Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Considering the length and scope of the Shin Megami Tensei series by now, this game should have been made a long time ago. Strange Journey is an ample title for nearly every game in the series released; enough to make a header like “Strange Journey” oddly redundant. However, Atlus couldn’t have picked a better name – all jokes aside, Strange Journey is shaping up to be a bizarre and exciting adventure, even by Shin Megami Tensei standards. Taking DS owners spelunking through Antarctica, Strange Journey is a return to the franchise’s trademark dungeon-crawling, complete with all the Shin Megami Tensei trimmings.
A large black circle is engulfing the South Pole. What began as an intriguing scientific phenomenon – a small, cylindrical piece of dark matter barely a meter across – is now a gigantic natural – or unnatural – disaster in the making, swallowing up the frozen continent day by day. A joint team of expert scientists and explorers from around the globe is sent to investigate this mass, now known as the Schwarzwelt. Taking the role of an American soldier, the player and the rest of the strike team is charged with protecting the investigators. Naturally, this is harder than it should be: it turns out the Schwarzwelt is filled to the brim with demons.
Strange Journey plays from a first-person perspective in dungeons, a throwback to Shin Megami Tensei‘s roots. Combat is strictly turn based, and the player’s party can be rounded out with demons, which are recruited through a conversation system similar to the Devil Summoner series and Nocturne. It also features an interesting character growth mechanic: the Demonica suit, a coat of armor that adapts to the party leader’s play style and recommends stat upgrades. It’s a nice source of guidance, because I can confirm that this game also sports the essential Shin Megami Tensei feature: being hard as nails. Long-term fans will be pleased with the challenge Strange Journey offers.
It also looks lovely. Kazuma Kaneko’s art has always given the Shin Megami Tensei games a unique flavor, and Strange Journey is no different. The world-weary characters are presented with stoic character portraits, and the overall feel of the game is quite haunting. Scenes like the Scwarzwelt spreading over Antarctica and pieces of art like the Demonica suit have a chance to become iconic. It’s a step above most other RPGs on the DS, and well worth experiencing just for the graphics and dialogue. Everything is minimalist, eerie, and dark.
But really, the most exciting part of Strange Journey is seeing Shin Megami Tensei in its raw form again. While its spin offs – Persona, Devil Summoner, etc – have been releasing quite regularly, it isn’t since the cult hit Nocturne that the series has spoken for itself. While it isn’t a numbered entry, (fingers crossed for SMT4 by the end of the new decade) Strange Journey looks to be a wonderful game for fans and newcomers alike. The characteristically odd plot and stunning design will take gamers for a strange journey indeed.