How to reign in a hellscape
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD is nearly here (or now if you did the edition with incredibly odd early access). Owing to the fact it’s roughly an 18-year-old game, some of its ways might feel obtuse to the modern JRPG player or newcomer to the SMT series.
I began my life here at Destructoid as something of an enthusiast for this game, even going by Pixie the Fairy for a time because she’s actually the Demi-Fiend’s canon sidekick. She serves as a way to introduce you to the wild ways of the post-apocalyptic Vortex World, a hellscape I’m starting to prefer to the one we currently live in.
Things can get dire in the Vortex World very fast, especially if you try to play Nocturne by the logic of other JRPGs, so let me set you on the right path.
The Press Turn System
If you’re familiar with later SMT games or spin-offs like the Persona series, you’ll feel right at home with the Press Turn System. If not, here you go.
When you exploit an enemy weakness or land a critical hit in combat, you’ll gain an extra turn to use toward additional attacks, healing, buffs, or item use. You are issued one turn per living party member for up to four turns and if you play things really well you might get up to eight turns. Scan for enemy weaknesses to make the best use of your party’s skills.
Enemies can, however, also exploit your weaknesses for extra turns. Remember that and cover your weaknesses as best you can with Magatamas! Enemies can also sometimes absorb magic they’re attuned to and also be quite evasive when they want to be. If you whiff or waste an attack, you will lose two turns. This problem ties well into my next point.
Grinding to outlevel bosses will get you nowhere. Use status buffs instead.
Sukukaja. Remember this word. It’s a buff that raises your squad’s accuracy and evasion. Some JRPGs position party buffs are a small benefit. In Nocturne, they are the difference between victory or a swift, untimely end.
Auto-attack has always been a staple of MegaTen, but it’s really just there to speed through the more mundane encounters you’re confident you can clear. Auto-attacking a boss will result in a faster loss because bosses like Nocturne’s infamous Matador love to buff and make your attacks weak or worthless.
Grinding for levels and stats in Nocturne is nice, but it won’t turn the tide on bosses. Focus on leveling up for skills instead. Whether it’s for your demonic allies or Demi-Fiend’s Magatama skills, using status boosts and exploiting weaknesses is best. Brute force will not work.
Sukukaja, on the other hand, can be stacked up to four times, allowing for higher accuracy and evasion, Conversely, the debuff Sukunda lowers enemy evasion and accuracy, which can possibly make them lose two turns if they miss. This is good. This is the way. Ignore the use buffs and debuffs at you own peril.
Finally, Magatamas can shield you from some attacks, such as Zan spells, while weakening you to other things. Use Magatama carefully. They can only be set outside of combat.
Master Demon Negotiation
Uzume’s Sukukaja brings everyone to the yard. She can learn it, but she just might charge. Be ready to negotiate.
The demons, angels, cryptids, fae, and gods you encounter in normal combat are not unlike Pokémon, but you can’t just toss a ball at them to claim them. Imagine if you wanted to catch a Pikachu, but it asked if it could have some money or to drink your blood just a little. Or maybe it wanted to know your philosophical opinions to decide whether you suck or are cool.
This is the wheelhouse SMT monsters operate in, and your answers and attempts at bribery will determine if they end up joining your entourage or if one more god rejects you. Some will just think you are awesome and force their way into your ranks anyway
Leveling up demons will unlock skills. Some, like Pixie or Lilim, will evolve into new beings and learn new skills, but some demons won’t evolve at all.
Enter the Cathedral of Shadows
Finding friends on the field only gets you so far. Sometimes you have to turn to insane science to further your goals.
Demon Fusion is gradually unlocked in the Cathedral of Shadows. It’s used to further advance demons in your party, usually by creating newer, more powerful demons to pass skills on to and level up.
Some demons can only be gained by fusion, or made after defeating a boss. You cannot command or create a demon beyond your own level, however.
New to Nocturne HD is manual demon skill inheritance, which can be toggled on and off at your desire. Games that came after Nocturne and Persona 3 FES all have this system by default, and this is preferable to the old system which is all RNG and rather frustrating.
Dunno why the old inheritance system was left in, but manual inheritance was later patched into the Japanese release thanks to fan demand and now we all benefit.
Some demon skills are still exclusive to their respective demon families, though.
Demons you want to keep can be registered into a compendium. If you liked a demon as it was, you can safely fuse that demon away and repurchase it from the compendium.
There is one big exception here, though.
Hey, listen! Your first fae friend is important.
As mentioned from the start of this post, Pixie The Fairy is your first ally in the game. She’s also different from other pixies in the field, as a specific reward will be attached to her presence in your party later on.
After the early tutorial phase is over and you approach a construction site, Pixie will ask you whether you want to part ways or stick together. Ask her to stay with you for your first run through the game. Don’t dismiss her in this fashion or from the summons available in the stock menu.
Depending on how far you progress in the Labyrinth of Amala, there will come a time you are asked for the ally that has been with you from the very beginning. That moment is asking for Pixie or her direct demon fusion descendant, meaning you have two choices and only one way of tracking how to do this.
You can opt to keep Pixie in your stock list of demons, and you can also use this particular Pixie in Demon Fusion or even allow her to evolve, but you need to keep that specific demon around. Whatever you chose to do, Pixie or her demon fusion descendants will always sit atop your summonable stock list.
If you fuse Pixie away, just write the resulting demon’s name down. If you use that resulting demon in fusion, keep track of the new name. Pixie’s “DNA” will be in that demon. Do not dismiss them.
Dismissing Pixie or her descendants will not net you the reward. No other pixie or pixie descendant will do.
Do this right and your old friend will return and grow in power. She will be raised to level 80, gain her highest tier spells and healing magic, as well as be granted +30 to every stat. This makes her a better endgame ally than Raidou or Dante, and is a great way to boost other demons in fusion.
There here are six endings to Nocturne, known as “Reasons.” Reasons are essentially replacements for the Law and Chaos alignments of other games in the series. Without getting into too many spoilers regarding all this, the forces of Law and Chaos have been sidelined by these Reasons.
The systems behind Reasons aren’t as nuanced as SMT IV or Mass Effect. People presenting these Reasons will give you the opportunity to hear them out at least twice, so don’t feel like you have to commit to that path upon the first meeting. It’s the second opportunity where the path can be set.
You can side with Chiaki, Isamu, or Hikawa’s Reasons if you want — or not. There are three more options. The path with the most content, however, pertains to exploring the mysteries of the candelabrum you, Dante, or Raidou, and the Fiends have been given at the outset of entering the Vortex World. Some of these Fiends will need to be found, others will find you.
If you have heeded my advice on buffs and exploiting weaknesses, you might survive them.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne is a strange journey, with a desolate atmosphere and gameplay that isn’t above punching you in the throat. Ultimately, the game is only as hard you make it. Even the Merciful Difficulty will hold you to the rules of the Press Turn System.
So stay prepared and pace yourself. You’re in for a hell of a good time.