Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Interview On Taking The Series Outside Tokyo

By Spencer . March 19, 2010 . 1:19pm


Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey takes the demon summoning series in a different direction. There are less cyberpunk elements, more sci-fi tones (the computer is named Arthur…), and you’re not in Tokyo. The game is set in Antarctica and features an international group of heroes investigating a dimensional portal called the Schwarzwelt.


You’ll experience all of that next week when the game enters retail portals out in North America. Before you do hear what Nich Maragos, Project Editor, and Yu Namba, Project Lead, from Atlus USA have to say about the latest entry in the core Shin Megami Tensei series.


How does the story in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey compare to the other core Shin Megami Tensei games?


Granted that the only "core" SMT game released in the U.S. is Nocturne, Strange Journey’s story is as strong, dark, and foreboding as the rest of the core titles. The world faces a global-scale disaster as the Schwarzwelt engulfs Antarctica and continues to expand over the rest of Earth, but the world is already in a state of decay and conflict at the hands of people. The protagonist is sent into the Schwarzwelt to save the planet; what he sees, experiences, and chooses to do, will decide the fate of the entire world–no matter what the outcome may be.


”G”‘P2†Q…t…H†[…}…b… Strange Journey has more of a sci-fi feel than the other main entries in the SMT series. What was it like working with science fiction? Did you sneak in any references to famous works?


We didn’t sneak in any references, but there were plenty to be found in the original game that we preserved. Arthur and Verne are allusions to classic sci-fi authors, and there are minor incidental characters named Blair and Norris, who are most likely drawn from The Thing.


What kind of choices do players get to make for the law/chaos paths?


There are choices everywhere. There are several big decision moments, of course, as well as how you choose to respond to some questions in the storyline, but the way you answer the demons’ questions during negotiation also matters.


strangejourney_characterart_protagonist_1 As a personal opinion, do you think changing the setting from Tokyo like other SMT games and having an cast of characters from various regions broadens the game’s appeal?


Speaking personally, I think it could help. One thing I see a lot online with other SMT games is that American players are reluctant to enter their real names as the protagonist’s, as I think the developers intend them to do. They feel a little strange giving ethnically Japanese characters distinctly non-Japanese names, which is understandable. Hopefully, since our protagonist of Strange Journey is an American, they’ll be more comfortable using their real names for Strange Journey. That said, I can see how it might still feel strange for a black player or a female player to use their own names. If the creators ever decide to take this international approach again in the future, I think adding some diversity through character creation would be a great way to make American players feel even more at ease in the protagonist’s shoes.


How has the press turn system evolved?


Strictly speaking, the Press Turn system was only ever in Nocturne and the Digital Devil Saga games. Before its introduction, Since then, to keep things fresh, the series has experimented with variations on Press Turn, such as the 1 More system in Persona 3 and 4, the Extra Turn system in Devil Survivor, and to a certain extent the MAG Balancing System in Devil Summoner 2.


The latest variation, introduced in Strange Journey, is the Demon Co-Op system. In this game, striking an enemy’s weak point will result in any teammates with the same law/neutral/chaos alignment as the attacker following up with an unblockable attack that does extra damage. Not only is the Demon Co-Op system an extension of the principle started in Nocturne that striking weaknesses should give savvy players extra benefits, it also serves as one way to make the player’s alignment matter while being less restrictive than some of the older Japan-only games, which didn’t let you summon opposite-alignment demons at all.


And how has dungeon crawling evolved? SMT: Strange Journey has some tweaks with Demonica armor abilities and auto mapping.


Dungeon crawling in this game will be familiar not only to anyone who’s played Nocturne or the Etrian Odyssey games, but also to fans of Metroid and the recent Castlevania games. During your exploration of the Schwarzwelt, you’ll frequently find ways to upgrade your Demonica armor’s software that let you revisit previous areas to find new things. What with treasure to find, NPCs to talk to, bonus EX Missions to accept and carry out, rare enemies to challenge, and the randomly appearing Forma that the Schwarzwelt is littered with, players who go off the beaten path will nearly always be rewarded in Strange Journey.


One feature that should keep players fixed on earning a perfect file is the achievement-like medal system. Can you discuss this a bit?


The Records, as they’re called in the game, are there purely for fun. You won’t get any items or equipment for earning them. But for players who want to rise to the challenge and test the limits of all the game’s systems, the Records are your reward. There’s over 100 of them for doing all sorts of things, like earning money through negotiation, fusing lots of demons, and even walking backwards.


strangejourney_characterart_morax The developer diary about Skogsra was an interesting read. Were there any other localization quandaries?


The fun thing about working on localization for an SMT game is that it really stretches you in terms of versatility. For this project, not only did we have to write decently convincing military conversations while making sure that the dialogue reflected how the newly international cast might speak, we also had to adopt completely separate “voices” for each of the demon conversation styles, from archaic English to modern young girls to something I’m not even sure how to describe—it’s almost like someone speaking through a clunky auto-interpreter.


I think the password feature is really neat. It adds a social aspect to SMT and sort of acts as a "super guide" where players can copy a demon a specific demon to clear a difficult fight. How is Atlus planning on using it in North America? I recall something about password exclusive demons…


We’ll have a password thread on our official forums for players to exchange demons, though I assume there’ll be password trading going on all over the Internet: GameFAQs, NeoGAF, anywhere there’s a thread devoted to the game, you’ll find people trading passwords back and forth. We also encourage people to post their best demons to their blogs, so readers can see what they managed to pull off with the fusion system.


As for the password-exclusive demons, you might think of that as a way of including a bit of free downloadable content with the game. There are a few special demons, including a couple you can only get through passwords, and those will be posted here and there for players to find and use in their own game.

  • doubleO7

    I never use my real name when naming characters in games, but it has nothing to do with them being of a different ethnicity. I always just found it kinda wierd when a character in a game refers to the player character using my own name, which is why I always either just make up a name (there’s a handful of names that that I tend to use in nearly all of my games) or, if available, I just go with the default name, or name them based on their name in a tv show/movie (like I usually do with pokemon), or comic/manga (like I did with Persona 3 FES and 4)

    • StealthKnight

      I never had any problem using my own name for any characters regardless of ethnicity except if i want to be creative but I make up my own. characters culture does not bother me. It only does not work well if there is voice acing and the characters refer to the character as the original name

    • Zeik56

      There are a few rare games where I’ll name a character after myself, if the characters are ambiguous enough that they don’t feel like their own character.
      A game like SMT though it doesn’t really work for me. Ethnicity and location is often part of it, but it’s also because despite being silent the characters often have some clear presets to their personalities or their actions, so trying to pretend the character is me just doesn’t work. It’s easier to just treat them as characters who I get to influence their actions.

  • “They feel a little strange giving ethnically Japanese characters distinctly non-Japanese names, which is understandable.”
    Hm. I always figured someone would either put their own name in there anyway or something silly. I usually name my characters “Gob Bluth” and my party “BadDudes”. It would make an interesting topic, though!

    I’ll be sure to do that in this game next week!

    • When I was a kid playing FF1, I would name the top character after me and then the other three after my “best friends”. Things got a little weird when my first girlfriend wondered why her SISTER’s name was in there.

      Character limit, I would say. Ever since, I just randomly name my characters.

    • Hraesvelgr

      Hey, I almost always use my own name for naming characters. I never felt like it was that strange in the Persona games, especially the first one. It does seem a bit Mary Sue-ish, but, at the same time, the character is supposed to be me.

      Though, if a game has high replay value and/or character customization, like most Western RPGs, I will use other names… though, I could still use my name, since it’s a unisex name.

  • Moriken

    They made the main an american? Did I understand that right?
    He’s the japanese member in the international team in the original though…

    • Yeah, he’s American in the US version. I should have mentioned it before since I’ve been playing it quite a bit.

  • puchinri

    Sounds like it’s using a lot from Notcurne and taking it up a level (or few). Which is nice for me, since I started playing Nocturne recently.

    Interesting point about the naming and the maybe use of character creation in the future. I go between using canon/reference names and my own nicknames for characters, but naming itself isn’t too tedious usually. And I often don’t have a hard time relating to the characters or enjoying them regardless of culture (and gender). But being black and female, sometimes it would be nice to have someone that represents you, so I’m kinda touched that he touched on that.

    I’m excited to play and interact with the demons, especially considering they did so much to retain character and voice. I don’t know how it was in the other SMT games, but it does sound like Nocturne there too, so I’m really pleasd and excited for that~.

  • I just finished Etrian Odyssey 2 a couple weeks ago, plus Devil Survivor maybe 4 months prior, and I am abnormally excited about this game. I cannot wait to dive into this.

  • Xeahnort

    As always, nice read. SMT: Strange Journey is a great game

  • digitaldevil0

    After the disappoinment of FFXIII, I’m pretty certain this will be my RPG of the year.

  • Joanna

    hm. I tend to go either way with naming. Usually if the game is an old school RPG with a silent protagonist, I’ll name them after myself (or my brother). But if the game has a character with a preset personality, I tend to keep the default name.

    Still, character customization is always nice. So if Atlus does include it in the next SMT, I would be happy.

    • Hraesvelgr

      I don’t believe there are too many JRPGs with character customization (outside of stats), but I would welcome the feature, especially for a game with a silent hero.

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