The Flat Earth Society can rejoice as the latest Shin Megami Tensei port makes its way to 3DS and proves that something nefarious does exist in the depths of Antarctica.
I would like to preface this review with the fact that although I own the original Strange Journey for DS, I've never played it so my thoughts in this review are from a fresh perspective of a first-time player.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux tells the story of a mysterious anomaly that has appeared in the middle of Antarctica. It's up to you and a group of expert explorers to break through the outer barrier and discover what's causing the spatial distortion that's engulfing the planet. It's a dark and depressing start to a game. However, it's fitting for a series that's known for its apocalypse-themed narratives where you fight demons of all shapes and sizes in order to save the world.
You play as the unnamed protagonist who crashes into the middle of a demon nest after breaking through the barrier in Antarctica. A couple of other ships were also sent, both of which experienced difficulties communicating once they reached the other side. From the moment you arrive, it becomes your mission to explore the many planes that make up the demon-inhabited land of the Schwarzwelt and you'll have a ton of fun doing so. Each plane is essentially a sprawling dungeon with a theme that relates to humanity's less than stellar qualities such as a war-zone, a red-light district, a shopping mall, and a land of garbage.
Navigating through each dungeon is a challenge yet it's extremely addictive. Strange Journey is a first-person game where you move on a grid much like other titles in the series. As you move, the chance of encountering a hostile demon increases so you want to be efficient with every step you take. It won't be that simple, though. The map uncovers as you cross each space on the grid and it's easy to get lost. You'll also have to overcome floor traps that put you to sleep or poison you, endless mazes of teleports, phase-shifters that change the map entirely, completely black spaces with no map, and hidden hallways that have to be discovered in order to progress. There's a lot of challenge and so much variety that you'll be anxious to keep going in order to discover what's around the next corner.
As you traverse the dungeons, you have a chance to recruit the demons that you fight. There's a huge variety of demons from the extremely cute-looking to the incredibly grotesque. I'm always more inclined to recruit the cuter ones but every now and then, a disgusting-looking one would show up and have such cool abilities that I had to equip it and just avoid looking at its picture.
As far as battles go, there's nothing that special in Strange Journey when compared to other Shin Megami Tensei titles. You want to hit the enemy's weakness in order to get a chance at dealing extra damage which happens if other demons in your party have an affinity with the skill you used to hit the weakness. Otherwise, it's pretty simple stuff except when it comes to some bosses and the odd enemy that has such high defense that you have to really think about what skills to use and in what order to prevent a KO.
Even though the dungeons are a blast, I found the repetitiveness of hanging out in a dungeon, recruiting a few demons, going back to the base, and heading out again to get a bit tedious. There's no overworld to explore; just dungeons. Another aspect that's less than impressive is the lack of character depth. The overall story is intriguing and had me wondering what would happen next but it's all very organized and you're not really given a reason to root for any of the characters. Contrast that with Shin Megami Tensei IV and you'll see the empathy for the characters just isn't here. The fact that you're taking orders from a HAL-esque robot and having FaceTime chats with the United Nations to report your progress shows how matter-of-fact the story is. Having said this, there is one character that adopts a weird-looking demon in a diaper called Bugaboo and he forms a creepy close bond with him.
Although I didn't play the original Strange Journey, I would be remiss not to mention that Redux has lots of new content. The graphics are in line with a typical Shin Megami Tensei game (its visual quality is on par with Shin Megami Tensei IV). Plus, there's some additional variety in the environments. For example, there's a new dungeon that unlocks soon into the story and can be played as you progress which unlocks new sub apps (equippable abilities) and three new endings so if you can't get enough of Strange Journey's lengthy campaign, there's tons here to sink your teeth into. There's also a bunch of new demons to unlock, you can hold more demons than in the original, and there are dozens of minor improvements that streamline the gameplay.
Overall, Strange Journey Redux certainly doesn't disappoint as completing the sprawling and challenging dungeons while recruiting a variety of demons is a ton of fun. Even if you've played the original, there's plenty here to make you come back for more.
- + Vast and challenging dungeons to explore
- + Intriguing story with a unique premise
- + Recruiting demons is just as fun as it always is and there are more than ever
- - Gameplay loop gets repetitive
- - Vanilla battle system / no overworld
- - Not enough character development to make you care about the individual stories