Checking the Score: Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

The Shin Megami Series has been around for decades, but it wasn’t always well known worldwide. When Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne released in North America and Europe, the roman numerals were dropped due to it being the first Shin Megami Tensei game available in English. This is in regards to the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, as the spinoff series Persona had previously been released on PS1. Years later, now tons of gamers are aware of the series and adore it. This specific game in particular launched at an interesting time. The PS2 was full of Japanese RPGs, but none of them had the same dark, demonic and apocalyptic aesthetic.

Now that Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is releasing in English on Switch and PC via Steam, it’s time to take a look back at this iconic game. The unique gameplay of recruiting demons, unique storyline, incredible visuals and unparalleled soundtrack made an impression on gamers. The soundtrack between the original release and this HD version remains the same. Fortunately, the music was extremely good back in 2003 and it’s still excellent today. The soundtrack was composed primarily by Shoji Meguro, the composer of the acclaimed Persona series music so you know you’re in for a treat.

The game soundtrack kicks off with a bang even before you’ve made it past the main menu. There are two tracks which play while idling at the main menu. They’re both good, but “Title Track 2” is especially endearing. It starts off calmly enough, but ramps up into a crescendo in the latter half. It’s also cool because this track goes through a lot of different emotional tones, giving a glimpse at what the game has to offer.

What is it with video games having awesome songs on something as simple as a map screen? Perhaps it makes sense due to the fact players have to look at maps often. “Large Map ~Real World~” is a rocking, melodic tune that makes you want to stay on the map screen long after you’ve accomplished your goal. This, among other tunes, helps solidify that basically every song on this soundtrack is excellent. Unfortunately, the “~Real World~” version of this song disappears in favor of another, but fortunately the replacement song is also a banger.

“Shinjuku Medical Center” is more of a brooding track than others. This makes sense given the context its played inside the game, but also shows the breadth of Shoji Meguro. This composer moves from blaring electric guitar to something more subdued with ease. It’s tracks like this that also add something intriguing to the equation. Yes, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne is a game full of demons, but unlike a game such as Doom, it also carries a great deal of sadness.

“Recovery Spring” is a track composed by Toshiko Tasaki. She also provided the vocals at the beginning of the song. The sad part about this track? Despite being so darn good, the game makes it so you barely have to listen to it at all. It’s simply played in a healing area. As a result, players would likely just heal up then leave. Those who stuck around the springs got to hear this entire track through — and it’s utterly excellent. It also feels different from the modern, dark vibe of the rest of the game.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne features an incredible soundtrack that’s not gotten any less impressive over time. Thanks to the skilled composers involved, it still feels entirely fresh today. No one soundtrack alone can make a game a classic, but when paired together with everything else, this game becomes even greater thanks to its music. With the release of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, hopefully a new generation of players will discover this special game.