathedral of Shadows will also allow the registration and fusion of demons, creating stronger compatriots that cannot be obtained elsewhere. This element of gameplay is akin to the iconic “Velvet Room“, which provides the same service in the Persona series.

However, in a disturbingly un-RPG fashion, there is no equipment in the entire game. No weapons, armour, or even accessories. This is completely replaced by the Magatama: spiritual stones which are acquired throughout the game. By swapping Magatama, the Demi-Fiend’s stats will change and grow differently upon levelling up, providing varying skills that can be chosen and swapped out based on a particular play style. At first it was jarring not to have typical RPG equipment, but eventually I became accustomed to the Magatama which is a simple and satisfying system.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Magatamas: gotta ingest ’em all.

Visuals

Those spoiled by the incredibly stylish visuals of Persona 5 may have a hard time stepping back into a visual style like Nocturne, which in comparison appears very rough around the edges. Despite being a “HD Remaster,” it’s still immediately obvious that Nocturne is a PlayStation 2 game. The cel-shaded 3D graphics almost seem to scream the early 2000s era. But is this a bad thing? Not quite. Technical limitations of the era meant that graphical fidelity instead had to be enhanced by artistic direction and clever design.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
An abandoned school, one of the more atmospheric areas in the game.

Despite the lack of detail when compared to modern JRPGs, Nocturne manages to create a setting and atmosphere that is equal parts intriguing and disturbing. This is achieved through distinct environments that are often eye-catching and key characters/NPCs that blend modern Japanese society with a hint of the macabre.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Shibuya Scramble Crossing looking a bit empty.

Soundtrack/Audio

Shoji Meguro – maybe you’ve heard the name? Atlus’ in-house composer has been creating music for the series since the mid ’90s and has since become one of the most praised creators of videogame music. Known for his use of electronic, rock and jazz genres within the SMT/Persona series, Nocturne is a prime example of Meguro’s distinct musical style. Tracks vary from ambient and eerie through to frantic and fast-paced with everything in-between. It’s not quite the peppy J-Pop or acid jazz that has since become synonymous with Meguro, but it’s representative of his earlier creations and features tracks that fit with the melancholy and depressing nature of Nocturne. Check out the track “Tokyo Conception” for one of the more dramatic pieces in the game.

To accompany the soundtrack, a cast of characters ranging from delightfully devilish to downright demonic demonstrate voice acting performances that are some of the best from the PS2 era. The acting can be tense, genuine or convey legitimate emotion, and at times it can be comedic and cheesey (particularly some of the lines delivered by demons). Most importantly, it is at all times entertaining. The HD Remaster also now includes the option to swap between the original Japanese voice acting and the English dub which is a nice touch! My only complaint is that I wish there were more of it – we’ve become spoiled by modern games with full voice acting.

Extras

Nocturne and the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole have gained a reputation for notorious difficulty. Though at times this can certainly be the case, the HD Remaster now offers a Merciful difficulty which caters to those simply wanting to enjoy the story with minimal challenge. Absolute masochists may even get a kick out of a fiendish hard mode (which I wouldn’t dare touch). This can be changed at any time and helps to make the game far more accessible for a wider audience. Throughout the game I found myself comfortably playing at the standard difficulty, though I did on occasion drop it down to Merciful to avoid frustration or tiresome grinding.

One of the other notable extras in the game is an block puzzle minigame that is thankfully completely optional. It’s reminiscent of early DOS games like Chip’s Challenge and has 20 levels of block-pushing madness that steadily increase in difficulty. After attempting to complete this and failing miserably, I have incredible respect for anyone who manages to finish all levels without the use of a walkthrough. I’d argue it’s tougher than the game itself.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I’ll be happy to never see this again.

Conclusion

Not only is this one of the finest JRPGs available on the PlayStation 2, but it’s an excellent entry point for exploring more of the Shin Megami Tensei series, especially for fans who have only been exposed to Persona. Now made more accessible thanks to the HD Remaster, anyone with a PlayStation 4/5 or Nintendo Switch has no excuse to try out this cult classic. Once you look past elements of the game that are now quite dated, you’ll experience an enthralling JRPG that is almost singlehandedly responsible for all other Atlus titles in the West that have followed it.

My recommendation? Don’t sleep on Nocturne.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d call yourself a fan of the Persona games.
  • Never played any of the previous Shin Megami Tensei games? This is the perfect entry point.
  • Looking for a gripping, JRPG full of dark, mature themes? Look no further.
  • Plenty of difficulty options for those who might have previously struggled.
  • Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Played the original to completion? You might give the HD Remaster a pass then.
  • Enjoy upbeat, happy games? Stay well away from Nocturne.

A PlayStation 4 review copy was provided for the purpose of this review. The game was played on PlayStation 5.

Persona 5 Strikers Review – PS4/PS5

They might be Strikers, but this time the Phantom Thieves have hit another home run.

Warriors spin-off games are everywhere. No series is safe.

What originally started as a fighting game similar to the Soulcalibur series, soon evolved into a genre of its own with the PS2 launch title: Dynasty Warriors 2. This game coined the term “crowd-combat“, placing the player on an open battlefield fighting 1 vs 100 against swarms of enemies at once interspersed with stronger bosses in what is often referred to as a musou game (literally translates to Warriors in Japanese). Originally these games were focused on the Three Kingdoms period in China and featured historical settings and characters locked in feudal war. However, it was not long before the influence of these games began to spread to other series:

The Legend of Zelda became Hyrule Warriors (and Age of Calamity).
Fire Emblem became Fire Emblem Warriors.
One Piece became One Piece: Pirate Warriors.
Gundam became Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.
…the list goes on!

And now Persona is the latest series to fall victim with Persona 5 Strikers.
But the catch? It barely feels like a Warriors game at all. Read on to find out why!

PLOT

Set only months after the events of Persona 5 (the base game, not Royal, so no Kasumi), protagonist and leader of the infamous Phantom Thieves, Joker, decides to get the gang back together again for a reunion. Upon gathering the crew, the group discover a popular new phone app known as EMMA taking the world by storm. After attending a public meet and greet with pop star, Alice Hiiragi, the Phantom Thieves are given a calling card and discover they can use the app to enter the Metaverse allowing them to explore new “Jails” to confront the shadow versions of people behaving abnormally in real life. It’s a premise much the same as those of Persona 5.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Jail
Yeah, I don’t think real life jails usually look like this…

Several new characters are introduced and are key to the plot of the game. Early on you come across an artificial intelligence affectionately named Sophia, who becomes a playable character in the metaverse and essentially lives inside Joker’s phone. In the place of Sae Nijima (the prosecutor from the original game), the team now begin working alongside police inspector, Zenkichi Hasegawa, and must determine whether he is friend or foe.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Characters Zenkichi
“How do you do, fellow Phantom Thieves?”

Shortly after the initial events set in Tokyo/Shibuya, the Phantom Thieves set off on a road trip. Literally. In an oversized camper van that becomes their mobile base, you explore new settings around Japan and discover new jails to uncover those responsible. It feels almost like a coming-of-age story, but makes for an amusing setting and a creative way to explore new regions.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Futaba Holiday Road Trip
Even the Phantom Thieves need to take time off occasionally.

GAMEPLAY

Many Persona staples make a return in Strikers, making the game feel far much more like a follow-up than a Warriors spin-off. I had to regularly remind myself I wasn’t playing a true sequel to Persona 5, as it’s quite easy to forget. And that’s a good thing!

Elements like Persona collection and fusion return, and will see you making regular trips to the Velvet Room in-between missions. Managing your team and their equipment is still an important aspect – the only difference is you no longer visit physical stores (so no more Airsoft Shop or Takemi Clinic), instead all of your items are ordered online and delivered directly to the Hideout. There is also still plenty of character interaction and amusing dialogue, though “social links” now have been completely replaced with a simplified “bond level” that allows you to unlock and upgrade various abilities.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Lavenza Velvet Room
It’s real velvet.

Overall the gameplay is quite simple and easily approachable: as you progress through the story you’ll trigger scripted events in which you explore new Jails (which are essentially large dungeons). These dungeons involve solving puzzles, clever areas of platforming, and of course plenty of combat which is certainly the highlight of the game. You’ll fight swarms of enemies and bosses to progress further through the Jail, and eventually confront the Monarch at the end in order to change their corrupted heart.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Gameplay Jail
The first Jail, which has an Alice in Wonderland theme.

COMBAT

It really wouldn’t be a Warriors game without button-mashing combat and swarms of enemies, but Strikers does incredibly well in allowing this combat to feel as much like the original game as possible. Although it is no longer turn-based and instead gives the player full control over their character’s movement, it incorporates many of the aspects of Persona’s combat:

  • Personas: during combat you can call upon your Persona. If you’re playing as Joker you can pause time, swap Personas mid-combat, and cast spells and abilities on the fly.
  • Your party: you can play as any combination of 4 of the Phantom Thieves (and some guests!) during combat and swap between them using the D-pad. Though characters other than Joker are limited to using only their own Persona.
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and all-out attacks: choosing your abilities is crucial in combat, and by exploiting enemy weakness you’ll be able to knock them down. Once enemies are down then in true Persona fashion a stylish and devastating all-out attack can be performed.
  • Ambushes: enemies can be attacked from behind or above and be swiftly and stealthily dealt with.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch All Out Attack Take Your Heart
The all-out attacks are still as satisfying as they were in the original game.

There are also new additions to the combat not previously found in Persona 5, most of which work in favour to make the action-based combat much more engaging:

  • Environmental attacks: each area has unique aspects that you can use during combat (for example, a party-themed area may have party poppers that can be activated to stun an enemy).
  • Ranged weapons: each character has their own ranged weapon with a limited amount of ammo.
  • Showtime attacks: defeating enemies will charge your Showtime Gauge which, when full, allows you to unleash a devastating and visually-impressive attack to clear the battlefield.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Showtime Attack
The showtime attacks definitely are the star of the show.

Considering it’s such a massive part of the game and will probably take up the majority of your time, it’s satisfying to know that the combat not only takes many elements from Persona 5, but somehow manages to improve upon them all while maintaining the game’s distinct visual style…

VISUALS AND STYLE

Of course one of the most impressive features of Persona 5 is its stylish visual aesthetic. Every character movement and action is done with flare and an effortless coolness. And it’s not just the animated cutscenes, environments or combat that are impressive; even the game’s loading screens, menus and inventories are an absolute pleasure. Well thankfully Strikers does the series justice and manages to maintain the distinct elegant graphics in its environments, animations, UI, and animated cutscenes (which swap between pre-rendered CGI and stylised anime).

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Stylish Menu
I could seriously watch these menus for hours.

In keeping the distinct visual style, Strikers manages to feel like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 rather than a simple spinoff. However, visuals are only part of P5’s style, as it’s the smooth acid jazz soundtrack that really tops it off.

SOUNDTRACK

Originally composed by series sound director, Shoji Meguro, the music to Persona 5 ranges from smooth jazz and lounge music all the way to big band, electronic and intense upbeat tracks like Rivers in the Desert. Though he was not involved directly in the music for Strikers, many of the tracks from the original game have been incorporated, rearranged or remixed, and are also available if you have a Persona 5 or Royal save file.

The brand new compositions in Strikers feel right at home among the original tracks, and have a much more upbeat tempo fitting of a Warriors game. In particular, many of the battle themes really stand out in this soundtrack and will hype you up while facing off against a challenging enemy.

CONCLUSION

So what’s most impressive about Persona 5 Strikers? It’s the fact that it feels more like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 than it does a Warriors spin-off. In retaining the best aspects of Persona 5, Strikers manages to blend its action-based gameplay perfectly into the world of the Phantom Thieves, and unlike other Warriors games does not at all feel forced, repetitive, or unnecessarily padded.

If you’re a die-hard Persona fan and love the series for its characters and story, then Strikers is a rewarding return to the world of the Phantom Thieves. You won’t be turned off by the combat either, as it manages to incorporate aspects of turn-based combat to create an almost hybrid style of battle. My only gripe is the lack of Social Links/Major Arcana, instead being replaced by a dumbed-down “bonds” system that does not feel anywhere near as engaging or rewarding.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Ann

So why should you play it?

  • You crave more Persona goodness and enjoy the series.
  • Stylish anime visuals, combat and cutscenes appeal to you.
  • Turn-based combat tends to get a bit boring.
  • The satisfaction of destroying swarms of enemies and over-the-top attacks is unparalleled.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • As a JRPG fanatic you’d only ever play games with turn-based combat.
  • Social Links were the most enjoyable part of Persona for you.

Persona 5 Strikers is available on both Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch. A review code (PS4) was provided for the purpose of this review, though the game was played on a Playstation 5 and performance may vary.