Starting off is a familiar feature for main series Shin Megami Tensei lovers: alliances. In this game, they’re called “stances” and is a basic characteristic of demons that you have to take into account if you’re going to use the properly. The protagonist also has his own stance, which will affect what demons he can use better. This will change depending on the choices you make during the game.
When you have demons of the same stance in your party, you can activate Devil Co-op, a combo attack that repeatedly attacks the enemy’s weaknesses. This means that you’ll have to be aware of what stance the demon you’re using to attack is so that you can link chains of attacks together. The game seems to be much harder if you don’t take advantage of this feature.
On the topic of difficulty, the game is set such that fighting easy battles isn’t going to reward you a lot of EXP. Only by fighting slightly hard battles will you gain an appreciable amount. This game may seem difficult on the offset, but that is probably because games recently don’t make it too easy for you to reach the Game Over screen if you’re playing on autopilot. In Strange Journey, you’ll have to think, something that the Shin Megami Tensei series prides themselves in.
And yes, the “ Mudo = automatic Game Over ” is back, something that SMT fans will either find nostalgic or despise with a passion. That being said, the save points in the game are located conveniently so that you won’t be too frustrated every time you have to play some part over.
Now for some of the new features. Being on the DS, you’d think that the game would let you trade demons through the wireless or the Wi-Fi. No, this game takes advantage of a very old system: passwords. Each demon you raise has a password that encodes its stats, level, and skills. To “trade” demons, you give the password to a friend, who then inputs this password and voila! He or she has an exact copy of your demon. Of course you don’t lose your demon in the process.
Because a simple string of numbers and letters encodes all the information about your demon, it’s possible even to get codes from blogs or FAQ sites, so sharing demons is much easier. This allows you to strategize easier for boss battles or dungeons. Of course, because this is possible, it will probably mean that the game will be difficult even if you have a “powerful” demon.
The Shin Megami Tensei series places an enormous importance on being able to strike your enemy’s weaknesses. This is why trading demons is so important, because otherwise you could literally spend hours trying to raise a demon with just the right skill set, only to find that you can’t use it anymore because of your protagonist’s change in alliance. This is also why, when you fight new demons for the first time, it can actually be kind of scary. They may decimate your team before you even know what’s happening.
Of course, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of “I don’t know its weaknesses, and because I don’t know its weaknesses I can’t defeat it, and because I can’t defeat it I can never gain Analyzer info on it to the point where it’ll show me its weaknesses, so I’ll just keep on running.”
Finally, the last point of discussion is the story and characters. (You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?) While the exact connection between this game and the rest of the core Shin Megami Tensei series is unknown, it is known that the atmosphere of the game is kind of like an epic movie, conveyed through the voices and the dialogue tone. Also, the game has an enormous amount of content. Aside from the main story, there’s item fusion and EX missions, as well as the Devil Analyzer should you choose to try to complete it.
As an entry to the series, the game focuses on giving a very “Oh, this is the very definition of SMT” feel. Part of this is from the tension and difficulty level because so much is unknown. You don’t know about new demons when you encounter them and you don’t know about the area until you explore it. Only after doing so do you get Analyzer information and uncover the map.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is kind of like the modern interface meets the past, when games didn’t hold you by the hand the whole way through.