Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux Review
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Publisher: Developer: ATLUS
In 2010, the Shin Megami Tensei series detoured onto the DS with Strange Journey, where you are a member of an elite strike force out to save the world from a mysterious darkness that looks to be expanding, ready to swallow up the world. It started as a small pillar in Antarctica, but has begun to engulf the land around it. Feeling it has the potential to destroy life as we know it, humans send a strike force to uncover the mysteries within and save the world from this deadly darkness.
This entry in the SMT franchise was originally supported by the staff who helped make the Etrian Odyssey series of games, and I feel you can see that in the game design. After the story is introduced, main gameplay focuses around exploring the world to complete missions. During this time, you find yourself mapping out the world around you. Knowing where things are helps you delve deeper into the dungeon to reach your goals. This cycle of exploration, returning to camp, and digging deeper is the basic cycle of the game. As you fight, your suit, a "Demonica," gains extra powers to give you a leg up in battle or to do better at exploring your surroundings.
The other side of the game mechanics involve party building through recruitment of your enemies. The demons you face in battle can often be reasoned with, mainly through kissing up to their ego. With enough coaxing, a demon will join your side, becoming a regular party member. You could stop there, with three demons on your team and a few in reserve, but then you get into Fusion. Taking your currently recruited demons, one can join two of them into another, different being with a new set of powers. It can get very interesting and addicting mixing and matching to see what better beast you can come up with.
As a remake of an eight year old game, I'd hope to see some improvements. I never played the original, but it still feels like there are some common-sense hiccups I'd like to have seen cleaned up. First and foremost are the menus. Looking back at reviews of the original release, I find people complimenting the menus, stating they are intuitive and easy to use. There's one glaring hole for me: the unusable touchscreen. Most all of the buttons on the bottom screen are big and chunky like a touch pad, and yet I have to navigate them using the digital buttons. The screen is active, as when you are mapping territory you can drag the cursor to check out regions of the map. Even in those untouchable menus, tapping the screen shows a yellow "ding" that recognizes the input, it just does absolutely nothing. Also, being a "redux" on a newer system, I'd expect the graphics to look better, or at least in 3D, but I'm not seeing much different in the screenshots between the two editions, let alone no 3D. I also find it tedious to find new things, as you get a power to scan in the environment, move to the place, scan, watch the animation, and then get the item (followed by a little more animation) which translates to opening a simple chest in a dungeon. They did add more to the game, though, with a mysterious woman who shows up as an antagonist, fleshing out quite a bit more story than the original release.
The storyline has multiple paths and hinges on whether you are good or evil, lawful or chaotic. Different demons align with you, which in turn causes different enemies to go against you. You can eventually choose to side with light or darkness, or go your own way and choose neither. SMT has always had religious undertones, what with demon recruitment and all, but if you are sensitive to religious connotations you may want to stay away. The game has you eventually basically choosing whether to follow or go against the "Capital G" God, who has a rather nefarious plot of his own, despite representing "lawfulness." It does put a sour taste in my personal opinion of the game, simply because of my real-world beliefs. The characters do have strong feelings, which are well represented. You understand why people are doing what they are doing, and the story grips you, even though it is displayed with static cutouts of characters and quick, one-frame changes in animation between major events, like "living" and "dead" in a battle, or the fact that a lot of animation is saved simply because everyone is wearing the same clothing.
Sometimes, the game is cheesy. I mean, what military brass would name a simple battle suit "Demonica," ad conveniently be sending their troops into a realm of demons? Why are most of these monsters willing to have a chit-chat with you before they try to eat your head off? Why do they pleasantly walk away if you happen to know their buddy? Why are people able to communicate on comm links when all electricity is supposed to be down? I feel like the game got oddly translated in parts, leading to some of these issues. If you care to know, the game is in Japanese, with no English dubs.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux will fill a particular niche. Fans of the series who never got to play it the first time around will enjoy what was going to orginally be SMTIV. Etrian Odyssey fans will see their favorite series in a different environment. Hardcore RPG and strategy gamers will have a blast crafting the perfect team and alignments.with many paths through the world starting early and reaching different climactic endings, people who really get into the game will get plenty of replay value pressing through the story thrice just to see where the different alignments take them. The game mishmashes many different religions, with demons based around Welsh, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies as well as Christian tropes. It definitely is an odd place for people with beliefs, but the Shin Megami Tensei series has often pushed that limit. Overall, if none of the quirks above throw you off, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is an good addition to a strategy gamer's repertoire.
-Fans of Shin Megami Tensei get more with an additional character
-Fusing your teammates to find powerful variants
-A good pace that allows you to do chunks at a time. Perfect fit for 3DS
-Chunky, useless buttons on a touchscreen display
-Repetitive nature of battles and searching may get old for some
-Original DS quality graphics, no 3D whatsoever
-The game really pushes on the faith angle with things some may find uncomfortable
Special Thanks to ATLUS for providing a code for review!