Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster Preview – A Truly Oppressive RPG

Even today, there’s no video game series as oppressive and nihilistic as Shin Megami Tensei. While the spin-off Persona series opts for a far more light and cheery vibe for its aesthetic and soundtrack, the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games feel miserable. The visuals are dark – both in terms of tone and contrast – and the soundtrack’s eerie echoes aren’t memorable or hummable, but unnerving. Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster might be 18 years removed from when it launched, but there are still few other games like it.

The game begins in a vacant train station, and the music instantly puts you on edge. The station is empty save for a single worker, who says everyone has been staying away after some kind of violent riot at a local park. It’s not clear what is going on here, but people have abandoned Tokyo in droves, and those who remain are restless. You head across town to the Shinjuku Medical Center to meet with your teacher and friends, but even this building is suspect.

Despite being a hospital with dozens of rooms and beds, it’s completely empty. No staff, no patients, just darkened halls and locked doors. You find your friends and they almost instantly start talking about the inevitability of death, the possibility of the occult, and the end of the world. Meeting your teacher doesn’t help either, as she tells you this moment is the birth of The Conception, an event that literally morphs all of Tokyo into a spherical world – like Inception but, y’know, a circle. Entire districts and buildings in Tokyo are ripped apart, the sky is made of skyscrapers, and everyone outside of the hospital is dead.

So often RPGs have you start out as a plucky young teen, ready to change the world for the better, but Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne doesn’t give you any room for hope. It begins with the literal end of the world, although the post-apocalypse here isn’t the cowboy-esque romp across the wastes you see in the Fallout games. This world is screwed, and all you can do is attempt to survive with the few people that remain.

Luckily, a powerful entity has smiled upon you and made you a demon in the process, allowing you to thrive in this new world, interact with the spirits that died in the Conception, and fight with or talk to the demons that litter the world now. This is where the game starts feeling a little more familiar to Persona 5, as you literally twat demons in the face with your fists, before talking to them afterwards and convincing them to join your team. You deal with the demons as they come, and amass a party that is powerful enough to take on the tougher bosses ahead.

It’s probably a good thing that SMT3 Remastered allows players to change difficulty at any time, because this is a tough game. Persona isn’t just more approachable in terms of aesthetic, it’s also easier to actually pick up and play. In Normal mode, you will probably find yourself overwhelmed by a surprising enemy once or twice, and you’ll still be kicked back to the main menu whenever that happens, so you should be sure to save whenever it’s available. In my short time playing I’ve already been kicked back to a save from 15 minutes prior, at which point I swap over to Merciful mode and speed through the game to catch up to myself. It’s nice having this safety net here, just in case a boss proves to be too much of a challenge, and you’ll still be able to push through for the sake of the story.

But it’ll be tough for some players to get into. The game’s thick atmosphere makes it so just turning a corner can be a nerve-racking experience, but there’s never a jumpscare, just another dark corner and a soundtrack that’ll make you feel like the world really is ending. But once you get over that hump, the game presents so much mystery and intrigue that it’s hard to not keep playing, keep finding out what exactly is happening in spherical Tokyo, and what exactly the Conception is.

There’s a unique feeling of nihilism that’s pervasive in the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, or perhaps it’s just the absence of hope. The situations are always dire, the idea of things improving is unthinkable, and the concept of life returning to normal is truly impossible. It’s this doomed, bleak world that SMT3 asks you to remain in, and as miserable as it is, I just can’t be kept away.

Next: Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne: Every Ending In The Game

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TheGamer Guides Editor.
Am I supposed to write this in the third-person? Do you know how awkward it is talking about yourself like you’re someone else? No one would ever believe someone else has this many nice things to say about me.

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