Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (DS)March 16th, 2010 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: Nintendo DS, Reviews
While we’ve only seen one previous mainline game in the Shin Megami Tensei series, the latest game has quite a few familiar aspects for those of you that have played some of the spin-off series that Atlus has published over the past decade. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey takes a lot of cues from the previous Shin Megami Tensei games and spin-offs to make for a great RPG for the DS.
Strange Journey’s story is something of a tale about the world’s end as a mysterious phenomenon called the Schwartzwelt is engulfing the Earth, starting from the South Pole on Antarctica. The United Nations creates a group of high-tech vehicles designed to be able to enter the Schwartzwelt to figure out what it is and how to stop it, but only one of the ships comes out as functional and that happens to be the ship the main character is on. What you find inside the Schwartzwelt is a series of areas that seem to reflect humanity’s worst traits, like war, poverty, consumerism, and etc, along with plenty of demons that are looking forward to taking over the Earth. The story gets to be very preachy as the boss demons of each of these areas constantly spew their propaganda about how the humans have fallen from grace and that they don’t deserve to be in charge of the Earth.
The dungeon portion of Strange Journey very much plays out like the very first Persona and the earliest Shin Megami Tensei games in that it has first-person, grid-based movement with traps and other points of interest to discover as you explore them. As you explore each floor, your map fills out, though you’ll notice special gates or doors that you cannot open along the way that is sort of the Metroid aspect of the game. The suit you’re wearing, called the Demonica Suit, is the HUD for your view of the Schwartzwelt and it receives new upgrades throughout the course of the game to let you go back through those locked gates, though you’re not really required to go back if you don’t want to. There are other, more useful upgrades that let you find materials called Forma that can be used to build new equipment and items, and to also find tougher demons if you’re looking for a good fight. As you explore dungeons, you can also find plenty of side quests that you can take on to get extra money, items, or weapons that is a potentially great way to extend the game beyond the 40 hours or so that the main campaign can last.
The battle system in Strange Journey is mostly your basic turn-based set-up, though it does feature an interesting use of the series’ fascination with taking advantage of the elemental weaknesses of your enemies. As you fight demons more, you learn more about what elements they’re weak against and if you hit them with a spell of that element, all teammates of a similar moral standing, as evidenced by the color of their name, will follow up with a Co-op attack. Good use of that feature can help make the many fights you’ll get into much quicker, which makes the random encounters easier to bear. The difficulty of the fights is tuned to be just about right in that it’s not too hard, but it’s not too easy. Any time that we died was more our fault for pushing onward when low on health in the hopes of leveling to get back our health, but there’s a point where you can earn so much money that you can max out on potions and not worry about HP as much.
Speaking of teammates, your party members in Strange Journey consist of the demons you ally with or create with the demon fusion part of your Demonica. The morality system heavily influences this part of the game, which is not nearly as in depth as something like Mass Effect. There are simply a few spots where your character can actually respond to questions that are asked of you and the color of your name changes if you cross into good, neutral, or evil territory, which plays into the Co-op system since only demons with like-colored names will participate in follow up attacks. You’re able to more easily talk to demons of similar moral stances to convince them to join your party, which can progress to them confronting you in order to ask about becoming your demon that helps save a lot of time and adds more fodder for fusing demons. Early on, your Demonica gains the ability to fuse demons at any point in time, which is great when you need some fresh demons with more advanced spells to better suit your needs.
Though Strange Journey is a very good experience that will make it one of the top RPGs for the year, there are some issues. There are points where the game is rather vague about where you need to go, so you sometimes have to wander aimlessly until you find the right trigger to advance the mission along. As your demons level up, they can sometimes learn a new spell to replace an old spell, but the game never actually lets you know what the new spell is, so you’re basically betting on whether that mysterious spell may be worth the risk of neutering your demon. Upping the level of traps in the game are these dark floors where you can’t see anything at all and even when you get the Demonica upgrade that kind of lets you see in the dark, the map is never updated so you’re left with just guessing which path is the correct path each time you need to go through that area.
Strange Journey definitely has a great art style that is definitely like many of the other Shin Megami Tensei games since they all share many similar elements. The dungeons themselves use the same engine as the Etrian Odyssey games, which means you won’t have a good draw distance but textures on the walls and such will look pretty good despite being reused a lot. There is a bit in the way of cutscenes in the story, but they’re usually simple scenes that are just about the ship flying off into the next sector before returning to the game. The soundtrack has some really good music on it, but like the latest Persona games, you tend to hear the same tracks replayed over and over again in different situations.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is an excellent DS RPG that feels like many of the best parts of previous games in the series and its spin-offs that have been streamlined greatly. There are some faults here and there that keep it from being perfect, but DS owners looking for a great RPG to get invested in will find a lot to like here.