Shin Megami Tensei celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to commemorate the event developer and publisher Atlus has released a remaster of the fourth game in the franchise with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux. I have never played a JRPG quite like this one, so I was excited to dive into the franchise and see what I’ve been missing all these years.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a strange yet fascinating Japanese role playing game. Players take control of a soldier on their way to the Schwartzwelt, an alternate dimension that opened up over Antarctica and is growing larger, threatening to consume the world. All of this information is displayed through extensive dialogue at the beginning. Afterwards several different characters explain controls, how the battle system works, and how to control Demons. These demons are the enemies that live in the Schwartzwelt but can actually become allies. It’s really odd, hence the title “Strange Journey”. The overall goal of the game is to stop Mem Aleph, from releasing all the others into the world and letting the Schwartzwelt consume Earth. It’s a rather complicated story and there are several religious and environmental tones blatantly stated to the player as they progress.
While the story for Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux may seem overwhelming and slightly complicated, the gameplay is simple enough. Combat is similar to most turn based RPG’s, players take up to four characters into battle, one human and three demons, with up to fifteen additional demons in a subparty that can be switched out during a battle if needed. There are standard attacks, like striking with a sword or gun, and then there are magical moves that are elemental based. Each demon has a strength and a weakness, but it is never stated right away until the player chooses the correct move to learn about a weakness. Utilizing these weaknesses are imperative to battle, as they result in extra attacks from certain party members. Some demons can actually be talked to instead of fighting and be recruited to the player’s team. Some demons will willingly talk with the players, usually those who have a humanoid appearance, while others that are more animal or ameba based refuse to talk or only make groaning noises. To understand more about those demons is where the fusion aspect of the Shin Megami Tensei comes in. That’s how more demons are created. These have more powers and skills to use in battle and also cover more weaknesses against their enemies. Two demons that are already in the player’s party can be combined together with a source power from a demon to create a completely new one to add to their party, which also frees up room for a new demon to be recruited to continue the process of fusing and recruiting.
I honestly got confused with the story in Shin Megami Tensei. As with many Japanese games and anime, I sometimes wonder if something is lost in translation. Basically, someone dies but then comes back to life but isn’t really alive. There is a point where the player has to choose a side but neither were preferable options to me. If the player doesn’t choose then a new ending can be found but it still doesn’t make much sense. I honestly got fed up with the story because I couldn’t keep up with what was going on. I even had a journal that I would write down tips in because there was so much to take in. While many may find the story intriguing or epic, I just got a bit lost.
The many dungeons that players come across are confusing as well. An example of my frustration would be a certain demon will say one thing to try and help the player along, but then another demon will say, “Well that’s right, but that thing you’re looking for isn’t on this floor but the one below us.” Then I discovered the only way to get to that floor is by using the elevator, which isn’t working. So then I had to find a switch and when I did, it is for a different elevator that I didn’t even know existed! I couldn’t get to the necessary elevator unless I stepped on the right tile trap door that I wouldn’t have known about had I not found the first demon, who just happened to say that floor six is only available by trap doors, which I have been avoiding since I entered the dungeon. It was exhausting for me. Maybe some players will enjoy this back and forth, but I did not.
Graphically Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux looks great on the 3DS. Even though conversations aren’t animated, the Japanese voice actors sound great which helps make up for the lack of animation. Environments are distinct from one another, and the music feels pretty spot on with the tone of each area. However, some of the areas did feel a little muddied with textures. The re-recorded soundtrack is a welcome addition to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux as it helps the title feel more modern, even if it was released eight years ago.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux isn’t a bad game but it was my first journey into JRPGs and as I said, and it was frustrating at times. It was an interesting first experience though. I was personally unprepared for how the story was going to unfold and it definitely took me by surprise. If you like previous Shin Megami Tensei games, as well as other JRPGs, then I would give this game a fair shot. If this is your first time picking up a JRPG, I would try and start with a more approachable and less intimidating game. The long dialog scenes, confusing story, and even more confusing dungeons are not for beginners. That said, I did have fun and learned quit a bit about the genre as a whole. Maybe not the best first step choice, but I will definitely be game for trying other JRPGs in the future, even though they might deal with less dark and religious themes.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is available now for the Nintendo 3DS. A copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes.