Title: Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Release Date: March 23, 2010
Publisher (Developer): Atlus (Atlus)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity and Sexual Themes
Pros: Lots of areas to explore, forma discoveries encourage dungeon crawling, lots of demons to collect and fuse, alignment is constantly checked and influences play, amazing story, can trade demons with friends via passwords, somewhat interesting characters, fantastic music, interesting battle system, map automatically updates and generates itself, can earn medals (achievements) based on actions and Demonica equipment is interesting to work with.
Cons: Not too many side quests early on and it’s very easy to underestimate enemies and find your party wiped out.
Overall Score: Two thumbs up, 98/100, A, * * * * 1/2 out of 5
Three games with similar collecting themes are out in March, 2010 for the DS. The first are Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, all ages adventures that focus on catching, raising and battling pokemon monsters which more often than not resemble cute or silly monsters. The other is Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, a dark horse that’s rated Mature. Unlike Pokemon, SMT: Strange Journey has an edgier story regarding an apocolyptic scenario and tasks players with recruiting demonic creatures in an attempt to survive. Both games play on the human compulsion to collect and strengthen forces, but SMT: Strange Journey also features more mature themes, a darker story and a question of what’s right and wrong.
Overpopulation and population has lead to the Schwarzwelt.
The world is overpopulated, and people have been abusing their environment. This has led to the development of a strange dark spot in Antarctica. It’s gradually expanding, and destroying or absorbing everything it comes in contact with. The governments of the world aren’t quite sure what to do, and have created the Joint Project to send the best soldiers and scientists from many nations into the anomaly, dubbed the Schwarzwelt. Four teams have been outfitted with Demountable Next Integrated Capability Armor (Demonica), loaded into special vehicles and sent over the plasma wall into the Schwarzwelt. Your character is an elite soldier assigned to the Strike Force on board the Red Sprite.
There’s a problem though. When the four ships head into the Schwarzwelt, they are assaulted by an unknown force. The player blacks out and is finds himself in the company of three strange, otherworldly figures. They determine he is strong, and send him back to his living comrades. When you awake, you find that all the Demonica suits have had a Demon Summoning Program added to them which allows the crew to see the invisible life forms assaulting the ship, converse with them and even recruit them as allies. The only way to possibly survive the Schwarzwelt, prevent its expansion and make it home is to explore the otherworldly surroundings and use the demons.
A game of exploration, self discovery and perhaps even salvation.
One of SMT: Strange Journey‘s most appealing features is that it is constantly testing the player. And I’m not talking about battle challenges, which players constantly face in the dungeons. It tests your beliefs and moral character. Questions are always being thrown at you, determining your character’s alignment, even when you think the game isn’t. Sometimes the questions are simple, as to whether to help a crewman who’s under attack or watch, and other times the decision isn’t always so clear. You could answer, thinking you’ve chosen the lawful choice, and find it was a chaotic answer instead.
This of course means that SMT: Strange Journey also has a strong focus on story, which is another reason it is such a wonderful and successful game. The Schwarzwelt is an unusual place, and as you journey through, trying to find a way to keep it from expanding, you’ll also discover more about its true nature, and the true nature of man and the human world as well. Depending on choices you make, the story and your take on events might change. This means more replay value.
There’s also a strong focus on exploration, which is only to be expected from a dungeon crawler. There are quite a few supplemental missions you can undertake in the Schwarzwelt, from both humans and demons, which prompt you to keep exploring areas and searching for certain demons in battles so you can talk to them to fulfill requests. Also, as you progress through the game you earn new formas, which enhance your Demonica with new abilities. These abilities encourage backtracking as you’ll be able to enter new areas to find hidden enemies, additional forma and other secrets.
SMT: Strange Journey also features a unique password system which I think works better than the trading feature used in games like Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver. Once you’ve fused or collected a demon, you can share it with other SMT: Strange Journey players by generating a password. The passwords can be reused multiple times, and once others enter it into their games, they have access to your demons. It’s a good way to show off a fusion you’re exceptionally proud of or assist other players, without losing the demon you worked so hard on creating.
Once you get drawn into Strange Journey, good luck getting out.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is one of the most addictive Shin Megami Tensei games I’ve played in a long time. I’d go so far as to say it could be considered an equal alongside Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver. I’ve actually been playing SMT: Strange Journey and SoulSilver at the same time, and found myself enjoying and spending more time with SMT: Strange Journey. It’s a wonderfully deep game with plenty of replay value and ways to keep the player engaged. Plus, the story and characters are much easier to identify with and care about than the flat and vague characters from the Pokemon series.
Just one word of advice – save. Save as often as you can. Even if you feel totally confident in your team and its abilities. Backtrack and constantly and consistently save, perhaps every fifteen minutes or so. It’s very easy to underestimate an enemy, and suddenly find your whole team wiped out. If you’re having trouble, you may also want to check out eight demons that I fused to help me through my adventures. Maybe one of them could be of assistance to you.
Editor’s Note: This review was updated March 23, 2010 to include a link to a Gamertell story containing eight Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey demon passwords.