Have you ever wanted a little adventure in your life? Do you wish you could be part of something bigger than yourself? Do you want to help save the world? Well, have I got a proposition for you! Join the crew, hop into a Demonica suit and barge into the Schwarzwelt today! Sure, you might get eviscerated within seconds of entry, but nothing ventured, nothing gained! Thus began my playthrough of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux.
If that sounds like one of the over-the-top commercials from Starship Troopers, that's because it really felt like it to me. However, once the game begins you’ll realize that the atmosphere is more mature overall. As I said in my preview, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux wastes little more than half an hour setting up your situation. You’re a soldier that’s recruited to examine the Schwarzwelt, a black hole that appeared in the South Pole and is rapidly expanding. After several probes enter and break, a crew is put together with some of the most advanced tech on the planet. Despite some worries, the Schwarzwelt investigation team forces their way into the chaotic landscape, where things immediately go awry.
When you begin the game, your ship is the only one of four that crash-lands in an icy cave-like dungeon. It’s now up to you to secure a way out for your crew, and just like that, you’re dungeon crawling. The meat and potatoes of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is scouring the landscape in a first-person grid-style dungeon.
It’s not long before you encounter other intelligent life inside the Schwarzwelt. You've just found yourself face-to-face with a world of demons! Scary and imposing, a majority of them want to slaughter you and your team. However, not all of them are created equal! Like any Shin Megami Tensei title, the main source of power comes from these creatures. In what I liken to a mature-themed Pokémon game, you must attempt to befriend your monstrous enemies. There are a number of ways you can go about this.
The first is through negotiation. Many demons will listen to you and engage in conversation. If you answer their questions poorly, you may get attacked. However, play your cards right and you can ask for money, an item or most importantly, a shiny new teammate.
This is a great concept, and it’s stuck around for so many years as a testament to that. It’s still mostly luck-based, but it feels more involved and engaging than just throwing a ball and hoping for the best. Unlike the catch-or-fail design of Poké Balls, negotiation can lead to many different results.
The second option for getting a team of demons is through fusion. It's exactly what it sounds like: fusing two monsters to get a new one. This can work entirely as intended, or in some cases there will be an accident and you could get something entirely different. It all depends on several factors and makes even creating a demon a little exciting.
In case it wasn’t readily apparent, the mechanics in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux get extremely in-depth. Once you get into an actual battle, the same holds true. There are a variety of different attack types and elements to work with. These include Physical, Gun, Fire, Electricity, Ice, Wind, Expel, Curse and a special type, Almighty. You and all demons have various strengths and weaknesses to each of these elements.
In addition to the usual status ailments like Poison or Sleep, there are also interesting ones like Strain (poison, but for MP), Fear (may skip an action or an afflicted demon may run away from the battle), Rage (a mix of Berserk and Charm, where you randomly attack an enemy or an ally) and more infuriatingly, Bomb. Someone that gets hit while afflicted with Bomb will explode and damage all allies, which caused me one particularly upsetting game over during a certain boss.
There’s still a major mechanic I’ve yet to discuss. The Co-op system is a nice substitute to the typical press-turn system in other SMT games. This system is tied much more to the alignment system. Your alignment of Law, Neutral or Chaos is determined by choices you make during the story. You can tell your alignment at any given time by checking your name. If it’s blue, you’re going Law. Red is Chaos, and white is Neutral. Now, most games in the series have this, but in terms of gameplay, it becomes very important in this one.
All demons have an alignment as well. Anytime you or an aligned teammate hits a weakness, any other aligned allies will gang up and do a follow-up attack that does more damage the more aligned demons you have on your team. In some cases, this can be essential for victory, such as a certain boss that heals 160HP every turn…
The exploration side of things can be both interesting and infuriating as well. Getting around in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux consists of walking around a grid-style dungeon. Along the way, you may find treasures, sidequests or various other obstacles. The design of some of these dungeons, in particular, the tower in Bootes or the garden in Eridanus, are excellent.
You'll get a bevy of upgrades for your suit as the game progresses. These help expand your ability to explore, so keep an eye out for them. However, one of the navigational tools you get, I feel you get too late in the game. There are several points in the game of total pitch darkness. You enter a door and realize your automap isn’t mapping anything. Worse than that, you can’t see anything on your top screen. You have to fumble around the area looking for another exit, of which there are usually many.
Eventually, you get an enhancement to your Visualizer to help see in the dark, which is very helpful! That is until you get to the next area and encounter an even bigger dark labyrinth that’s too dark even for your current Visualizer upgrade. Eventually, you'll have an upgrade to see those dark areas. Later on, there's a third layer of darkness that your first two upgrades can't see through. Look, gameplay and combat are a fun challenge, but these random bouts of “fumble through the map” absolutely ruin the pace of the dungeon crawling for me.
Another thing that’s guaranteed to slow your game to a halt is a teleportation maze! Oh yes, we’ve got one here and it’s dreadful. Once again, I’m fine with a challenge in games. What isn’t fun is an hour or two of memorizing a bunch of pathways trying to find the items you need in this hedge maze hell. Any other time you eventually get an upgrade to not worry about this stuff, but nope. This time it’s all on you.
Also around the map are forma, building blocks to create new armor and weapons. This encourages exploration and combat, creating a nice little gameplay loop. Search, fight, return, upgrade, repeat. It’s great to feel stronger and stronger, wondering what you’ll get next as you find new forma in a new sector. It’s fun to customize exactly to your tastes, so go wild and experiment!
What isn’t a good loop, however, is the music. Now don’t get me wrong, most of the music in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux ranges from “acceptable” to “good”. It’s often haunting and atmospheric, with ritualistic grunts and chanting throughout. In particular, the battle themes convey a strong feeling of militarism, which makes sense given that you’re a soldier. Shoji Meguro has proven time and time again that he can make all sorts of styles of music for these games.
My issue is with the actual looping. Technically the songs loop, but it’s so quiet and understated that it just sounds like the song ends, then starts over again. It sounds a little amateurish, to be honest. It’s not a big deal overall, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. It took me by surprise when I first heard it happen.
Another thing that took me by surprise was the game’s dub. Unlike the original, most of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is voiced. However, this time it's a Japanese dub only. It doesn't bother me at all, but it's worth mentioning for prospective players.
Thankfully unlike sound mixing, the game’s graphics are pretty good. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux completely updated the game’s graphics from the DS original. Your strange journey will take you anywhere from icy caves to burning battlefields. From red-light districts to gigantic shopping centers. From mountains of trash and refuse to peaceful gardens and beyond.
In addition, the character and demon art are good as well. Some creatures I’m not entirely sure I can even show here, but rest assured the designs range all the way from beautiful to positively vile. Most of the designs have been the same for nearly a decade now, but that's just a testament to the quality of Kazuma Kaneko's artistic ability.
The only complaint I can really level toward the game's graphics is that it doesn't use 3D. It's disappointing that many games seem to have abandoned it. I rather enjoyed the effect, but it's not a huge dealbreaker. It's just something worth mentioning. I tried using the 3D slider several times to see if something would pop, but it didn't so I left it off the rest of the game.
Once again, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux puts you in the middle of a growing conflict between angels and demons. Like other games, this one ends up having a representative of both Law and Chaos. These manifest in your crewmates, Lieutenant Zelenin and Crewman Jimenez. The interesting part of these law and chaos stories is seeing what drives these characters down their paths.
Watching these two descend down their paths is very interesting, but I admit I was much more sympathetic to Zelenin’s plight. I chose to go through the Law route my first time through Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, but I definitely plan on going back through New Game+ to try out the Chaos and Neutral routes.
That being said, there are several new routes in this enhanced port. They all center around a new character not present in the original. Alex, a girl you find several times throughout the game, is hunting you. Events with her lead to a dungeon called the Womb of Grief. This is a new addition to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux. It serves as a method of reaching the three new endings. You can go there at any point from here onward, so explore it as much or as little as you want. It’s a nice addition, and entirely optional once you unlock it.
Unlocking stuff brings me to the last major point of this review: the replay value. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a game that lives to be replayed. You have a treasure trove of demons to mess with, and tons of options for customizing your character. There are now six possible endings, depending on what you do in the story and the Womb of Grief. The amount of content on offer is truly impressive. There are tons of sidequests to complete as well to keep you busy for quite some time.
Overall, then, I believe that Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a very fun game. It’s not perfect by any means, of course. Tons of instant death moves, some very questionable status effects like Bomb, invisible labyrinths, teleport mazes and strange issues with music looping keep it from being a perfect game. However, the good outweighs the bad in my opinion. You have good graphics, a fun negotiation system, an engaging fusion system and most importantly, a fun battle system. There’s a lot to love about this strange journey. Now, let’s get going. I have an interview with Thor soon.
Our Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux review was conducted on Nintendo 3DS with a copy provided by Atlus.
This updated RPG maintains its hardcore roots while making some changes and additions to improve the experience, but it isn't without its faults.
- Demon Negotiation is Fun
- Demon Fusion Mechanics are Great
- Tons of Demon Variety
- Plenty of Replay Value
- Teleport Mazes!
- Invisible Labyrinths are Headaches
- Battle Music Loops Poorly
- Disappointing Lack of 3D