Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux

There’s a Sub App for That

In March 2010, Atlus localized what they considered the fourth main installment of their Shin Megami Tensei, Strange Journey, offering something of a throwback experience similar to the first two main entries of the franchise, given its emphasis on first-person dungeon-crawling. Spring 2018 would see the North American release of an enhanced rerelease of the game entitled Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, which features many gameplay tweaks that just might appeal to those who either missed out on the original version or didn’t care much for it.

During dungeon exploration, an indicator in one corner of the screen gradually turns red to indicate how close the player is to encountering enemies, similar to Nocturne. Sub Apps ultimately become available to reduce, increase, or nullify battles with weaker opponents, accounting for largely stress-free travel. Fights occur against a party of demons, with the player able to negotiate with one of them at a time to get them to join their party if the protagonist’s levels meet or exceed that of the monster. The player, however, can’t recruit all adversaries through negotiation and only get them through fusion.

If a foe is willing to parley, they’ll ask two philosophical questions, where incorrect answers will most likely result in them launching a counterstrike or cause them to leave combat. If successful, however, the enemy will either give an item or offer the player a selection of choices including recruitment of the demon, Macca (the game’s currency), an item, or healing. Recruitment necessitates the player to fulfill a demon’s demands for things such as money, items, or some of the hero’s health or magic, and luckily, unlike in other entries of the franchise, demons won’t bail out on negotiation so long as players can satisfy their desires.

Should the player choose to battle encountered enemies instead, they’ll find a traditional turn-based system where they input commands for the four active characters, the protagonist included, and let them and the enemy exchange commands in a round. Turn order can sometimes vary, although fortunately, the protagonist’s use of consumable items always gets first priority should players have him use one; that demons can’t use items themselves is somewhat odd, especially since many of them have hands, but the mentioned priority of using consumables largely atones for this issue, and isn’t a terrible detriment to the game.

Demons are of one of three different philosophical alignments: Law, Neutral, and Chaos, with the hero himself sporting one, initially Neutral, although varied answers to philosophical questions throughout the game can affect his alignment. In a twist similar to contemporary titles in the Megami Tensei series, exploiting the weaknesses of enemies rewards the player, in this entries case where other demons and/or the protagonist of the same alignment of the weakness-exploiter follow with their own extra attacks. Fortunately, while foes can exploit the weak points of the player’s party, the aforementioned system doesn’t work for them, putting players at a perpetual advantage in battle.

Sub Apps can increase the potency of follow-up attacks, in addition to performing other duties such as allowing the player one screwup should they give an incorrect answer during demon negotiation, increasing the odds of demons joining the player’s party on their own, allowing for extra Macca during recruitment, and so forth. Winning a battle normally results in experience for the protagonist and his demons, not to mention Macca they can use at the headquarter landship to purchase weapons, guns, armor, and consumables, or use to summon demons from their compendium if desired.

During dungeon exploration, the player may come across materials that they can use at HQ to make new items available, similar to the system in Atlus’s fellow first-person dungeon-crawling series Etrian Odyssey. The gameplay is largely enjoyable, although there are some issues that can make it intimidating to play on high difficulties, such as how the game takes demons out of the player’s party if they die, with the player needing to revive it one turn and resummon it the next, not to mention the somewhat-challenging endgame boss battles. However, a few Sub Apps can somewhat counter the system’s shortcomings, and there are special consumables and demon skills that can both revive and resummon demons in one round.

Redux’ control is largely solid, with the 3DS version now allowing players to make “Field Saves” anywhere within dungeons that luckily don’t force them to quit the game, in addition to terminals where players can save their game as well or teleport back to a dungeon’s entrance. The rerelease also ditches the original’s limit on equippable Sub Apps, and things such as navigating the menus, fusing demons, and exploring the dungeons themselves, automatically mapped, don’t require too much effort. There is maybe a point or two where finding out how to advance the storyline can be difficult, and a few dungeons are somewhat annoying, but otherwise, the game interfaces well with the player.

The storyline is superficially similar to those in early Shin Megami Tensei titles, given the presence of characters that represent Law and Chaos, but Redux generally tells it well, with a focus on an exploration of a void consuming Antarctica known as the Schwarzwelt, with different endings depending upon the player’s alignment and choices made throughout the game. The rerelease sports an extra dungeon and central character, as well, and the game dialogue is largely free of error, accounting for a satisfying plot.

One area of the localization that might be hit-or-miss for certain players, however, is Atlus USA’s decision not to dub the game’s Japanese voicework in English, despite the alleged international representation of various characters in the plot, although given the chattiness of many monsters in combat, and the tendency of monster voices to sound bad dubbed, this decision was probably for the better. Full marks definitely go to franchise composer Shoji Meguro, with an orchestrated feel to many tracks and plenty of ominous chanting.

The visuals are probably the low point of the game, given the lack of any meaningful updates and lack of 3-D, although they definitely aren’t bad, given the superb character and demon artwork, and depiction of various emotions for the former. Enemies in the first-person battles have animation, although they don’t show any variation when executing their commands. The graphics are by no means bad, but given the 3DS’s capabilities, could have definitely looked better.

Finally, playing time totals between one to two days, and a New Game+ allows players to fiddle around with different alignments in subsequent playthroughs.

Overall, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is for the most part a solid rerelease that hits most of the right notes, particularly regarding its strategic gameplay, near-note-perfect save system, the enjoyable narrative with potential variations, the great soundtrack, superb art, and plenty reason to come back for more. There are areas that leave room for improvement, however, such as the slightly-grindy endgame, occasional annoying dungeons, and the lack of notable visual upgrades, but those who missed the original version owe it to themselves to check out the 3DS rerelease.

The Good:
+Solid strategic battle engine.
+Near-perfect save system.
+Great plot with variations and polished translation.
+Nice soundtrack and Japanese voicework.
+Superb art.
+Excellent replay value.

The Bad:
-Endgame can be annoying.
-Can be intimidating to play on higher difficulties.
-A few annoying dungeons.
-Rare poor direction on how to advance.
-Plot superficially similar to those in prior entries.
-No visual upgrade, with no 3-D capability.

The Bottom Line:
A great remake for those who missed the original.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 9/10

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