Jahanzeb Khan
27 May, 2010

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Review

DS Review | Import: Strangely spectacular.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Nintendo DS has become the Japanese RPG machine of this generation. Of all the Japanese game development studios, Atlus has so far released the most RPGs on the system. This makes sense, as the studio isn’t particularly known for having a large budget but they do have a fantastic vision when it comes to RPGs, and so the DS is easily the ideal platform for them to release innovative and enjoyable RPGs. The PAL region got their fair share of these releases (though much less than North America) and these include the likes of Etrian Odyssey and Trauma Center. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any of the DS entries for their main franchise, Shin Megami Tensei, released here. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is the latest entry in the legendary franchise which, for now, is only available as an import.

The story of Strange Journey takes place on present day Earth and revolves around the ‘Schwarzwelt’, a mysterious void that has appeared in Antartica, and it’s expanding at a threatening rate, seemingly engulfing the planet. The United Nations sends in special investigation teams to the South Pole to investigate it. As the team attempts to venture into the Schwarzwelt (and despite their careful planning and calculations) a freak accident traps them inside the void. You play as an American soldier who is a part of the Strike Team (a combat unit) and now you must both investigate and survive inside the Schwarzwelt, finding out the true nature of the mysterious phenomenon and finding an escape route, all while fighting the demons that lurk within.

As the team explores the Schwarzwelt, you learn more about the strange phenomenon as well as its cause, purpose and the role of the demons that inhabit it. Like any Shin Megami video game, the story has strong religious, scientific and philosophical themes that makes it interesting and compelling. The way the story is structured, the heavy use of terminologies and jargon, the characters (who are duty-driven soldiers) and the plot progression in general feels really mature and well executed. One thing is for sure, this isn’t your typical JRPG plot with emotional androgynous characters. What you have instead is a decent Western Sci-fi plot that will appeal to gamers normally turned off by pesky JRPG conventions.

Strange is what defines this game.

Strange is what defines this game.

A cursory glance of Strange Journey will give the impression that it is exactly like the hardcore first person dungeon crawler, Etrian Odyssey. This is because Strange Journey uses a modified version of the Etrian Odyssey engine, hence the 3D first person mechanics and similar visuals. However, this is where the similarities end as Strange Journey is an entirely different beast. The game is a classic Shin Megami Tensei title, most of which are Japanese only, fine tuned and modified for the current age of gaming.

You explore several sectors within the Schwarzwelt, each ending with a major boss battle. Each sector of this mysterious void is a reflection of the human world. For example, one of the sectors is a shopping complex. There is a lot to do, collect and explore, and apart from the main missions you can also engage in several side missions. There is a lot to explore as even after you journey to the next sector, you can revisit old sectors to open up previously inaccessible areas. The exploration aspect is indeed quite intoxicating and you’ll be inclined to explore every single square inch of an area to discover all the items and quests. What’s great about Strange Journey is that you always know what you’re supposed to be doing but at the same time, it doesn’t feel too linear as you can take detours and make a few choices along the way.

Strange Journey features a turn based battle system that utilises a first person perspective. This traditional system works wonders for a portable RPG as it is fast and effective. It’s similar to what we can find in games like Etrian Odyssey and Dragon Quest, but this isn’t just your traditional (and highly balanced) turn based battle system as it still has some cool features. For starters, since you play as a soldier, you are able to equip two weapons, a sword and a gun, and use a variety of different sword and gun types. The battle system also has an alignment system where, after you exploit an enemy’s weakness, you can follow it up with a team attack for some extra damage, provided that you and your demons have the same alignment…Demons we say? The awesome thing about Strange Journey is that you can work with the very demons that threaten your team and all of humanity.

First person battles are still cool in 2010.

First person battles are still cool in 2010.
This brings us to the conversation system, where instead of initiating battle with an enemy demon, you can choose to talk to it. This allows you to engage in a conversation which can be on a variety of different topics, and depending on how well it goes you can then proceed to negotiate with the demon. This includes asking for money, items and the most important of all, asking it to become your demon and hence joining your party. How well the conversation goes, depends on your compatibility/alignment with the demon. The alignment system is pretty simple, depending on the choices you make during the game, the alignment of your main character will be one of the three: Neutral, Law or Chaos. You’ll be able communicate with demons of the same alignment easily and be able to execute the team attack, ‘Demon-Co op’. There are over 300 demons to battle and collect in this game and they come in various types, personalities, alignments and unorthodox appearances.

Then comes demon fusion, a fairly straight forward process where you can combine two demons to create a new one and PAL gamers will remember this from the Persona games. There are also special recipes that require more than one demon. The most interesting aspect however is the password feature, with which you can summon up a demon simply by entering a password and spending some money. The passwords are not only scattered in the game, but Atlus themselves have released a few passwords to certain websites. From negotiations, to collecting and fusions, Strange Journey’s 300+ demons add a lot of substance and players will probably want to ‘catch em’ all’.

Strange Journey looks like a simple RPG from the outset, but underneath are layers upon layers of stats, numbers and customizations. You can upgrade your character’s battle suit with plenty of cool applications that do things like reducing encounter rate and allowing you to play games with demons on a full moon, and much more. You can also extract and collect resources which will allow you to create new armour, weapons and items. There are no random encounters as the HUD displays a bar which changes colour as you take steps and a battle initiates when it turns red. What’s great about this game is that even though it is so dense, it doesn’t have the same level of excruciating difficulty as other hardcore first person RPGs and the challenge is just right and is quite rewarding. There is of course, plenty of levelling involved but thankfully, the battles are fast. The boss battles are not cheap but instead offer an admirable challenge, giving you a real sense of accomplish upon defeating them. With so much content and deep elements, gamers can easily clock 50+ hours with this monster title. However, sometimes the depth and immense customisation can feel a bit overwhelming but thankfully not as discouraging as similar games in the genre. It rewards anyone willing to experiment, in order find/create their ideal demon party and customise the main character to their play style.

Numbers and stats = fun, like seriously.

Numbers and stats = fun, like seriously.

Graphically, the game is serviceable for a Nintendo DS title. The 3D graphics are quite similar to what we saw in Etrian Odyssey and are decent enough. The character design, art and sprites however are pretty cool. Shin Megami Tensei games have always featured a very unique and dark art style and ambience, and Strange Journey features the same dark and edgy flair. Musically, the soundtrack is dark, haunting and spooky as it sounds like the kind of music they probably play in dark cult meetings. That said it is still a very well composed and mesmerizing score.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is an immensely deep and dense role playing game with plenty of substance and things to do, so much that there are many little but awesome things we had to leave out in this review, for the sake of making it readable. What is fascinating about it is that despite the primitive appearance, it actually has most of the elements that a modern Japanese RPG really ought to have. With the interesting western sci-fi plot, fun battle system, deep customization, demon shenanigans and the fact that the game is fast and fully portable, makes Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey one of the most immersive and compelling RPGs you can find on the Nintendo DS or any handheld.
The Score
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is one of the most dense, addictive and compelling role playing games you can find on the Nintendo DS. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
I think you might be confusing Atlus and Atlus USA in your first paragraph.
3 years ago
^thanks for picking that icon_y1.gif
3 years ago
most megaten games are pretty good. My favs are still the persona's though. This does look interesting but I just never seem to finish rpgs on ds.
3 years ago
its also on the Wii.
3 years ago
Atlus is just pure win, looking forward to adding this to my RPG stockpile. There really isn't enough time to play through all of em, still haven't finished P3 even though P4 has been sitting on the shelf since last year.
3 years ago
mikezilla2 wrote
its also on the Wii.
What is?

Nice review Jahanzeb, this game really is crazy addictive. Demon fusion has got to be the main thing that just keeps me wanting to play some more. I don't know why!
3 years ago
I've had this on the Nintendo DS gaming console for a bit over a month now (imported).
I hadn't previously played the games mentioned in this review (Etrian Odyssey + Dragon Quest) so this type of retro game was quite new to me.

The fact that the gameplay is 'dense' yet not too insanely difficult (as said) is a plus for me. I've spent in the low 30's hours on it and from what I've seen so far I would give it an 8.5 - even though it is a great title quite different to games I've played before.

Good review, sums up the main parts of the game well (conversing / turn-based time system / fusion).
I'm not sure what kind of an effect they tried to have with the music but I'm not too much of a fan of it (maybe that's why I'd bump it down from 9) but taking the gameplay into account 9 really is a fair score icon_y1.gif
3 years ago
Nice review there! You've done a good job with explaining how even though the game runs on the same engine as Etrian Odyssey, the game had far more storyline and development than your average "first-person dungeon crawler", so the similarity basically ends there. In all fairness, though, I haven't played very much, so I can't comment on how difficult or insanely mazey the later dungeons or areas are.

What I have played showed a very "adult" style of RPG, with dialogue and characters to match. They all seemed mature and very importantly, they seemed real.

Hopefully more people will give this series a chance, especially the people who insist that the RPG genre needs something to shake it up a bit. This is the series they should look into.

I'm not sure whether this would be the best game to start with, however, but it would be nice to know that the Persona series converts them into fans and that they will pick this up eventually.
3 years ago
I agree Kyle - I haven't got many other RPG style games on my Nintendo DS console so it's difficult for me to compare. But you are right, it does seem a much more mature/adult RPG than other RPG's I have played on my other gaming systems.
Maybe that's another reason I'm slowly becoming a fan of it. Good point and well said icon_y1.gif
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Australian Release Date:
  15/06/2010 (NoRelease)
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