Thank god for Atlus, which continues to give me reasons to use my 3DS. Lately I’ve been obsessively playing Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, a remake of the 2010 dungeon crawler that is kinda what would happen if you combined the sci-fi mystery Annihilation with a ton of demons. The game is a great pick-up for those of you who like JRPGs.
I didn’t play the original Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, but I’ve heard lots about it. Whenever I’d complain about SMT IV’s terrible map, my friends would tell me to drop the game and just try Strange Journey instead. I considered it, but then the remake got announced and I waited for that instead. I’m glad I did.
Strange Journey Redux kicks off after a mysterious phenomenon starts swallowing Antartica. Nobody knows what it is, why it’s there, or what it’s doing. The only thing people know for certain is that the phenomenon keeps getting bigger, and that anything that is sent in there doesn’t come back out. That’s where you come in. The player is a part of a task force which is sent into the anomaly to investigate it. When you go in, you find a messed-up maze that’s overflowing with demons. The whole thing appears to be a divine consequence of humanity’s excess and greed, which may sound familiar to you if you’ve ever played an SMT game. You have to prove humanity’s worth by diving deeper into the anomaly, which is to say, this is a game with a hell of a lot of dungeon crawling.
Shin Megami Tensei games are notorious for being unforgiving. Strange Journey Redux follows suit, but adds a variety of quality-of-life features that make it a better experience. You can now save anywhere, though the next time you load up you’ll be vulnerable to attack. You can install an unlimited number of “apps” that give you new abilities, like allowing your monsters to continue fighting even after you die. More broadly, this new version of the game adds more routes, endings, demons, and a new character with a brand-new storyline. I haven’t seen much of this yet, and I can’t really speak to how it feels compared to the original game, but I am loving that Redux finds a way to be challenging without feeling like bullshit.
Like all SMT games, you can befriend and use the demons you encounter. I’ve experienced this feature so many times at this point, but it hasn’t gotten old. It helps that Atlus has some killer writers. Talking to demons always feels like an adventure, and you never know what to expect. Some demons are bloodthirsty and want to hear you be a tough guy. Other demons are sensitive and thoughtful. Others...kinda just groan and moan at you. One moment you might find yourself having a philosophical discussion with a demon about humanity, and the next you might be flirting with a sex demon. It’s wild.
Daily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
Each demon has an alignment, and so do you. Your alignment is based on which dialogue options you pick. Beyond dictating which ending you get, alignment also has a gameplay consequence. If you hit a monster’s weak point, any buddies with the same alignment will do a follow-up attack. The game wants you to compose a team with alignments in mind. It’s a neat idea, but in practice, I’ve found it hugely annoying: I want to use my best monsters, not just the ones who agree with me. Then again, I guess it makes sense that the monsters who get along with me the most try a little harder, huh?
In terms of dungeon-crawling, Redux delivers handily. I’ve found myself losing hours at a time just forging forward, trying to reach an exit or staircase. Redux isn’t like other modern SMT games in that you play this one in a first-person view. I’ve found myself largely staring at the map to move forward, because making out where you are can sometimes be a little difficult on the 3DS. But while Redux may not be a looker, it makes up for it by having plenty of moodiness.
Many SMT games take place in Japan. Being at the South Pole for this one makes the game feel a little more ruthless. You’re venturing out into the unknown. I have a feeling I’m going to sink many more hours to find out what’s waiting for me out there.