Two Decades Later, Shin Megami Tensei 3 Remains A JRPG Masterpiece

Going toe to toe with modern games in my book.

Story Highlights

  • Even after all these years, Shin Megami Tensei 3 holds up shockingly well.
  • Great story, level design, atmosphere, music, and gameplay make it relevant to this day
  • The introduction of Press Turns is one of the best things to ever grace turn-based combat.

Ever heard the saying “Old is gold?” Of course, you have. It’s the oldest saying in the book after all; that same book mentions one such piece of gold—Shin Megami Tensei 3.

Atlus is known predominantly for the Megami Tensei games. It may be in the spotlight now but back then it was in the reds. Even during such a time, the studio put out an RPG that stood the test of time.

After investing weeks in the Vortex World, here’s why.

About the Author: Saad has spent over 100 hours on Shin Megami Tensei 3 & has a history with the franchise which makes him highly trustable.

Shin Megami Tensei 3 Has Powerful Reasons

SMT has always been about the story. Not just any story, either. It’s about exploring deep psychological and moral dispositions. Tackling elements such as religion, perception, societal stagnation, occult, and more. All of this is utilized to create a masterful blend that challenges the depths of one’s beliefs and moral ambiguity.

Shin Megami Tensei 3 has all of that in spades. Following the Conception, you’re introduced to a malleable world that’s teeming with power and waiting for its rebirth. You discover the three people who have the power to shape the Vortex in their image—their Reason, a fully-developed conclusion of how one views humanity and the world. 

Each Reason is developed well and conveyed to us with conviction. Shijima, championed by Hikawa, promises a world of stillness and perfect harmony without any trace of individuality. In place of variation, the collective will function as a part of the larger system known as the universe.

The Reasons in Shin Megami Tensei 3 seem fairly relevant in context of the modern world.
The Reasons in Shin Megami Tensei 3 seem fairly relevant in the context of the modern world.

Then you have Yosuga, based on the Darwinian evolutionary theory. A world shaped by those who’ve gained the right to live in it through their might alone. After all, in the Vortex realm, you’re only fodder for the greater beings if you lack the strength to retaliate and carve your own path to survival.

I found myself aligned with Yosuga the most. What is our current world if not one shaped by the strength of those with money and influence?

Lastly, there’s Musubi. It promises a world of solitude and isolation as humanity has never truly cared about each other. In a world shaped by this vision, every individual will have his reality where they can shape it in their image, free from the interference of others.

Beyond the three main routes of SMT 3, you have the choice of Rejection. Not aligning with any of the above ideologies gives you the option to go against the natural order and pave a path to Freedom, be a coward and leave the world as it is, or go up against the Great Will itself. 

Delivered with conviction, each Reason carries a ton of narrative impact and forces the player to think.

20 Years Later, The Level Design & Atmosphere Still Stand Tall

It’s not a stretch when I say that Shin Megami Tensei 3 has one of the best atmospheres. The adventure kicks off in pre-Conception Tokyo that’s fairly teeming with life. Soon after, you find yourself along with two friends in an eerily quiet hospital as you search for your teacher. Once the search comes to a close, we’re given a lecture on the Conception as a cutscene plays out.

Why do you think the atmosphere in SMT Nocturne feels so unique?
byu/fuxorluck inMegaten

The world as we knew it came to an end.

Awakening in the Vortex World, it’s nothing but a massive, twisted, desert with remnants of society lying around. Souls, demons, and angels roam these lands wreaking havoc and chaos. You feel the dread in every step taken across this landscape.

Each location has a distinct vibe to it, especially the area where you fight the Fiends. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this world had truly come to an end & was now awaiting its rebirth.

The phenomenal atmosphere of Shin Megami Tensei 3 is complimented by its intricate level design. In another article, I mentioned how SMT has a few main elements. This is the second component. Nocturne features an elaborate map that challenges the mental faculties of a player in the same way as the story tests their beliefs.

Despite the world teeming with the feeling of death and desertion, it somehow feels alive. I believe that part represents the idea of “creation being born from destruction.” Each area or dungeon checks all the boxes that make it interesting and engaging to explore followed by sizeable rewards. 

The Vortex World's atmosphere is phenomenal even today.
The Vortex World’s atmosphere is phenomenal even today.

Even the worst of the dungeons in SMT 3 has a certain degree of retention power. Yes, I’m referring to those abhorrent tunnels. It’s insane to me how this game — including the underground labyrinth — was astronomically fun compared to Soul Hackers 2

Gameplay In SMT 3 Doesn’t Feel Dated

Beyond the fantastic story, amazing atmosphere, and engaging level design, Shin Megami Tensei 3 brings a breath of fresh air in terms of gameplay, at least it did back in the day. The introduction of Press Turns is possibly the most interesting thing that has happened to turn-based combat. 

The Press Turn System (why it’s gud)
byu/The0thArcana inMegaten

On a normal day, I’d always pick real-time gameplay over turn-based due to more variety in the former. That doesn’t mean I hate turns. It’s the execution of that system that makes or breaks the whole game for me. Going into Shin Megami Tensei 3, I had only one fear—the game being a relic

I got into SMT with the fourth mainline entry and IV: Final. I played SMTV, Soul Hackers 2, Persona 5, P5R, and Devil Survivors before Nocturne. Needless to say, going back to a title from 2003 after all that is a tall order even for someone who loves retro gaming.

To my surprise, it aged like fine wine

The press turn system will always be my preference.
The press turn system will always be my preference.

Collecting demons, engaging in combat, fighting bosses, and getting my rear-end handed to me was a familiar experience. It evoked all the feelings that any modern RPG, turn-based or otherwise, managed to do; that proves to me how despite some aggravating design choices, SMT 3 is a phenomenal JRPG.


During the era of Nocturne, Persona 3, and Persona 4, the studio was in a red zone yet it managed to produce such premium games. It may be horrible with DLC but the quality of these titles can’t be questioned.

In the end, I can only say that Shin Megami Tensei is close to my heart for a reason despite the things it tackles with. SMT 3 is perhaps my new favorite from the franchise and knowing Atlus’ history only makes it better.

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Saad is a News writer at eXputer. With vast journalistic experience working for a multitude of websites, Saad currently reports to eXputer with the latest news and dishes out his opinions on a frequent basis. He's currently studying Game and Interactive Media Design, which has further increased his knowledge about the ins and outs of the industry.

Experience: 1+ Year || Covers News Stories on eXputer || Education: Bachelors in Media Science.

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