While I claim to be a Shin Megami Tensei series fan, I have to admit, the only SMT games I have played thus far were the Persona series, and from my understanding those are actually an offshoot. The demons (or Personas) in the core series may be the same, but the story style and the general atmosphere of the games are much different. So when I had heard that Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey was created with the focus on the nostalgic fans of the old SMT original series in mind, I was skeptical about just how much I would enjoy this game.
Despite this thought, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. The first-person view in the top screen of the DS is odd at first, but you get used to it soon enough. There are several applications given to you that help you along the way, and you really need the help. At first, dungeons are straightforward, but then come unlocking doors, finding hidden doors, walking through pitch darkness where even the map on the bottom screen doesn’t show anything, teleportation, and falling through trap holes. Sometimes, just plain old twists and turns are used … in very, very copious amounts. Without the minimap on the bottom or any of the applications given to you for the Demonica Suit, you wouldn’t get anywhere.
Learning how to use these is a snap too. The tutorials in the game are very effective. I actually believe the key to its success is that it gives you a little at a time rather than all the information at once. As an added bonus, you can access the tutorials anytime you want with at most two button clicks in the field map.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is probably the first game where I’ve actually looked forward to dungeon-crawling and revisiting old dungeons with new tools, but my favorite part of the game is still the demons. These guys are organized according to the main SMT series (because this game is part of the main series, unlike the recent Devil Survivor, also sold with the SMT moniker), with categories such as Genma, Dragon, Divine, Avian, Raptor, etc. The fusion pretty much works the same way as in the main series as well, as does recruiting. I ended up wandering in areas for a few extra hours just to get extra fusion fodder. With so many demons available, a good time is spent planning out my future team too.
Which brings me to battles. Battling runs very quickly, especially with the Auto button, should you choose to use it (makes grinding so much quicker). The Y button also allows you to view any stat changes that have happened during the battle. Stance and matching weaknesses are a very important part of battles. While not so essential in the random battles (which are actually determined by a certain number of distance traveled, so it’s not really random in a sense), a bad team can really make what could be a quick battle drawn out and slow. Needless to say, a good team is absolutely necessary for boss battles. These are difficult even if you’re overleveled with a team that matched up to the boss’s weaknesses exactly.
Stance is determined by the responses you give to various questions posed to you by your crewmates and by demons. Although this doesn’t seem to affect the response much other than the reaction the others give you, I am only halfway through with the game. More importantly, stance allows you to chain attacks with demons when one of you hits the enemy’s weaknesses. The term weaknesses is kind of misleading – you only do a little more damage than you normally would. However, hitting the weaknesses causes all the other demons on your team that have the same stance to attack as well. This way you get multiple hits in one turn. On the other hand, the term resistance means exactly that; an attack that would normally do 70 damage may do only 10 against an enemy with natural protection to it. Taking full advantage of cooperative attacks and resistances requires some planning ahead and judicious use of Devil Sources.
Sources are handy little items that allow you to give certain skills to other demons during a fusion. This is especially handy, I find, when you find a fusion for a demon with the perfect resistances and it’s lacking just that one attack. These items are actually fairly easy to get too. The only problem is that, unless you recapture a demon and level it up again with its Analyzer info at maximum, you only have one of each.
With all this said, the game is a perfect balance in difficulty. While dying is never a possibility that is ruled out (I found myself dying in a random battle once because of bad luck), this problem is countered with the save points scattered throughout the map in well-placed positions. Fights almost always require a strategy on some level, even if you’re overlevelled for one of the many random battles, and sometimes running is the best option – not because you don’t want to fight (as is usually the case with me when I’m grinding), but because you know that if you do, you can’t win.
The story for Strange Journey wasn’t something very original, but the game does transmit the atmosphere well. Shoji Meguro really took a break from his usual style of music and composed a soundtrack that practically embodies the words “ominous” and “demonic.” As you explore the dungeon, you find dead bodies of your crewmates occasionally, and sometimes you get to see them go off their rocker too. In a setting like that, I couldn’t help but feel anxious over time as well.
With that said, I need to get back to finding a way to beat this next boss…