JRPGs have some of the most rabid and fervent fans in the video game community, and no one series commands as much excitement as the Shin Megami Tensei series, save perhaps for Final Fantasy. Shin Megami Tensei, in particular the Persona spin-off series, has achieved such a cult following that it becomes a mark of pride for many gamers to talk at length about which games in the series they own and have played. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, apart from being a game with a stunningly long title, is an enhanced port of a DS game from 2010. The original game was one of the biggest RPGs released for the DS, and the enhanced port features redrawn graphics, extra endings and a new character not featured in the DS version.
The story follows a team of human researchers and soldiers sent into a strange anomaly that has appeared over the South Pole. The anomaly appears to be eating up ground; everything that tries to enter into it gets ripped into pieces, and the few drones that have survived appear to transmit back strange images. After the team are sent in, they crash, and so they must survive against hordes of strange demonic creatures to figure out what is causing the anomaly and how to safely get back home. The game also has a branching story, with your different choices affecting how things work out for the team by the end of the game. Luckily, these choices have a tendency to avoid falling into the trap of most games’ binary moral decisions, and instead they manage to feel more like a personality test that typifies the sort of character that you are playing.
The game follows a similar style to many of the other Shin Megami Tensei games, being a first-person, dungeon-crawling RPG. You explore several different dungeon levels, which you map out as you go, and must perform a variety of missions to advance the plot of the story. Each of the different dungeons that you explore have their own aesthetic and are constructed on grids, with secret doors, hidden items and a slew of bizarre looking creatures to come across. As with many JRPGs, there are lots of random battles to come across, and when you enter a battle, things remain in a first-person perspective. The battle system has things in common with many older JRPGs, like the original Phantasy Star and Earthbound, sharing a perspective where you never see your own characters on-screen during a battle and choose all of your characters’ attacks before they’re performed in one long sequence. Your combat options are split into 4 different types: skills, changes, defend and items, but your main character also has some other options at their disposal, such as fleeing or special command abilities.
There is one more main character-specific ability that ties into an extra element of the gameplay: talk. The demons that you come across in the field don’t necessarily need to be bested in combat, some of them can be conversed with, depending on the type of character you are playing as and the story choices that you make throughout the game. When you talk with a demon, you have to make several conversation choices when trying to become friendly with the demon in question. When you’re friends with a demon, you can request that it gives you items, money or joins you on your quest to fight by your side. This demon collecting element draws parallels to monster catching games like Pokemon and Monster Rancher. Once you’ve befriended a demon, you can select it as a party member, where it will assist you in battle, gain experience and level up, occasionally giving you items as it gets closer to you. The demons all have different abilities, which can unlock and mutate as they level up, and most of which have elemental attributes that you can’t unlock yourself until quite late in the game.
As well as ‘capturing’ different demons, you can also combine demons to create new ones, usually coming with a stark increase in power and special abilities. There is a level cap to these combinations, however, stopping you from creating demons who are higher in level than you are. You also have to keep an eye on the different alignments of your demons, as the different types will perform co-op attacks with you and each other if these alignments match. These co-op attacks can really turn the tide of a battle, occurring every time you or a demon gets a critical hit on an enemy. Apart from your demons and your different attack abilities, your main character is also in possession of a special suit which is used to survive the alien environments of the anomaly. This suit can be periodically upgraded to provide you with different field abilities, such as uncovering and unlocking doors, finding special items scattered about the stage, and special bonuses when talking to different demons. These upgrades can be purchased from the ship your team entered the anomaly in by going to the lab and providing them with different materials to invent the new upgrades. You can also go to this place to create new weapons, armour and consumables which will help you survive all of the hazards you’re likely to come across.
While the demon abilities and special suit features help you out in combat, the game can be a bit hard at times, resulting in some unwanted grind. However, if you can work past this, there is a lot to be enjoyed here, and by thinking and planning strategically, you can get past most of the difficulty spikes without having to stress out too much. The new features of the enhanced port are pretty damn noticeable, firstly because the game is entirely voice acted, albeit in Japanese. There are also several redrawn art assets, mainly character and demon art, as well as a few new story elements. The most noticeable of these is the new character of Alex, who shows up in the second area and thoroughly wrecks the main character’s day. All of the music and sound effects manage to enhance an already pretty stunning game, and added to the incredible length of the game, they might make it one of the best 3DS JRPGs on the market, which is saying a lot. The atmosphere of the game is very surreal, which matches a lot of the artwork and environment design. The different characters that you interact with start to have moments of near-insanity as you progress through the story, and there are several hints from the demons you come across that the humans are the real evil force at work in the universe. The strange themes and use of odd, bright colours really add to the crazy feeling of the game.
Overall, the game is still as stunning as it was on the DS, if not even more so. The demon collecting mechanics really add to the replayability, along with the branching storyline, and the combat system is about as tried and tested as they come. If you’re into the idea of a surreal, dungeon-crawling adventure in a strange world, then you really cannot go wrong here.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 18th May 2018