I finally spoke to the director of the 21-year-old JRPG that kicked my teeth in, and I didn't expect an apology: "Shin Megami Tensei 3 is the hardest game I think I've ever made"

Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne protagonist fiend
(Image credit: Sega / Atlus)

Originally released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 and then remastered in 2020 for PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC, Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne has developed a reputation for unpredictable, unavoidable, and utterly brutal difficulty spikes, especially on hard mode. Bosses randomly take extra turns, open-world encounters can wipe you before you even get to act, one mistimed debuff or missed attack can spell disaster, and save points can be painfully infrequent. Your party will get blown out at the drop of a hat, and there's often very little – or quite literally nothing – you can do about it. 

On hard mode, this JRPG kicked my ass for about 130 hours when I played it back while I was still in college, which must've been at least 10 years ago now. I have fond memories of using a fusion calculator to min-max my way through. Obviously, I still thoroughly enjoyed the game, but I've held onto that grudge ever since. I finally got to air it out in a recent interview with Nocturne's director, Katsura Hashino, who's since become the director of the Persona series and now the upcoming new IP Metaphor: ReFantazio (which is what we were really talking about), and who was joined by Persona character designer Shigenori Soejima. 

After an hour of hands-on time with Metaphor, I mentioned that Hashino's latest JRPG – and both Hashino and Soejima said they don't mind the term JRPG – feels a lot more welcoming than something like Nocturne. I told him that Nocturne is still probably the hardest JRPG I've ever played, which is of course his fault, and he had a great response. We'd been speaking via interpreter thus far, but as my question was being relayed, Hashino replied in English: "I'm sorry!" 

I wasn't expecting or hoping for an apology, but I have to admit, Hashino's response feels like a healing salve for the scars I've still got from Nocturne. "I'm going to give you an excuse once we finish this question," he added, returning to Japanese. I was almost relieved to hear that Hashino reckons "Shin Megami Tensei 3 is the hardest game I think I've ever made."

"Sorry about that," he continued. "I felt like it needed to be a hard game. The Shin Megami Tensei series in general is quite hard. I felt like 3, specifically, we wanted to make it hard. We felt that unless it's challenging, unless it's really meaty, it wouldn't be rewarding enough." 

Reader, it was definitely meaty. Don't take my word for it – try the Nocturne remaster for yourself. The game holds up well and hasn't lost its mojo on hard mode. There's also a "Merciful" difficulty setting if you just want to soak up the world, which helped define the style that's still trucking along in modern releases like Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance.

Speaking of which: One of 2021's best JRPGs escaped the Switch with a Persona 5 Royal-style expansion in Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance, with updates sure to eat 80 more hours of my life.

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a senior writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature, all while playing as many roguelikes as possible.