Fans of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series won’t find many surprises in Strange Journey. The newest title contains all the familiar elements of demon-summoning and fusion, the same ability names, and plenty of regulars from the series’ stable of extradimensional creatures. Luckily, the game also contains the same charm that earned its predecessors such a strong following. It’s a familiar taste, but it’s comforting rather than stale.
Strange Journey has you playing a member of an elite military strike team comprised of soldiers and experts from all over the world. Their mission, led by a Commander Gore, is to stop the spread of a mysterious phenomenon that appeared over Antarctica and threatens to spread across the entire globe. As if that global-warming metaphor were subtle, characters continue to critique humanity’s flaws throughout the game, with heavy-handed questions about how selfish people can band together to save the world, and whether it’s worth saving at all.
Much of the plot is delivered in huge text-dumps that can be a slog to get through. The writing and the characters aren’t deep enough to make it worth investing the time to talk to everyone regularly.
But while the framing is flawed, at its heart, Strange Journey is a hugely satisfying dungeon-crawl. Exploration and experimentation are strongly encouraged. While players are constantly on some form of mission, there’s never any reason to rush, and power-leveling is often necessary in order to bulk up for the rough boss fights. Players can leisurely wander the game’s massive, labyrinthine dungeons, which are sprinkled with traps, hidden items, side quests, and—of course—demons.
You control the protagonist and a party filled with demons, which you must persuade to follow you. Gaining a new party member typically requires complex negotiations, like trying to figure out a pattern in what a demon likes, failing, and then just trying to get lucky by randomly picking the right multiple-choice answers to its questions. The questions rarely repeat, and even when they do, the desired response varies from demon to demon, so negotiations never become about memorization. Banter only gets your protagonist so far. Most demons also require bribes in the form of items, health, or mana. A string of bad luck can be frustrating, but the result is that each demon feels like a real prize. Getting together a team with the perfect lineup of abilities to take advantage of your enemies’ weaknesses helps make the game go a lot easier. But discovering you can turn two random demons into a healer that looks like a well-armored duck is just awesome.