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.
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.
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.
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.