Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
Published by Catarina White July 11, 2018
Return to the Schwarzwelt in this Strange Journey remaster to find that all is not how you left it.
About this game: Role-playing game, developed and published by ATLUS
Version reviewed: Nintendo 3DS
ATLUS has provided a copy of the game for review purposes.
Few series can lay claim to the legacy that ATLUS has built for Shin Megami Tensei, and this year, that legacy is celebrated with the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux as part of the series' 25th anniversary. Strange Journey Redux isn't technically a new entry in the series; instead, it's a reimagining of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, which was first released for the Nintendo DS in 2009. ATLUS's decision to revamp an existing Shin Megami Tensei title - and one less than a decade old, at that - rather than produce a shiny new experience for such a landmark anniversary may perplex some, but the developer is likely to have significant resources invested in Shin Megami Tensei V, which is currently in development for Nintendo Switch. Remake or not, though, Strange Journey Redux is a fabulous experience, and features new content not seen in the original Strange Journey, which should help to entice newcomers and Strange Journey veterans alike.
Personally, I like my JRPGs to have some heft story-wise, and Strange Journey Redux absolutely delivers here with great storytelling and a large, fully fleshed-out cast of adult characters, a departure from the groups of adolescents that normally appear in the series. The greater maturity of the main characters might help to make the story more enjoyable for some, and better fits the game; the story itself is great, and is engaging enough that when you put the game down, you're likely to find yourself wondering where the story will go next... and how many more times you're going to fall through the same hole in the floor before you find the next hidden door.
The story begins in Antarctica, journeying to a strange alien anomaly called the Schwarzwelt, a black hole-like entity that threatens to consume the Earth; the United Nations decides that the best way to address the threat is to send in advanced military factions and scientists, which is where the game's main characters come in. The various pockets of the Schwarzwelt appear as warped Earth environments, like the red light districts of Amsterdam, or the disgustingly opulent shopping centers that appear across the world's most developed countries. Each place is crawling with more demons than the next, as the Schwarzwelt is their home. As you travel, it becomes clear the destruction of humanity is imminent, and the only way to prevent it is to make difficult decisions and do what you think is right. There'll be many choices for you to make, and each will impact the progression of the story and push it towards one of the many multiple endings available; as is often the case, making the choice you think is right may not shine the heroic light you expected on the situation at hand.
Strange Journey Redux is best described as a dungeon-crawler JRPG, and an excellent one at that. Each of the game's levels has a theme, comprising a unique visual and audial feel, depicted through its graphics and soundtrack, and these are highly enjoyable. My personal favourite area is Sector Carina, which looks like a red light district; it's colourful and creative, and you're never likely to get bored of manoeuvring through this particular area, even if you end up completely lost. Each dungeon has a unique layout, which you navigate as you fulfil the missions doled out to you by your ship's robot captain. These missions can range from extremely easy in difficulty to causing you to go back to the beginning of a level to systematically check every wall panel for a secret door.
The gameplay is complex, detailed, and thoroughly enjoyable as a result. Your character's appearance is not customizable, though you can choose a unique name to go by throughout the game; your gear, on the other hand, is highly customizable, and you'll want to take advantage of upgrades throughout your progress to continuously level up your battle uniform, which is known as the Demonica. Upgrades go by the name of Apps and Sub-Apps, which are installed on the Demonica's internal computer. Apps, expendables - consumable items - and weapons are produced in your ship's lab. These items become available as you collect items, known as Forma, left around the dungeons. There are common Forma and rare Forma, and the lab's production capabilities differ greatly based on what you bring back to them, ranging from a new knife to a Sub-App that decreases the incidence of enemy encounters in the field. I tried to purchase equipment and upgrades as often as I could, and I felt that it helped immensely along the way and speeded up my success rate in battles as well as my overall progress.
The battles themselves are engrossing and clever. You randomly encounter demons in the dungeons every so often; your Demonica receives an App early on the game that allows you to sense when you are nearing an enemy encounters. This proves very helpful when grinding for experience points to level up, as it allows you to control the health and status of your party before engaging enemies. Once you enter a battle, you have a multitude of options on how to engage, or flee if you aren't prepared or unwilling to battle. You can either engage in combat or try to talk to the demons before you: combat allows you to gain experience and level up quickly; talking to demons allows you to attempt to befriend and negotiate with them to result in a number of advantageous outcomes, including adding the demon to your party or gaining an item. Attempting to negotiate with the demons won't always go well; some demons will refuse to talk to you, and sometimes my attempts at conversation fell completely flat and resulted in my being attacked unexpectedly. The battle interface is straightforward, giving you options to attack, defend, or use items; there's a new feature that allows co-op attacks when you strategically attack an enemies' weakness with multiple members of your party, and this noticeably decreases the level of difficulty of the encounter if you choose to utilize it.
Each dungeon also has a new set of demons to encounter; as in previous games, Strange Journey Redux employs a demon fusion program, which allows you to befriend demons and later fuse them to create stronger creatures which act as your allies throughout the game and assist you in destroying the threats you encounter. This is simultaneously a strong point and a weak point of the game, as there's a lack of instruction or guidance on how to most effectively use the demon fusion program. If you're already familiar with the demon fusion concept - probably from playing other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series - the lack of instruction probably won't slow you down; for a player completely new to the system, however, you might end up having to go through a lot of trial and error before figuring out how to use the program effectively, which could have been avoided with a little more assistance.
Strange Journey Redux offers multiple difficulty options to choose from, ranging from Easy to Impossible, at the beginning of the game; you can also alter the difficulty level while you're playing. I selected the Normal difficulty level to do my playthrough, and I found the game to be extremely easy in the beginning and extremely challenging by the final level. While it can be truly challenging in terms of navigating the dungeons, the bosses throughout are fairly easy to defeat as long as you pay attention to their weaknesses and the subsequent construction of your team and gear. Strategic construction of your team and gear is multifaceted; when deciding which demons to include on your team, you need to pay attention to not only the type of attacks they know, but their weaknesses and strengths in battle. The ability of my demons to neutralize an incoming attack lowered the level of difficulty of many of the boss battles I encountered. It's also important to pay attention to the gear you chose to equip, as it impacts your character's ability to weather attacks in battle and their use of special abilities to give your entire team the edge. Apps installed to upgrade your Demonica throughout the story often grant special use abilities that activate at the beginning of battles, which gives you the ability to do all kinds of interesting things, including striking first in battle or using magic-based attacks without actually needed to spend MP. Careful consideration of your team construction and which Apps to have activated becomes more important the further you progress in the story, as the strength of your enemies begins to ramp up.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is very enjoyable overall. It weaves new concepts into its older story almost seamlessly and those concepts enrich the plot, which is one of the strongest points of the game. I found the dungeons to be truly impressive, both in the exponential growth in difficulty as you progress, and the visuals that ensured I rarely became bored navigating through them. Given the various difficulty options available to choose, this game is accessible for newcomers to the series and long-time fans, though you would certainly want to stick with a lower difficulty selection if you are new to the series. I will be playing this game again to see one of the alternate endings I didn't get to see upon my completion; with multiple endings to discover, the replayability of this game is exceptional. I would recommend this game to any fan of the series, or any new player looking for a fun dungeon-crawler with great characters and an engrossing story.
Rich cast of adult characters supporting a complex plot
Visuals are colourful and creative for each level
Seemingly infinite gear and team customization options
Demon fusion program use may be confusing for new players
Japanese voice acting only with English subtitles