Over the years, I’ve had the Shin Megami Tensei series recommended to me a lot by my friends. I’m weak for an in-depth game with a good challenge, and I’m (shamefully) partial to grinding in RPGs. I’d played through a few of the Persona games and enjoyed them immensely, so I was curious to see how I would enjoy the gameplay of a mainline Shin Megami Tensei title. Maybe I also wanted the opportunity to hang out with Jack Frost and Mothman, the most adorable demons, but that’s another story for another day. Regardless of the reason, it was time for me to finally play a real Shin Megami Tensei game.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a remastered version of the Nintendo DS title released in 2009. This version features updated graphics and character art (all beautifully upscaled to fit the 3DS), a new ‘casual’ difficulty, a new dungeon with story and ending content, more save points and additional demon slots.
The story, which remains mostly unchanged, revolves around team of researchers and soldiers and soldiers sent to Antarctica to investigate the Schwartzvelt, a spatial anomaly that threatens to engulf the Earth. Upon reaching their destination, the crews find themselves shipwrecked in a bizarre, foreign world populated by demons who prove to be both friends and foes in the crew’s journey back to Earth. Isolated with virtually no human contact, the crew find their moral judgement, decision making and mental fortitude challenged. In case you couldn’t tell, the story is dark in tone, so there’s not too many happy times to be found here.
You will be recruiting these demons, each with their own unique skills and abilities and using them to fight in dungeon battles. You can then fuse them together to create even more powerful demons, transferring skills through fusions to create an unstoppable team. I know there’ll be some SMT fans out there who will be disappointed to see me make this comparison, but it really does reminds me a lot of Pokémon. Instead of Pikachu you can use a henchman of Satan, or a ball of hair with an enormous nose, or any combination of other bizarre and entertaining characters.
The fusion and combat system it is easily one of the most engrossing parts of the game. It adds an enormous amount of depth and potential to gameplay. Given the difficulty, you’ll need to be aware of how to use the fusion system to overcome enemy weaknesses and maximise your team’s potential. Most of your time outside of exploring is dedicated to micromanaging your demons and their abilities, so thankfully the game provides you with an ample amount of tutorials and guidance through the process. It’s a lot of fun, and super satisfying when you finally get the right fusions to wreck your way through enemy mobs.
On top of the fusion system, my favourite part of Strange Journey is these demons themselves, most of whom make repeat appearances in the SMT and Persona franchises. The personalities and variety of design help to offset the overall gloomy tone, injecting some wacky personality and humour into some areas which can become quickly repetitive. The dialogue choices and responses during demon recruitment are entertaining, and the demon dialogue after they level up works to help develop a connection with your allies. Though each type of demon has a shared pool of responses, there’s enough diversity to ensure that talking to the demons doesn’t get boring after dozens of recruits. Often you’ll think you’ve finally figured out how to impress a demon through dialogue choices, only to discover it’ll turn around the attack you anyway; this is often frustrating but ensures you won’t always know what will happen next.
As for the dungeons themselves, the game utilises a first-person exploration system on a grid-based map. As someone who hadn’t played many games with a similar control scheme before, I found it very jarring initially, especially after being so used to free-roam controls. Though once I got used to it it made sense; it works well in the context of the encounters and exploration, as the progress of time and enemy encounters are determined by how many squares forward you move on the map. Narrow corridors and map hazards help to really achieve a claustrophobic feel in each of the dungeons, though I found that each one became repetitive and exhausting after the first few hours, true to dungeon crawling fashion. It didn’t take long before I found myself navigating almost exclusively using the map on the bottom screen, because there wasn’t much of the dungeon I hadn’t already seen.
I was a bit disappointed to find that the game didn’t have much to offer outside of dungeon crawling. When you return to the main hub to turn in a mission, you can’t do much except heal, manage your party and buy new equipment. This is where I felt that the later Persona games offered a great balance, with other activities and social links to complete to help unwind from a tense session of grinding and exploring. There’s still enough breathing room between dungeons for back-to-back grinding to not feel too exhausting, and the game encourages you to take plenty of breaks to heal and gear up during missions.
If you enjoy moody JRPGs with a satisfying challenge, great story and a good grind, Strange Journey Redux delivers the goods. But if you’re averse to repetitive dungeons, backtracking and grinding, you might want to think twice before picking it up. The game is unforgiving — even on standard difficulty – but is hugely rewarding once you find your own personal strategy and team of demons. I’m usually not a huge fan of the sci-fi aesthetic in video games, but Strange Journey’s story and gameplay really grew on me. Strange Journey Redux is a solid game that will give you dozens of hours of grim demon collecting (And in those many hours, did I encounter a single Mothman or Jack Frost? I can proudly say I did – and I can happily say that made it all worth it!)