By Mike BC
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a JRPG that thrives on its ability to story-tell. During my play-through, I became increasingly more invested in the characters. I found myself wanting to come back for this amazing story despite a less than stellar game experience. Strange Journey is a dated game delivering a brilliant story.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a reboot of a 2010 Nintendo DS title of the same name (sans the word “redux”). Strange Journey starts with a group of special forces being put together by the United Nations to investigate an anomaly at the South Pole. The anomaly is acting like a black hole in that it consumes everything it encounters. Four ships are being sent in to investigate what exactly this anomaly, named the Schwarzwelt, is and how it can be destroyed before it consumes the Earth.
The premise is simple. Investigate the Schwarzwelt and make a plan to destroy it. Somehow, this simple idea turned into an hour of talking right at the beginning of the game. Before even being introduced to the battle system, I had already gone through more dialogue than if I had watched something on television. When the game wasn’t chatting me to death, it was giving me an endless list of documents to review.
The game is fully voice acted and the voice actors are very good. I would have liked to have seen it localized with English actors instead of only getting english subtitles but the Japanese voice actors were very good anyway. They do talk slower than the speed of the text so if you rather would read it and move on, there is no need to wait for each dialogue to finish before going to the next screen.
The Demon Summoning Program
Your demonica allows you to safely explore the Schwarzwelt. The Demon Summoning Program (DSP) allows for more than just seeing enemies inside the Schwarzwelt. As the name might suggest, the enemies are demons. Because of the DSP, you can interact with the demons inside the Schwarzwelt. Each demon has its own personality and alignment. Some are very easy to talk to while others are easily offended. Some will match up with your character’s alignment while others are completely incompatible. Then there are some demon types that are unable to communicate and some that are unwilling.
Because of the vast differences in the demons, it becomes important to pay attention to the different alignments and personalities. Over time, I learned that even if two demons ask me the same question, they may respond differently to my answer. I had to pay attention to the kind of demon I was dealing with. This gave the game a level of depth I had not expected. It forced me to evaluate every interaction I had especially if that demon was one I had not dealt with in abundance.
When summoning a demon, you can ask to negotiate. If the demon agrees, you can ask it to become your demon. This mechanic allows for you to build allies in the game. Instead of having permanent allies that level up with you as you go through the game, your allies are the demons you summon. The demons do level up as you play, but they don’t keep up between areas. Therefore, it becomes important to find new demons as you go. Failing to summon newer and stronger demons result in your allies not being able to aptly assist you in more difficult battles when you move on to a new sector.
The lack of human or permanent allies in battle was a confusing choice for me. Being new to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, I had no experience with this kind of battle system. My experience with JRPGs is that when you find the team you like, you keep them the whole game. I realized that was something that sets this game apart from the others. Having to change your party regularly created a new level of strategy that I had not previously dealt with in a game. It was very rewarding to find just the right mix of demons for the enemies I was battling.
Another important function of the DSP is the fusion ability. At first, i didn’t use the fusion function because it didn’t make sense right away. Later when I got stuck, i realized that fusing two demons together is another way to get higher level allies to join you in your journey. Because there are limits to how many demons you can carry with you at a single time, this is also a good way to free up space for new demons you meet in your journey. The Special Fusion ability allows you to create a special class of stronger demons that require more than two demons to create. Unlike the basic fusion ability, these demons will require that you have defeated them in battle before they are unlocked in the fusion menu.
The Religious Aspect
As a minister I may have skipped this game had I known what it was about before I agreed to review it. I’m so glad I went in blind. The story about a mysterious anomaly slowly destroying the world asking you to ally yourself with demons to find your way home was very off putting at first. The ramifications of communicating with, not to say anything of fighting alongside, demons literally Hell-bent on destroying your way of life cannot be understated. Enter Mastema.
Mastema is an angel you meet not terribly far into the game. He saves your life and very subtly recruits you to help him with his goal of defeating the demons that are in the Schwarzwelt. Mastema saved this game for me. This wasn’t because Mastema was some great character with completely altruistic attributes. It wasn’t because I was able to play as someone working for God in the game the way that I work for God in real life. Mastema entering this game added a whole new element of depth into this story that took the crazy demon allies fighting with my better judgment and showed me that at the core this game was about more than its religious undertones. This game was about the constant struggle between light and dark, good and evil, or as the game called it, Law and Chaos.
As a minister, and more importantly, as a Christian, this was a supremely important discovery to make. One of the most important tenets of my faith is found in the Bible verse that says “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this dark age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV). Simply put, as a Christian, my life is short but the struggle I face against a demonic enemy is eternal. It’s the real fight. Strange Journey is in no way a Christian game, but it is a grand reminder for Christian players that our struggle is not here in this world.
Is It Worth It?
Strange Journey was released for the 3DS at a full retail price of $39.99. Despite that, it felt to me like something from the Nintendo DS era in it’s dungeon design, art choices, and lack of exploration. Yes, the textures have been improved and the graphics are better than they were 8 years ago, but the lack of an overworld or the ability to do anything beyond travel between sectors and the ship felt awfully dated. It should be noted, if the game had been originally developed for the 3DS, it may have fared better in how detailed the worlds were. Instead, it keeps a very simple dungeon crawl feel to it. It takes an opportunity to explore the place that demons have made their home, and makes it repetitive and boring.
How Does It Play?
There is a total of eight sectors in the game each with their own unique look and set of traps and puzzles. In one sector, you may fall through traps in the floor so often, you’ll consider throwing your 3DS out the car window while flying down the freeway. Another may have a maze of portals that transport you to a new location but it took me so many attempts at going through the wrong portals and starting over before I made it through all of them without error, that it bordered on comical. A few sectors rely on making you use what you’ve learned so far and combine different puzzles and traps to make for an especially frustrating and difficult sector. There is also a side area that becomes a major part of the story about half way through the campaign.
Each sector and the side area have their own boss with a few sectors having mini bosses or multiple bosses. Most of the bosses become playable through the demon fusion menu in Special Fusion after you defeat them in battle. The boss fights were the most fun I had in any dungeon. While the dungeon crawling triggered so many battles that they too became repetitive, the boss fights were interesting and unique. Each boss had its own strengths and weaknesses. The bosses had unlimited amounts of magic points so whatever made them special, would continue to do so through the entire battle. Well prepared, a boss fight was not a huge challenge until late in the game. Unprepared, a boss could be a huge pain in my side. Either way, each boss was memorable and entertaining.
Is It Fun?
The story, more than the game, kept me invested. The puzzles from sector to sector were fun for a while but at some point in every sector I began to pray for an end to the madness. The game even on the easiest setting is needlessly hard. For example, in the casual difficulty setting, battle difficulty takes a backseat, but the puzzles in the game are so difficult, it’s a wonder anyone can get through it at all. Because it’s primary game element is dungeon crawling, the puzzle has to be solved to move on. Reducing the challenge of the battles doesn’t change the difficulty of the dungeon itself.
Strange Journey would have benefited greatly from a more streamlined approach to completing each sector and incentivizing players to go back for side quests. By the time I was done with a sector, I had no desire whatsoever to go back and do side quests. I just wanted to move on with the story. With the upgrade in graphics and design choices, this game could have also made the move to the Nintendo Switch, which may have alleviated some of the difficulty issues as a bigger screen may have made it easier to do some of the puzzles.
It’s Your Choice
Strange Journey has a lot to offer. One of the best things that it offers is choice. Throughout the game, you will be given choices that help define your alignment to either Law, Neutral, or Chaos. Near the end of the game, you are given a choice with how to deal with the Schwarzwelt. Your choice will define your alignment definitively. The way you answer will decide what ending you get in the game. I personally chose the Neutral path. You can choose however you like and get the ending that it comes with. It’s your choice!
Verdict – Pass or Play?
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux has so much to offer in the way of its captivating story. The characters grab you and hold on tight. I just kept coming back for more. That’s not to say that it was without fault. This game was repetitive and boring. It should not have released at full retail. If you are a fan of dungeon crawling, I can recommend this game with no reservations. Fans of great storytelling will enjoy this game if they don’t mind dungeon crawling. Otherwise, I can recommend this game with the caveat that you know what you’re getting.
Disclosure: This review was completed using a retail code provided by ATLUS PR for review purposes.