Newer Atlus fans might not know it, since the company today is most known for its relatively far more light hearted Persona games, but the beloved publisher’s flagship IP is Shin Megami Tensei, of which Persona itself is born out of. In contrast to the slice of life and social simulation of Persona, the Shin Megami Tensei games deal with relentless and unforgiving dungeon crawling, extremely exacting battles that require a full mastery over the game’s mechanics, and heftier philosophical and metaphysical themes- all while using the same base as Persona games (mechanics like demon fusion, negotiation, and exploitation of enemy weaknesses are shared across the two franchises).
Ask an SMT fan what the best game in that series is, and you will almost always get one of two answers- either the PS2 classic Nocturne (which kickstarted the modern Atlus era), or the curious Nintendo DS game, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey.
As the name indicates, Strange Journey was a, well, strange game. Launching at the tail end of the DS’s life (it released in North America in 2010), the game is the only Shin Megami Tensei game not to take place in Tokyo, instead taking players to icy Antarctica, and the only game in the series following Nocturne that eschews the Press Turn system, instead giving players something similar, but at the same time, different enough to keep them on their toes.
"Immediately upon booting the game up, you will understand how massive a visual leap the new title is over the DS original.Strange Journey Redux presents you with a striking visual overhaul that, in spite of the 4 inch screen it has to work with, instantly sets about to effectively cast the pallor of an uncomfortable atmosphere over the player."
Strange Journey never got the chance to properly shine on the DS- so Atlus has brought it back with Strange Journey Redux for the Nintendo 3DS. The game is an enhanced port of the original title, though given the amount of substantial upgrades here, that sort of seems to sell the game short a little.
Immediately upon booting the game up, you will understand how massive a visual leap the new title is over the DS original. Everything feels cleaner, crisper, and just better looking overall. Unlike the visual overhaul for Radiant Historia on the 3DS, which alienated some fans of the DS original, the visual upgrades here seem to be undoubtedly for the better- the moody and otherworldly atmosphere of the Schwarzwelt, the geological anomaly you set out to investigate as part of the United Nations’ strike team corp, is enhanced here, feeling more oppressive than ever before. In the original title, the mysterious foreboding of the game’s locales felt more filled in by your imagination than anything else- the game itself didn’t give you much to go on either way. Strange Journey Redux presents you with a striking visual overhaul that, in spite of the 4 inch screen it has to work with, instantly sets about to effectively cast the pallor of an uncomfortable atmosphere over the player.
That atmosphere is helped immensely by the first person viewpoint the game bestows upon you to navigate its grid based dungeons with, leading you to feel hemmed in and claustrophobic. Indeed, the only complaint I have about the game’s visual design is its total foregoing of the 3D feature- yes, I know that’s increasingly common these days, but I think this is a game that would have benefitted immensely from having stereoscopic 3D.
Other changes are a bit subtler, but equally effective. The game has voice acting for its major characters, and more than anything else, this works to sell the desperation and edge that the characters, crash landed and stranded inside the Schwarzwelt, and surrounded by blood thirsty demons, are beginning to feel (although, disappointingly enough, the voice acting is Japanese only). There are a number of new Demons (I think the total is now up to 350). And, most importantly, there are changes made to the story now.
"Over time, however, differences begin to manifest themselves- a mysterious woman named Alex shows up, who seems to really not like you, because she keeps trying to kill you. Associated with her is a new dungeon, the Womb of Grief."
These won’t be evident right away- Strange Journey Redux seems to start much like the original game did, after all. You’re a part of the UN Strike Team going to investigate a geological anomaly that showed up in the Antarctic, suspected to have been as a result of disturbed ecological balance thanks to overpopulation on earth. But once you get to the Schwarzwelt, everything goes off the rails- your weapons crash land, and you find yourself stranded within it. Worse still, there’s murderous demons out there baying for your blood.
Over time, however, differences begin to manifest themselves- a mysterious woman named Alex shows up, who seems to really not like you, because she keeps trying to kill you. Associated with her is a new dungeon, the Womb of Grief. The Womb of Grief is key to the new endings in the game: the original three endings, Law, Chaos, and Neutral, are all included in Redux, but there are three more endings contingent on your completing the Womb of Grief- one each for Law, Neutral, and Chaos, bringing the total number up to six.
The new changes are interesting, and I feel like they will be divisive. On the whole, I like them, and I feel like they are very smartly integrated into the original story, but if you want your experience pure, the important thing is that, barring some interactions with Alex, you can largely work towards getting one of your original three endings, and ignore the new ones entirely. I do recommend going into the new content with an open mind, however, because I found it hugely additive to the experience.
"That apart, this is still the Strange Journey you know and love. You still navigate dungeons, fight demons, negotiate with them recruit them to your side, they still follow up on your attacks when you hit a weakness and their alignment matches up to yours, and it’s still brutally unforgiving and difficult."
That apart, this is still the Strange Journey you know and love. You still navigate dungeons, fight demons, negotiate with them recruit them to your side, they still follow up on your attacks when you hit a weakness and their alignment matches up to yours, and it’s still brutally unforgiving and difficult- almost unfairly so. The one good thing here is the inclusion of a difficulty toggle- you can switch down to an easier difficulty (or up to a harder one) whenever you feel like it. At times, you will want to- Strange Journey suffers from not what I like to call fair difficulty, like in Dark Souls, but actively hostile design that just seeks to try and make the player miserable.
As said, thankfully, this is a flaw of the original that can be sidestepped neatly with this package. Which is to the new game’s advantage- it takes the original game, retains its strengths, adds new strengths on top, and, barring some relics of old school game design that, short of a full remake, would have been unavoidable in this release, fixes the issues that plagued the original, and possibly kept it back from achieving greater success.
And that, along with the overhauls and the new content, make this, easily, the definitive version of an already pretty good, if overlooked, game. The 3DS is being sunset, and will eventually be retired, but is Strange Journey Redux is to be one of its last major releases, at least it got to go out on a high.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
Overhauled graphics, great voice acting, addition of a difficulty slider to ameliorate the original game's brutal difficulty, new, smartly integrated story cotent
Voice acting is Japanese only, no stereoscopic 3D in a game that would have benefitted from the stereoscopic 3D, new story content may not go down well with everyone