As the headline says, I’ve been spending time with the latest from ATLUS, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster. We’ll be sticking with “Nocturne” for the rest of this thing, because I like having functioning finger muscles. For the purposes of this preview I’ll be talking about stuff from only the first couple hours-ish, but we’ll also have a review closer to Nocturne’s May launch. In the meantime, know that this game ain’t Persona. It ain’t Shin Megami Tensei IV, either.

It’s cool, man.

Nocturne originally showed up on the PlayStation 2, well before Persona 3 cracked the case on making this series popular on this side of the world. Basically, that means getting a hold of a copy a few years after it came out was a pain, until niche gaming started blowing up enough for ATLUS to justify a reprint. Remember when the original Disgaea was super expensive and had a Tsunami Bomb song in it? Same era of ATLUS, baby! In today’s context it’s hard to tell where Nocturne stands, as it’s so drastically different from everything that followed. Personally I love it; it’s way more measured than its younger siblings, not afraid to shred on occasion but preferring more quiet action.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster Preview

The HD remaster does exactly what it needs to. Nocturne subscribes to one of my favorite gaming aesthetics, that super Japanese PS2 game style that blends bright, sharp colors for points of interest with more muted surroundings. You can set Nocturne up next to games like Zone of the Enders and they’ll look more related than they actually are. Your player character, the Demi-Fiend, has these glowing tattoos on his skin that are impossible to draw your eyes away from, especially in darker areas.

If you’re into Persona games or other SMT fare, you’ll be right at home here for the most part. The demons and skills will all be familiar, as will the human party leader participating in combat alongside their demon crew. The differences are in how little interest this game has in helping you out. Playing on the normal difficulty still means escaping even regular encounters by the skin of your teeth sometimes. And even the earliest bosses are stat checkers that will ruin your life if you aren’t prepared.

Sometimes that means you’ll have to grind more than you might estimate, sometimes it means you can’t get by without setting up your party a specific way. And even if you are prepared, the Press Turn system can easily see you get wiped out off an unlucky miss or critical hit. Knowing when to run back to the nearest save point is crucial. And don’t forget you’ll need money for healing 95% of the time.

Demon fusing is also more of a danger than in any subsequent Persona or SMT game. The fundamentals are similar, but the freedom isn’t. First of all, demon negotiation is the main route to party building, and unlike Persona 5 these demons aren’t so friendly. They’ll drain your HP, take your lunch money and steal all your healing items before you know it. And getting those freebies when you’re dominating a fight are scarce. Fusing can be disastrous, so can letting your demons change things when they ask. Sometimes, hilariously, if you talk to one demon another might get pissed off and interrupt you.

Luckily there are a few modern conventions baked in here to help out newer players. There’s an extra “Merciful” difficulty that’s closer to the easier settings in games like SMT IV. You can also choose skills to inherit when fusing, which is kind of awkwardly bolted onto the previous system of “no choosing for you.” Finally, there are little things like a suspend save function if you need that kind of thing.

The other big, notable feature in Nocturne HD Remaster is your choice of cameo friend. The original PS2 “Maniax” release was, you know, featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series. Har har. Subsequent Japan-only releases included Raidou of Devil Summoner fame instead. The default is the latter, but if you shell out for the DLC you can choose the Maniax option. This is a choice you have to make at the very beginning, as technically you’re choosing between two different versions of the game.

Related: Why is Shin Megami Tensei 3 Dante Paid DLC?

We have to stop here, but I didn’t want to go into much more detail at this preview phase anyway. The plot is too interesting to go into the setup, but do know that Nocturne’s hook is quite different from other games in the series. At the same time, there will be elements that feel plenty familiar once things get moving. But this is a story that will often surprise you in ways you might not expect, even if you’re a Persona stan. But we’ll get into that next month when it’s review time. Until then, know that Nocturne is notorious for its unforgiving aggression, but there are a few new options built in if you don’t feel like trudging uphill. 

I have been playing on the Switch, and I have noticed the occasional framey animation and some slight slowdown during intense moments. I’m hoping to be able to compare with the PC version by review time, but no promises yet. This is a PS2 game with a high definition shot in the arm though, so don’t expect a ton of modern visual fidelity. This is a faithful port of the original, and it’s better that way. Nocturne HD Remaster is now the easiest way to check out older, broodier Shin Megami Tensei, and frankly it should be considered required reading if you’re a contemporary ATLUS fan.

Excited for Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster? It drops on May 25, but let us know if you’ve got that May 21 early access lined up. Shoot that or any other opinion on this game over to us on Prima Games’ Twitter and Facebook feeds!