By Spencer . March 22, 2010 . 6:55pm
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey wastes no time setting up the end of the world scenario. The Earth is in disarray from overpopulation and a growing void over the South Pole is the straw that broke the tyrant’s back. People panic. The United Nations sends in a highly trained team equipped with Demonica suits inside the hole. This is where you come in. You’re one of the Strike Team members sent out of the Red Sprite and into the demon filled world… on foot.
Fortunately, you get an adapter that allows you to summon demons really early. Without it, you and the rest of the Red Sprite squad may have met a grisly fate like the crew from other ships. Zelenin, a Russian scientist from the Elve, survived, but is still disgusted by the demon summoning program. Jimenez, a refugee from the Blue Jet, is gung-ho on summoning and desperately looking for a way to escape to Earth. His sarcastic comments add spice to Arthur’s dry dialogue. Arthur (cleverly named after a sci-fi author) is the “brains” of the operation and a cold computer with an artificial personality.
You… well, like most Shin Megami Tensei games, are a silent protagonist. Your choices determine what demons join you and ultimately how the game ends.
Before that happens there are dungeons. Lots of dungeons. Long dungeons. First person dungeons with haunting chants for background music. If you didn’t get that, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is a dungeon crawler. The game shares more in common with Etrian Odyssey (minus map drawing), than the MegaTen spin-offs such as Persona and Devil Survivor. A handy auto-map records landmarks such as save points and traps on the bottom screen. Instead of castles and mountains, the dungeons in Strange Journey have a subtle touch of humanity’s vices with war torn towns, red light districts, and a shopping mall with a green hue from signs saying “BUY!”
But, you can’t “buy” items from demon stores. All purchasing and crafting is done on the Red Sprite. Sickbay is the game’s inn and the lab acts as an all purpose shop. If you want to make new armor or handy sub-apps that alter your Demonica’s abilities, you need macca (MegaTen money) and consumable forma. Demons drop forma, but you can also find forma crystals just by walking around. Your visor scans the environment, identifies hidden forma and UMA (read: tough monsters) within a few squares. The clever scanning system encourages players to explore unknown areas and backtrack to discover secrets. And secrets keep coming. Dungeons are static, but forma and UMA “respawn.” Optional EX
fetch quests Missions given out by demons and locked doors are other reasons to revisit old dungeons. The amount of ground to cover and treasure to find is immense. For the most diehard dungeon crawlers, there is a list of records to earn. Ever walk backwards?
While trudging through floor after floor your character (i.e. you) is frequently asked to make moral choices. These put your on various paths and also, to an extent, affect the turn based battle system. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey expects you to exploit weaknesses. A useful chart on the second screen keeps track of what hurts say, Jack Frost. You probably know that answer already, but if you didn’t (spoiler alert!) it’s fire. Cast “Agi” to deal extra damage plus make all of the demons of the same alignment link up for a co-op attack. So, if you’re neutral Pyro Jack will jump in. If you’re law, Principality will help you. Demons follow the same rules. As an example, a chaos demon like Lilim will join a demon co-op attack if another chaos demon casts fire. If all of the demons (and you) are the same alignment it’s possible to trigger a triple co-op attack and hit all of the enemies. Just hit a group of Jack Frosts with “Maragi”. There is a good amount of pre-battle strategy here. Is it better to have a power demon with a conflicting alignment or a weakling who can contribute to a co-op attack?
Balancing all of these attributes plus negotiating with demons may sound complicated, but Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is quite welcoming. First, a color code lets you know when a not-so-random encounter is approaching. (That’s a hint to heal, if you stepped on damaging floors.) A password system lets players share demons too. If you’re stuck at a boss, you can ask a friend (presumably ahead of you) to send passwords for a batch of well equipped demons. You still can’t control demons ahead of your level, but you can jack up low level demons up with powerful spells. Demon Sources, given to you by demons as a level up gift if you use them enough, allow you to control which abilities fused demons inherit. Since randomness isn’t as much of a factor you can pass “–dyne” level spells to a pixie. Of course, MP (magic points) are still a limit, but you can squeak out one or two beyond your level powerful attacks. Think of this as a potential Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey super guide. Atlus said the will release passwords to unlock special demons online.
With over 300 something demons to find Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey has a ton of helpers to find, that is when you’re not getting lost. Pacing through the intestinal-like dungeons will keep you busy for hours while you contemplate if mankind worthy of salvation.