The Shin Megami Tensei series has always been reliable when it comes to its difficulty, apocalyptic themes, and exploratory nature. This all comes accentuated by hundreds of recruitable demons and characters with varied moral alignments waiting for you to shape the world around them. While they’re consistent when it comes to these elements, they run the risk of feeling repetitive at times.
When it released on DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey played with these themes by shifting its focus to a more sci-fi centered narrative and altered the way you, both as player and protagonist, experienced the world. After Shin Megami Tensei IV and its spinoff, Apocalypse, dealt with the same world and concepts, it’s the perfect time to change things up. It may be missing some elements 3DS players have grown accustomed to, but with the remake Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux we get to see what a little more polish does for this alternative adventure into the schism of law and chaos.
The ins and outs
You’ll still deal with the core dichotomy of the series, but rather than being thrust into a modern setting marked by deity driven destruction, you’re part of a task force investigating a dimensional anomaly in the South Pole. This Schwartzwelt (as it’s called) is growing and your fully equipped, multinational team is heading in to (hopefully) save the world from the mysterious expansion. What follows are setbacks, surprises, salvages and shifting alignments as the true nature of exactly what’s happening comes to light.
Where Strange Journey is at its strongest is when it’s utilizing what’s unique to its take on the series. Oftentimes, MegaTen games eventually lead to a point where humanity as a whole is effectively scorned and people are merely instruments in the game’s conflicts. Here, the game’s Neutral path emboldens the human spirit and manages to carry itself in a way I haven’t seen before from the series.
The battle system works, but feels just a bit lacking compared to the system’s other offerings from the series. Now exploiting enemy weaknesses doesn’t grant an extra turn, but sees properly aligned demons in your party adding extra hits. It works, but feels less impactful than what I’d been used to.
Likewise, the way you explore the game’s world takes less from its own DNA and more from fellow Atlus title Etrian Odyssey. Dungeons are explored and mapped in first-person in this one, which I generally steer away from. It works, but with random encounters it becomes an exercise in patience to get from A to B at several points. This is another side effect of its nature as a remake, preserving the original release — but at the expense of more recent growth.
With full (Japanese) voice acting and touched up visuals the game leans on its presentation in some respects, and the performances are solid and add to things for sure. These kinds of additions don’t apply much in battle and dungeon exploration from what I could tell, though the UI and text are more pleasing on 3DS.
Is the journey worth it?
I find myself torn between two sides with Strange Journey. On the one hand, I enjoy the direction it took with its story and its core cast, and how it handles elements I’ve come to expect from the series. On the other, I’m not so taken with its battle mechanics and explorations. With negotiation, fusion, and other elements feeling familiar, this leads to a game that loses steam from my perspective when the plot isn’t at the forefront.
If you’re in it for the RPG grind of it all or to revisit a game you already know you like, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is more than serviceable and may even sway you more to the series if the tone and setting of other releases put you off. Personally, I’d recommend the IV duology over this one from a gameplay perspective, but a lot of that comes to personal preference in core structure. Strange Journey has its place in the series, and I hope the best parts of it find their way into the eventual Shin Megami Tensei V on Switch, but for now I’ll be putting the Schwartzwelt behind me.
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