Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Review

Sci-fi trappings don't make the repetitive gameplay in this dungeon crawler feel any less dated.

by

Since its inception, the Megami Tensei franchise has weaved elements of science fiction with fantasy stories to craft rich worlds steeped in the occult. With the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, developer Atlus has taken a slightly different approach with a story that is much more focused on science fiction than previous entries. Despite this shift in direction, however, Strange Journey is still a game firmly entrenched in the past. Longtime Megami Tensei devotees may be thankful for its return to the first-person dungeon-crawling roots of the series, but those expecting this to live up to the superb Persona 4 or Devil Survivor will be disappointed with the outdated gameplay, straightforward combat, and boring exploration of Strange Journey.

All Strange Journey's really doing is putting a sci-fi filter on traditional Shin Megami Tensei elements.

At the tip of the South Pole, a mysterious black spot that consumes everything within its boundaries has appeared. This spot, dubbed the Schwarzwelt, is observed to be expanding uncontrollably; thus, a multinational team of soldiers and scientists armed with the latest weapons and technology have been sent in to find a way to stop it. After crossing through the threshold, you learn that the Schwarzwelt is actually the gateway to a world of gods and devils fed up with the human race. After an accident traps you inside with demons who endlessly expound on how mankind has squandered and abused their planet without a shred of subtlety, it's up to you and your ship's crew to save the world and escape.

As an American soldier, you spend most of your time securing the various sectors that are found within the Schwarzwelt; each of them a twisted facet of the human world. Gameplay consists primarily of first-person exploration through these mazelike areas which, over time, become increasingly complex. They are also booby-trapped with pitfalls, moving floors, damage tiles, and the like. To survive the bland, repetitive, and presumably harsh environments in the Schwarzwelt, you're equipped with a suit of demonica armor. This set of prototype combat gear automatically maps your movements, and helps you uncover hidden passages, enemies, and items through various subapplications you install. Though the demonica proves invaluable, even with all of its utility, you still often find yourself wandering around aimlessly. There are times when your map does not show you where to go next and your list of objectives doesn't clearly communicate what to do, and so you have no choice but to stumble around looking for hidden passageways or the next story event. This is particularly frustrating if you return to the game after a break and forget where you are.

One area where your demonica does excel, however, is in facilitating interactions with the resident demons of the Schwarzwelt, whether they are violent clashes or philosophical debates. Depending on your equipment, you have a variety of attacks at your disposal to dispatch your enemies, but things don't always have to go down that way--some demons are open to talk. The demon negotiation system--most recently seen in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona on the PSP--has returned once more, allowing you to bribe, wheedle, or scare adversaries into becoming allies. Though this gameplay mechanic was fresh and innovative when it was first introduced well over a decade ago, it's no longer particularly exciting to figure out which of the multiple choice responses you're given will gain a demon's support or its ire. The system hasn't significantly changed in recent years, and dealing with demons in such a passive manner is neither engaging nor intriguing.

Regardless, successfully drafting demon allies means you can summon up to three of them to fight alongside you against their hostile neighbors in the turn-based combat system. Each demon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and so it's necessary to constantly tweak your party to ensure the optimal team depending on the situation. Demons aren't only meant for fighting, though--your recruits can also be fused together to create new, more powerful allies and to pass on special skills and abilities. You can even share your creations with your friends by trading passwords.

Demon negotiation hasn't really changed much in recent years.

Strange Journey features a wide variety of demons to fight, recruit, and customize through fusion, each of which has its own meticulous artwork and animations (though some are reused from previous Megami Tensei games). Likewise, dungeon tile and texture art is highly detailed, though it unfortunately loses its luster due to the repetitive nature of the dungeon-crawling action. Veteran series maestro Shoji Meguro returns to score Strange Journey, and like other aspects of the game, his compositions shift slightly away from the norm to fit the sci-fi plot and settings quite well.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey may be the latest entry in the venerable franchise, but its outdated demon negotiation system and tedious dungeon-crawling action might have you think otherwise. Longtime series fans will no doubt appreciate its return to form for the dozens of hours its appropriately dark story will occupy them, but neophytes--especially those expecting something similar to games like Persona 4--are better off staying away.

The Good
Lots of demon variety
The Bad
Excessively preachy story
Dated negotiation system
Repetitive dungeon-crawling action
Objectives are often unclear
6
Fair
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13 comments
Go32111
Go32111

Bad review, critics need to stop referring to Persona whenever and SMT game comes out.

ScorpionBeeBee
ScorpionBeeBee

So one of the best dungeon crawlers I have ever played gets a 6.0 on the site I referenced the most.  This review was the one that actually got me to stop paying attention to reviews, or at least take most of them with a grain of salt. 

Crok425
Crok425

Why does every reviewer that reviews a main SMT game or a classic Persona game always compare them with P3 or P4? That's just being an hypocrite (and I don't care for the spelling!). ''Don't expect this to be like PERSONA 4'', we don't expect it because Shin Megami Tensei and Persona are two completely different things. And what's with the ''outdated'' negotiation. It's the same as in Nocturne, P1 and P2. ''re-used demons'' right, because you expect just ONE designer to re-design 300 demons. ''tedious dungeon crawling'' if you don't like dungeon crawlers why are you reviewing this game?

Crok425
Crok425

Again with being a complete ignorant and hypocrite idiot.

Deinbeck
Deinbeck

Piss-poor review.  I'm playing through it now and what I see is a return to form for a series that is essentially a Wizardry-inspired dungeon-crawler with it's own unique party building mechanic.

 

A comparison to Nocturne would be far more appropriate than comparing the game to spin-off series that tinker with the core formula too much.

Lambon23
Lambon23

This is a terrible review of the game.

He clearly admires the "dating" aspect of Persona  4; as anyone who played both would tell you how much better the battles are in Strange Journey. Compared to Devil Survivor however...well that's up for debate. Devil Survivor is a whole other beast with very fun gameplay.

 

BarnacleSamurai
BarnacleSamurai

what a joke of a critique. have you ever even played a SMT game before? stop acting like you know your way around the series.  if you did you wouldn't complain about the repetitive dungeon crawling and "preachy" story, because those things that have been in the series since the beginning and have not changed very much at all. you claim that Persona 4 is superior yet that game has the same "straightforward combat and boring exploration" as SJ does. you're looking at this game with way too lofty expectations in the way of innovation (we aren't playing Final Fantasy, this is the conservative and subtle SMT franchise) and are failing to see what this game really achieves in the way of purposefully old-school hardcore delivery and intelligent, insightful storytelling.

Dragard_Kaos
Dragard_Kaos

Terrible review... It's a JRPG, the combat is supposed to be like that...

Gaara17
Gaara17

Where's the love for this game? lol

Gaara17
Gaara17

Wow no comments really?

Deinbeck
Deinbeck

Correction, he never did compare the game with Persona, though he did mention Persona as the most recent incarnation of the demon negotiation system. 

 

The review isn't written for anyone with any knowledge of Shin Megami Tensei, it's more of a cautionary buyer beware message for Persona fanboys.  Easily the most pointless non-review I've ever read on this site.

Leboyo56
Leboyo56

@Gaara17 Comments for reviews were just added at the end of 2011/beginning of 2012. 

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey More Info

First Release on Mar 23, 2010
  • DS
A startlingly original entry in the award-winning Shin Megami Tensei universe, Strange Journey takes the heralded RPG franchise to exciting new sci-fi frontiers while bringing to mind the all-time classic Nocturne.
8.3
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Developed by:
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Genres:
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