The Strange Journey doesn’t refer to going back to the title screen multiple times.
The Shin Megami Tensei series has been a tough pill to swallow for Western folks. More than a few RPG and/or Persona fans have tried to enter into the franchise only to be scared away by the punishing difficulty and intense dungeon crawling. It’s possible that Atlus has been quietly listening with their latest title, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux. Fans of the original DS game may not recognize Redux, as many changes have been made to make this version much more palatable and the result is a title that has terrific pace and a more generous difficulty.
The premise for Strange Journey Redux is what most would expect from a Megami Tensei title. It’s sometime in the future and the Earth has become overpopulated. In response to this threat to the planet, a tear in reality called the Schwarzwelt appears and begins to grow over Antarctica. An investigation is commissioned and four teams are sent into the tear to find a way to halt its progression. Unfortunately for the investigation, legions of demons reside in the Schwarzwelt and begin an attack as soon as the teams enter the area. The typical themes of religion and what’s right and wrong are present, as are the dungeons that are based on different sins.
The story has a terrific pace to it, playing out much like a suspenseful horror film. Each dungeon presents a new hurdle for the team to contend with, whether its trying to find lost comrades or escaping the clutches of some new danger. The main characters are memorable and have unique personalities though they can come off as a bit cliche at times. Atlus included an additional storyline to add new content for those who already went through the original title as well. A mysterious woman named Alex is hell bent on killing the player character and this leads to the introduction of a new dungeon that can be explored after the initial meeting. This is my first go with Strange Journey so I’ve largely ignored the dungeon but still do get the initial story snippet to remind me its available.
As engaging as the story is, whether or not you’re going to enjoy Strange Journey Redux is going to rest mostly on its gameplay. The majority of your time is going to be spent battling and conversing with demons and in Redux, this is done quite well. At the beginning, a series of questions determines your alignment based on a scale of Law-Neutral-Chaos. Using your Demonica, you have to convince demons through conversation that you are someone they would want to battle beside. The alignment you are assigned affects how those demons respond to you. Demons of the same alignment are easier to recruit than those further away in the scale. An added benefit of recruiting the same alignment of demon is that in battle, when the enemy is hit with an attack they are weak to, same alignment demons will automatically join in with a combination attack.
Successfully mastering your Demonica will be necessary in order to lead your team out of the Schwarzwelt through the appropriately large dungeons. In previous Megami Tensei titles, veterans of the series are used to running into battles with demons that result in total annihilation, but those are mostly absent from Strange Journey Redux. The deaths that I can remember were mostly during the first encounter with the dungeon boss. The strategy that I employed was to go into the boss battles with my strongest team, discover the strengths and weaknesses of my strong opponent, and then adjust my team accordingly. I wouldn’t call myself an SMT devotee but even I was surprised at how forgiving the normal difficulty was.
One other barrier to entry for many has been that Megami Tensei games can be overly complicated for casual players. Strange Journey aims to address that issue by providing a ton of tutorials and providing access to that information at all times. I wouldn’t say the game is less complicated, but Atlus seems to go to greater lengths to provide you with the information to succeed in game so that you don’t need to chase down a guide online. Even with the guides available, fusing demons and developing new equipment takes some work so don’t expect to become an expert right away. Much time will be required in the inventory menu experimenting with different demon combinations and trying to make small tweaks to abilities and equipment to provide that much need advantage in combat.
I would count myself as someone who has played and thoroughly enjoyed the Persona series but have been timid about jumping into core Shin Megami Tensei titles. Prior to my review, I played Soul Hackers to get into the SMT mood. My initial impression was that it required commitment to play due to its punishing difficulty and sometimes confusing progression. Strange Journey is a stark contrast. I never found myself confused on what I was supposed to do next and after committing to some light reading of the tutorials I felt like I had grasp on all of the different mechanics available to me. I can wholly recommend this as a litmus test for fans of Persona 5 who haven’t yet gotten into the main Shin Megami Tensei series.