How about we start with a joke? What do three high schoolers, their teacher, an occult journalist, and a tech CEO have in common? How about surviving the apocalypse to then fight over what philosophy a new world will be based on? This is the base premise behind the classic Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. You play the Demi-Fiend, a silent protagonist wandering the Vortex World. Along the way, you fight demons, chat with demons, fuse demons and figure out your purpose.
Originally released in 2003, Nocturne was a revelation to the JRPG scene in America. Until then, Square dominated the direction of the JRPG scene. While smaller titles made impacts, they had done little to change the impression Final Fantasy had made on the market.
Atlus had already released a myriad of games under the Shin Megami Tensei, and adjacent lines. While these games were usually well-received or had a solid fanbase, they never quite resonated with a massive audience outside of Japan. On Playstation 1 we had the first two Persona games. On the Super Famicom, they released the first two Shin Megami Tensei games, neither of which made it to the Americas.
What sets Atlus apart from the myriad of other JRPGs out there is the setting and tone. They maintain the turn-based combat and level building but drop you into a contemporary world. Typically in Japan, and typically on the verge of, or after an apocalypse. The Persona series may be one of the best-known current series.
Typically, these games are rife with both real-world occult imagery, mythology, and metaphysical concepts. Tackling these while also dealing with deep philosophical ideas like the meaning of existence. This highly cerebral and deep style of storytelling was often bookended with extremely crunchy mechanics.
Nocturne was the first in the series to feature a main character that had more tricks and special abilities. Previously, the protagonists just used swords and guns to save the world that remained. In Nocturne, you punch, breathe fire, heal allies and gain all sorts of other demonic powers to smash your foes. As you level, you ingest little worm demon Magatama to give you special attribute increases, much like equipment. These Magatama also give you your special powers. Each one focuses on an element or style of combat. One may give you healing spells, while another teaches elemental attack spells or physical attack abilities.
Your power won’t be in your own hands alone, however. The true power you wield is in recruiting demons. This is accomplished through negotiations, and putting up with each demon’s inconsistencies. Some want an item you have, others want to drain your spirit or life force. Some just want you to listen to their problems. Building your perfect team of demons is one of my favorite parts of the game!
This includes fusing newer and more powerful demons. While you can recruit cool demons, finding the special demons that you get by fusing two or more demons is half the fun. You can even create some of the bosses of the game to aid you in combat! Between recruiting and fusing, Nocturne fills the niche of Rated M Pokemon that I am sure we all want.
While it is all fun and games to was philosophical about hiring demons to fight demons, the core of Nocturne is its story. Trapped in a world between worlds, you scour the blasted remains of Tokyo, looking for a Reason. With this Reason in hand, you’ll help determine the world of born out of the Vortex World and the Conception.
This all sounds weird and wordy, but it’s the foundation of the adventure before the Demi-Fiend. You’ll visit various locations in the blasted out Tokyo, looking for your two classmates and your teacher, each with their own Reason, the idea that will bring the spark of creation to a new world.
When Nocturne was first released in the west, it featured a special guest star. Prominently displayed on the case, was “Featuring Dante from Capcom’s Devil May Cry series!” This was an ambitious move that definitely grabbed my attention as a post-high school gamer! Nocturne was released less than a month after the western release of Devil May Cry 2, so the synergy was amazing.
In the original Japanese release, the game featured another Shin Megami Tensei character, the wildly popular Raidou Kuzanoha, the devil summoning detective!
The upcoming HD remaster will feature Raidou, but there is a DLC release that will feature Dante from the Devil May Cry series!
Murmuring had begun some months ago about an HD remaster of Nocturne after Atlus and Sega put Persona 4 Golden on Steam. July of 2020, Atlus announced that the speculation was correct. Coming May 25, 2021, the Shin Megami Tensei HD Remaster is coming to Playstation 4, Switch, and Steam in the west.