Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux Review — Oh My Harvest!
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux improves upon the original and adds a lot of flavor to an already strange game despite some hiccups in gameplay.
For those who aren’t familiar, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is something of a black sheep regarding themes and characters to the other SMT games; the protagonists are battle-hardened adults—researchers and soldiers—who have a specific goal and a clear path towards it. The setting is more sci-fi and technology-centric rather than mythological as your compatriots try to uncover the mystery behind these strange “hostiles,” who turn out to be demons. They are not high school students thrust into an apocalyptic scenario with the fate of the world in their hands; they’re just some dudes trying to figure out what the heck is going on in this giant black hole Satan pit that appeared on the South Pole. Simple stuff.
Now, we look to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, an enhanced 3DS port of the 2010 sci-fi addition to the MegaTen universe, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. After taking another intrepid journey down the Schwarzwelt hole, I can safely say that the developers put a lot of thought into how to please old fans of the game and newcomers to the series alike, and the result is a pretty positive one.
I’m going to be covering a lot of the new stuff that Redux brings to the table, so if you’re a newcomer to the series, you might get a little confused. Rest assured, however, this game is a solid starting point into the series if you’re new but want to experience it. If you aren’t familiar, the SMT games take place in the greater MegaTen universe, which includes the SMT series, the Persona series, and even games like Catherine (which, yes, is debatable).
The basic premise of the SMT world is that all religions are inherently right, but the Abrahamic religions happen to be just a little bit more right than the rest. Strange Journey deviates from a lot of other SMT games by focusing not on the conflict between angels and demons—between YHWH and Lucifer; Law and Chaos; Light and Dark—but instead focusing on the nature of man and his relationship to demons and the Earth. This game also emphasizes a strong maternal motif, so…happy belated Mother’s Day, I guess?
Getting to the plot, much like before, you follow a special UN taskforce sent to investigate a mysterious black hole-like object that appeared in Antarctica. The distortion, dubbed the “Schwarzwelt,” threatens to swallow Earth whole, and it falls to the soldiers of this task force, aided by state-of-the-art battlesuits called Demonicas, to stop it. Along the way, they make some new friends, but mostly, they just meet a bunch of assholes both human and demon and learn that the world is horrible and people suck. Woohoo!
Like most other games of the franchise, Strange Journey Redux features multiple endings based off of dialogue choices and interactions with other characters throughout the game, ending in Law, Neutral or Chaos. In the original game, there are three endings; in Redux, there are now six, with the new three being associated with the new character Alex and acting as extensions of the original three endings—more on that in a second.
You can keep track of both your own alignment and that of demons by the color of names—blue for Law, white for Neutral, and red for Chaos. Characters are pretty obviously aligned with certain paths so much so that they might as well have a sign on their chests telling you what type of ending you’ll get if you support them, but most of the major characters are nevertheless interesting—struggling to balance the extremes of their ideals and to what cost they are willing to pursue them with their increasingly hard-to-define humanity.
As with other SMT games, Redux is turn-based, although it boasts a “Co-op” system rather than the traditional Turn Press system. Basically, if you land an attack on an enemy’s weakness, all allies in your party with the same alignment will join in with an attack of their own; for example, if you’re neutral-aligned and strike a weak-point, any other neutral-aligned allies in your party will get an extra attack in immediately after yours. I prefer the Turn Press system, but the Co-op system is by no means bad. Combat is otherwise standard fare for an SMT game: turn-based with an element system and demon negotiation. Redux boasts a few new speed options for combat animations, which I found to be very useful for my…accelerated needs.
There’s also a layer of depth added to both combat and exploration by the “apps” available in your Demonica suit. There are Main Apps, which you collect to progress the story and explore new parts of dungeons, and Sub Apps, which can improve your combat abilities and assist you in exploration. Plenty of new Sub Apps are added in Redux, including one that lets you continue the fight without getting a game-over even if your main character is killed in combat—super useful in certain boss fights later on and in general. Sub Apps can be equipped and unequipped at will, and there’s no limit in Redux to how many you have equipped so long as they don’t produce an opposite effect (i.e. you can’t equip one that increases enemy encounters at the same time as one that decreases them). There’s also new Commander Skills, which let you direct the flow of battle by allowing you to act first or act without MP cost for a single turn.
I recently released a preview that examined the first few hours of the game and touched a bit on some of the new features added to the game. Obviously there’s a significant graphical boost from the transition to the 3DS, though there’s a really awkward tendency for objects to just kind of pop into frame due to the poor draw distance, as well as the first-person dungeon crawling perspective which I, personally, find jarring. It’s not a real big complaint until you get to a particular section in one of the dungeons where you’re navigating invisible bridges and have to determine where to go based on the floating landmasses around you…which pop in and out of frame constantly around you as you try to get to them. It was torture. I spent way too long walking on nothing trying to figure out where to go—bumping into invisible walls until I found something resembling progress.
There are also frequent stretches of dungeon-based entirely around teleportation panels… which was awful for me. I hated every second of it, and though I over-leveled the shit out of my characters because of how much running around I did that the remainder of the dungeon was trivial, I can’t say I was pleased about that. I’m probably just awful at teleportation puzzles, but it was a real momentum killer for me.
There are some definite quality of life changes that improve the game; some of the text has been tightened up, and the graphics are absolutely improved. You get 20 save slots as opposed to the two you got in the original, and you can save either from the base, one of the terminals, or in the field with your single field-save slot, which is an excellent addition. Essentially, you can now save anywhere on the map, which is excellent. Also something I didn’t cover thoroughly in the preview: there is no dedicated 3D mode utilizing the Nintendo 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D, which isn’t uncommon for these Atlus enhanced ports of older DS games. Voice acting has been added, but it is in Japanese—not English like the text of the western port. Essentially, it’s just a Japanese dub with English subtitles.
Regarding other changes, the demon stock slots have been upped from a final total of 12 to 18, which is super useful, and you have more control over what skills get carried over during demon fusion using a Demon Source. There are also three difficulty options and a fourth one available after your second playthrough; I played mostly on Normal and found it to be fine—a little bit easier than I remember the original and notoriously tricky Strange Journey. I’m not sure if it was because I was more experienced and knew what to expect or if Atlus dialed back some of the difficulty to compensate for multiple modes, but Normal isn’t too bad.
I also played an hour or so of the Casual difficulty just to test, which was an easier experience, so if you are hesitant about picking up the game because of difficulty, worry not, there’s something for you to mitigate that and no shame in using it. The password system also returns and works with some of the special passwords released for the original game, so you can enter these passwords to gain the ability to summon special demons as long as you can pay the fee. Pick up your Level 99 Pixie today, kids.
One of my favorite aspects of any SMT game (Redux being no exception) would be the demons. As the old adage goes, fight demons with demons…or something like that. You have a wide variety of demons to negotiate with and fuse, allowing you to create greater and more powerful demons as your character’s level grows. You can also get Demon Sources, which can be used during fusion to add skills your new demon might not otherwise be able to have; Demon Sources are obtained upon fully analyzing the corresponding demon, which can be most easily accomplished by fighting with that demon in your party, so there’s a lot of incentive to switch out your team to collect different Sources to make more powerful demons. Collecting and fusing demons is addictive and fun, and at one point while trying to play the main story, I found that I had gotten side-tracked for about an hour just trying to collect the right demons to perform a special fusion…which is not so great when you’re on a review time crunch, but, hey, I had a good time.
So yeah, there’s a lot of little hiccups in dungeon navigation that are just annoying and have either carried over from the original game or have been added (oddly enough) thanks to the new dungeon, The Womb of Grief, but overall, the changes and experience of the game were positive for me.
Speaking of wombs and their being filled with grief, why don’t we just smoothly segue into the new dungeon that was added to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux? Yeah! Smooth!
The Womb of Grief is the new dungeon added to the Redux. It features six levels which are, essentially, six new dungeons themselves of roughly equivalent size to a few of the dungeons in the main sectors. It features new demons, side missions, story content and access to the new endings if you take the time to complete it. You can’t necessarily go straight to the new dungeons and power your way through them right away; typically, each level is barred by an upgrade you need from the main story dungeons—more often than not a gate unlock level. Essentially, you’ll probably end up completing the dungeons alongside respective sectors or doing them all at once before the ending depending on your preference.
You are flung headfirst into the Womb of Grief after finishing up Sector Bootes by Alex, the new Redux character, who will be continually hunting you throughout the new dungeons alongside wardens at a certain point. Completing the Womb of Grief allows you to access one of the three new endings depending on where you are in terms of alignment—Law, Neutral, or Chaos. You can choose if you want to see the new ending or the old ending if you’ve completed the Womb of Grief, which is nice.
The goal of navigating the Womb (hehehe) is to collect pieces of the “Fruit” sought after by Demeter—the adorable Greco-Roman Harvest Goddess who saves you upon your fatal fall into the Womb. She acts as a helpful companion during your descent, urging you with a dogged persistence to collect all the pieces of Fruit held by the various goddesses or gods who protect each layer—essentially go kill the bosses, get the fruit. You can then fuse the boss demons that you fight for a substantial boost in your firepower. There’s also a new design for the demon Amon, which makes him look like that library owl from Avatar with the fox assistants, and I really like him because of it.
For the most part, the new dungeons are fine. Specific sections are particularly annoying and gimmicky, meant more so to pad out your game time than to be intuitive or fun. The environment is repetitive, too; it’s pretty much the same tileset throughout, and that tileset is mostly dull jungle rather than punk-death-metal-album-cover like the name Womb of Grief would initially suggest. It’s a problem that was present in the original game’s dungeons as well; dungeon-crawling can be very repetitive since it makes up a very significant portion of the game, and I found myself looking at the mini-map at the bottom of the screen more often than the actual dungeon environment itself as it all started to blur together in a game that can be 40-70 hours in length.
In the end, the point of the Womb of Grief is to add a little extra to the story and gameplay. The new endings are extensions of the old ones, adding more information to the story, new paths to take, and new information about Alex. I enjoyed the new Chaos ending that I experienced; it added some depth to a few of the more mysterious characters and continued on the maternal theme present throughout the game, continuing onward after a certain encounter with a certain lady. New boss fights are added to each of the endings past what you may remember in the original, and they are pretty tough. Again, the new endings are based solely on whether or not you’ve completed the Womb of Grief; anything else is based on your alignment. I’ve only had the chance to see one of the new endings, but I look forward to going back through to see the other endings and how Alex comes into play then as well.
Speaking of Alex, she’s an interesting new addition to the game, if not a bit of a mysterious bitchy one. She frequently shows up to wreck your shit until you become strong enough to wreck hers, and she doesn’t like that very much. You get to see bits and pieces about her story and why she’s desperate to kill you for some reason, and the little nuggets of story I got in each level of the Womb of Grief were enjoyable enough to keep me trekking through the dungeons to see what she was all about. Her dogged, unwavering desire to murder you to death was neat solely because she did not seem to care about anything else other than that, and though I found her design to be a bit of a sore thumb compared to the other sci-fi designs of the characters, she herself is a competent character.
Still, though Alex herself proved to be somewhat interesting, in the end, she was more so a catalyst to uncovering the new aspects and perspectives of the story rather than to be a distinct character of her own. She rarely comes into play in the main story outside of the Womb, so it’s sort of like all the new content is just relegated to the Womb and nothing else.
Mechanically, Alex comes into play in the Womb of Grief dungeons a lot as an enemy. In one layer of the Womb of Grief, Alex appears at stationary points, and you constantly have to fend her off to continue; at first, I thought she was actively hunting you and would show up randomly, so I was on edge until I realized that she just appeared in stationary points, waiting for you to walk by her. Unfortunately, these interactions can typically be sidestepped, so the tension of being hunted by Alex is replaced by the fact that she’s not chasing you…just kinda standing there. I wish some of the random encounters would sometimes end up being Alex with no fanfare or special warning in that particular section so you had no idea when or where she was going to show up. It’s something of a missed opportunity in my mind, but I liked the concept of her acting as a hunter.
So, what do I think of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux? I hope by now it’s pretty clear that I think the positive outweighs the negative and that it improves significantly on the original regarding the quality of life improvements. There are some hiccups here and there; some are just issues that were present in the original and really can’t be changed with a simple port, and others were odd choices made in the new content that I wasn’t particularly fond of.
Can I recommend this to you? Yeah, pretty much. I liked Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux; it’s a lot of fun to revisit its new take on the SMT formula, and it reawakened my passion for the SMT games as a whole after having not played one for so long. It’s a definite one-up to its predecessor both graphically and mechanically, and it adds a lot to the game that I think is to its benefit. If you have a 3DS and liked Strange Journey or didn’t get a chance to play it but are a fan of the series, I’d recommend picking up Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux to see what it has to offer. If you’re new to the series, Redux‘s difficulty options and overall presentation are an excellent starting point for entering the deep, dark world of Shin Megami Tensei.