By William Haderlie / May 29th, 2018
|Title||Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux|
|Release Date||May 15th, 2018|
|Age Rating||M for Mature|
If I was able to go back in time to talk to my teenage self, one of the most shocking revelations would be that Final Fantasy is no longer my favorite video game series. Even though I didn’t really like Final Fantasy XV, it hasn’t really been a fall from grace that has changed my opinion. What has changed is the consistent quality of every successive entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series of games. After the release of my personal game of the year, Persona 5, there was just no denying that I was a total fanboy of this series. Even though my first game in the series was Revelations: Persona on the PlayStation, I have played almost every single entry since then no matter what universe it is in. As such, I had already spent a lot of time on the original Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey when it was released on the Nintendo DS. While it wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination (in particular for its brutal difficulty), there was a lot to love about that game. So the news of a updated version of that game was definitely welcome.
One of the primary reasons Strange Journey stood out so much from other Shin Megami Tensei games is that it is an adult story starring exclusively adults. The only other game from this team that I can remember being so adult focused was Catherine, a game that came out years later. But instead of being relationship focused, the focus of this game is mostly on science and the power of human innovation. Also how those advances in human civilization can have a difficult time interfacing with the overall evolution of the species. In most of the SMT games science seems to cause more trouble than it is worth. The events of each game are almost always the result of some scientific pursuit gone awry. In Strange Journey, the Schwartzchild Sphere is the result of humans trying to advance past their nascent phase of deity worship. And science is the answer to the problem, instead of causing the problem. This is something that I always found quite refreshing about the game. At many points the story turns into competency porn (a term coined to describe entertainment which focuses on people that are great at something), which is something that I love. Another interesting consequence of this story subject is that the team formed is multinational instead of entirely focused on Japan. While the demons that you summon in every SMT game have always been multi-ethnic in their origins, the stories have almost always been centered in Japan.
For those who have primarily played the Persona entries in the series, you may be surprised to discover that this game is much more like the main SMT series with its focus on character alignment instead of relationships. The original SMT: Strange Journey had three different endings and each one depended on your main character’s alignment when you reached the final dungeon (between Law, Neutral, and Chaos). All your individual choices you make during the game, and there are many of them, will sway your alignment towards the Law side or to the Chaos side. By responding in my natural way I always ended up far in the Law once I reached that point. So I always had to make a concerted effort to get back to Neutral in order to get the best ending. As I have discussed in other reviews, the general Western tendency towards viewing things in Black and White is not an Eastern way. As such, you should generally expect that Neutral or Balance is the best path in almost any Shin Megami Tensei game. This game actually makes that choice even more relevant by making your two closest compatriots in the Investigation Squad tie directly into your alignment choices (nothing further on that to avoid spoilers).
Like the main series of games, the battles happen in first person view so you never see your characters in the battle screen (unlike Persona). Also like the main series, this game’s battles can be brutally difficult if you aren’t careful. There are ways that this updated version addresses that (more on that below), but on Normal and above difficulty you still have a fairly high chance of getting wiped out if you aren’t paying close attention. The main reason is that your main character is a huge liability. In the original version of this game, if the main character is killed or turned into stone it’s game over. You will never have any additional human party members, it is always your one character with their Demonica and 3 summoned demons. This is a very old school approach to RPGs, and that also applies to the dungeons in general. This game could also be classified as a dungeon crawler, it has all the hallmarks of that sub-genre. But this is still a very good example of a dungeon crawler, the maps are a lot more interesting than other examples of that genre that have come out years after. There were certain dungeons that were difficult enough to become frustrating, but those issues have also been addressed in Redux.
So what all was added to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, and is it enough to justify a 2nd purchase for those of us who played the original game? The first thing to get out of the way is that this game is much more like Persona 4: Golden than it is SMT IV: Apocalypse. There is additional content that changes the game. But everything from the previous game is still there. There are 3 additional endings, but you can still choose to end the game with one of the original 3 endings. Like with P4:G, there is an additional story character that has been added and an end game dungeon that also changes the game’s ending. However, one improvement even on that fantastic game is that there is also a major new dungeon that has been added for you to play through during the main game story as well. The Womb of Grief opens up very early on in the game, almost as soon as you reach the 2nd Sphere. It is a 6 level dungeon and each subsequent level becomes available for you to explore as soon as you upgrade your Door Unlock App or your Door Find App. There are several reasons you will want to explore this new dungeon fully. The first is simply that it is the best designed dungeon in the game, and it’s quite fun to explore. But more than that, you also get new demons from that dungeon that were never in the original game. Some of them are fairly minor, but there are also super powerful boss level demons that become available through Special Fusion.
Even better than that, you will find a lot of new Forma in this dungeon that will give you some good gear and even better Sub Apps. While this game tempered the difficulty of the original by including a new difficulty selection, the main aspect that improves on the original is the new formulas that you gain in this dungeon. Examples of some great sub apps: one that allows you to not game over if the Main Character dies but your demons survive the fight, one that warns you before you step on a teleport panel or trapdoor, one that shows you where hidden doors are when you pass them (instead of having to always look at the walls), and one that completely removes all panel effects such as poison/damage/sleep. There are others, but those are game changers. The other subtle way that it makes the game easier is that your levels will shoot up well beyond what they were in the original game just by completing each massive floor.
The mysterious Alex, who is very hostile towards your character, is the focal point of the new additions to the story. For most of the game she is entirely focused on making roadkill out of you, so do not take her lightly. What you do about her from there will affect which of the three new endings you are able to access, at least to my knowledge. Unfortunately I only had the time to be able to test out one of the endings, but I have a good idea of how I could have gotten at least one other. The nice thing about Alex is that she really helps patch up one of the major complaints over the first game, which was an abrupt and seemingly meaningless ending. That, along with the difficulty, are the two things that you will find most often complained about with Strange Journey, even though it was a generally well received game. She looks cool even while beating your ass, so that is a plus. But the farther you get into the game and the more you see of her motivations, it may make you sympathize with her. She is certainly the hero of her own story, it’s up to you to decide whether you side with her or not.
There are some minor graphical improvements and the music seems to be a bit more clear. But the largest improvement in that department is the fantastic opening cinematic and a few scattered cinematic scenes that were added in this version. You can easily tell which scenes were from the original by how grainy they are. But they are still functional. The new demons, some completely new to the series, all have wonderful art. It might be a negative to some that there is no English dub, but frankly I always play SMT games in Japanese so that doesn’t effect me at all. And the voice acting is quite good, especially for a portable game. This is a very long game, it took me just over 110 hours to see as much as I could with one playthrough. But there are additional regions you can go to in New Game+, also additional demons that you can battle and then fuse. So 110 hours is probably about half of what I will end up spending, especially if I want to finish out my Demon Compendium (it’s at 94% currently). I definitely consider this game well worth the $39.99 whether you played the original or not. They took a game that was really good, but rough around the edges, and made it what it always had the potential of being. I enjoyed Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse slightly more, but they are both masterpieces and two of the greatest games on the Nintendo 3DS regardless of genre. I’m not sure when the ATLUS SMT team will make a genuinely bad game, but it’s not this one. They are on an amazing streak and should be applauded for it.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher
AtlusJRPGNintendoNintendo 3DSShin Megami Tensei: Strange Journeyshin megami tensei: strange journey redux