There is one game that I have been playing way too much lately, and that is the HD remaster of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. I do understand that by buying this, I’m perpetuating the terrible cycle of constantly rereleasing stuff that already exists, but a couple of things:
1) This is a game I actually really like that came out in 2003, not some soulless bull shit from 2019 that Sony needs to shove out the door because they fired all their dev teams.
2) The inclusion of Raidou Kuzunoha without me needing to find a second copy of the PS2 game fits in the “it’s okay to remake/remaster if cut content is included” clause.
Now then, with that out of the way, let me get started on this bad boy.
Like Resident Evil, the Megaten series is one of my favorites. Unlike Resident Evil, I don’t find myself in many situations where the topic of Megaten comes up. Probably because I don’t have too many friends who have played these games; even in 2021, with Atlus being a much bigger deal than they would have been 20 years ago, these games are still very niche. Megaten is the mainline series, yes, but Persona is the money maker, and the one that everyone knows about. But, as this is my web site, maybe I’ll take this time and make the topic of Megaten come up.
For those unaware, you poor fools, Shin Megami Tensei is a series of RPG’s. For the most part, they aren’t especially connected to one another in the plot department, so you can find any game in the series and go to town. All of them are very obviously influenced by Wizardry, with an emphasis on exploring long, winding dungeons with increasingly difficult enemy encounters. The big appeal, on a mechanical level, is the ability to recruit enemies over to your side. You talk to a demon, and if they like you, they join you. Then you can take two of your demons and fuse them together into one stronger demon. This has led to Megaten being described as “Pokemon For Adults,” despite predating Pokemon by a number of years. You know, hey, we are Americans, and we live and die by the Elevator Pitch.
Megaten is also, underneath the large amount of memes and shitposts you can find online, very political. Every game involves the world coming to an end thanks to the actions of some dickhead, and then you spend the rest of the game gaining enough power to kill God, and remake the world in your image. None of these choices are perfect, each with their own pros and cons. You can create a world of law and order, which can lead to a fascistic police state. You can create an anarchic society that can also lead to a eugenics-based “survival of the fittest.” Or you can create a world that shuns these ideals, leading to freedom for the individual without the use of class systems or “fuck you, got mine.” Megaten is a series that tends to have you dismantling systems of oppression, both religious and state-based, though the two tend to blur in these games.
Putting all this information here because I have friends who have never played these games, and wanted to know what they were all about. Now I will talk about Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne.
Nocturne is a pretty brutal game. It begins with the world suddenly and violently coming to an end, thanks to the machinations of a tech company CEO that leads his own cult. Even for 2003, even for the Playstation 2, it’s still a very unsettling sight. This 100% has to do with Kazuma Kaneko’s art style making a beautiful transition to 3D. Everything from an abandoned hospital to a simple magazine cover manages to look genuinely creepy and unnerving.
The silent protagonist, who can be given a name at the beginning (I named him after Astro Boy), is a student who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and ended up surviving the apocalypse. He’s then forcibly turned into a half-human, half-demon creature, and is left to his own devices. I bring up this extremely brief synopsis to explain that Nocturne is a departure from previous games. The first Megaten began before the world was obliterated in a nuclear war, and the second began several decades after that apocalypse. Both games also had the protagonists use a wrist-mounted computer to summon demons, via a program written by Stephen Hawking. This one has the shit hit the fan immediately, and say that no, John, you are the demons. Nocturne does a mostly good job of maintaining this hurried pace. I say “mostly” because I really love to take a good few hours to not go forward, and instead grind out levels like a weirdo. Like Wizardry, Megaten games tap that pleasure center in my brain of watching a number go up.
This young demon thing, now called the Demifiend, has the power to punch things to death, and speak the language of the demons. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the demons are all various creatures from different religious texts, urban legends, and folklore. So it can be you, a Hindu spirit, the Mothman, and even Baphomet, just walking around the ruins of Japan fucking up anything stupid enough to start a fight.
There is one more aspect to Nocturne that I think everyone is aware of: the inclusion of Dante from the Devil May Cry series…
…which I won’t be talking about, because this particular run of the game I’m doing is with the other guest character: Raidou Kuzunoha from Devil Summoner 1 & 2.
So these are all things that Nocturne has. What makes it appeal to me? After all, this is my web site, where I put down my thoughts and feelings.
Nocturne is a game where a shy teen boy becomes something that society considers a monster, amid a world-destroying event that could have easily been avoided and was only done so a rich guy could have more power, who uses the powers of Satanic powers and allies, all to literally run up and punch God and Elon Musk right in the fucking face, and use that power to make the world a better place for everyone. Why the fuck wouldn’t I like this?
It is a game where you sift through the rubble of the old world, dealing with old friends who have since moved to the extreme poles of a political compass. The new world is a constant power struggle; there are warring factions everywhere, and everyone wants to create their own shitty version of the world. Now it’s up to me, the smartest asshole in the room, to tell them that they’re wrong (using my fists), and do this shit right. I don’t want a Libertarian hellhole! I don’t want a do-over of Capitalism! What if we had an anarchic system in place? Is that a perfect solution? Probably not! I mean, the entire premise of SMT2 is how that system can be warped into something shitty. But it’s certainly a better idea than “I have a lot of money, which gave me a god complex” or “I lost all my friends when the world ended, so I think more people should die.”
Really, I’m only doing all this because I’m in a position where I have to. If I were the Demifiend, I would be more like the Manikins (one of Nocturnes many factions), and move far away from all the bull shit, where I can live in peace. But since I can’t, I’ll simply have to beat the shit out of every religion and system of government until I can.
That is Nocturne. It rules. The other Megatens also rule. It is this stylish, rebellious piece of art where you constantly walk that fine line between hope and pessimism. The prevailing message here is: the world is fucked, but it doesn’t have to be.