Eight years down the road Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is back on the 3DS with a fresh coat of paint as Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux.
A Whole New World
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (or SMT: SJR for short) is a first-person grid based dungeon exploring RPG for the 3DS. Think Eye of the Beholder or older Might and Magic games for classic examples, or Etrian Odyssey or Legend of Grimrock for more modern examples. It’s not a very common genre, but one I heartily enjoy.
SMT: SJR takes place within the realm of Schwarzwelt, a field that has been growing out of the south pole in a time where mankind’s moral depravity and destruction of the planet has hit an all-time high. A crack multi-national team has ventured inside to investigate, but once they find themselves stranded inside the group begins to fracture as some wish to continue the mission, while others simply wish to find an exit to survive the trip in one piece. As you progress through the story your choices will change your alignment, changing how demons view you, your cooperative attack partners, and ultimately what ending you receive.
The core gameplay of this style of game involves mapping out a dungeon level by level, finding treasure, fighting monsters, and hunting down the mysteries of the Schwarzwelt. Objectives rarely give you anything more than what dungeon level it can be found on, as exploring and mapping is the whole point.
What SMT: SJR adds to the formula is demon negotiation and summoning. The monsters you fight throughout your adventure are all “demons” based on mythological creatures from a wide variety of mythologies and cultures. Instead of fighting them, you can choose to talk to them and enter a negotiation for items, money… or to request that they join you and fill out your party.
The demon negotiation mechanic is surprisingly intricate, demanding that you pay attention to a demon’s personality and alignment to determine the proper responses to their questions. Recruiting them is also where all your party members outside of the player character come from, and you’ll undoubtedly switch them out as you proceed with the game, whether for different elements/alignments, to keep up with enemy tiers… or simply because collecting them all in your compendium is just so satisfying.
Another Week, Another Remake
So far, all I’ve done is talk about the base game, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. But what does Redux bring to the table? For starters, the new system brings with it some minor graphical adjustments, though nothing too major. There’s still a distinct lack of animation for characters and demons. The UI has been greatly overhauled however, and new difficulty modes have been added: an easier mode for zipping through the story, and a harder mode for those who adore the combat.
The most significant change is the addition of three new endings, doubling the amount in the original to a grand total of six. The path to these new endings comes with new characters to meet, new zones to explore, and new demons to fight and recruit.
Now, whether these changes are enough to warrant a second purchase for fans of the original is hard to say. Certainly if you’ve never played Strange Journey before this is the better way to play, but for better or worse the fundamental game is relatively unchanged. This means new fans can play the game as it was originally intended on the original difficulty and ignoring the new zone (past the introductory meeting with Alex and Demeter), but it also means those who own the original are basically paying a full game price for some new levels and a bit of extra story.
All the Little Things
Of course, a game is more than just its core gameplay, and SMT: SJR doesn’t disappoint. The art is well detailed in both the character/demon spritework as well as the environmental design that takes advantage of the Schwarzwelt’s strange properties to include a wide variety of places such as ice caves or brothels.
For once, I have to praise a game’s music as well. It’s primarily chanting and long mournful tones that do a wonderful job of setting the game’s tone: Surrounded by demons on a suicidal mission a long way from home. Even at your most safe in home base, the lightest it gets is a theme of determination.
Lastly, while it’s a relatively minor thing, I really love the profiles provided for each demon. There’s all sorts from the more well known Christian angels and devils, to more obscure ones like bird spirits of Easter Island, and even some oddballs like Victorian era serial killers. It makes for a fun way to learn about all these storied characters.
A Hell of a Journey
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux takes a classic game model, polishes it up to a mirror shine, and stuffs it full of things to collect and complete for those of us who love to tick off boxes. An extensive RPG with in-depth mechanics and a wonderfully dark storyline. The only downsides I can really find are that it can be a little grindy at times, and some of the mechanics can be a little obtuse at times, especially demon fusion. Overall, it’s a fantastic portable game to play wherever your own strange journey takes you.
~Final Score: 9/10~
Review copy provided by Atlus for 3DS. Screenshots sourced from game’s official site.