Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is a Nintendo DS RPG developed by Lancarse and released by Atlus in Japan on October 8, 2009 and in North America on March 23, 2010. According to producer, artist, and creative director Kazuma Kaneko, at some point in its development the game was intended to be Shin Megami Tensei IV but this was changed due to the game's setting being outside of Tokyo, the series' central location. Though not a numbered title, Strange Journey is still considered as part of the main Shin Megami Tensei series and not a separate spinoff.
Strange Journey's plotline of exploring an Antarctic demon dimension is augmented by first-person gameplay that hearkens back to the older games in the series, such as Soul Hackers, while also being influenced by other more contemporary Atlus games such as Etrian Odyssey, in terms of dungeon crawling and map structure. The game spans an average of 50-70 hours across eight dungeons. Gameplay features introduced to the game include animated demon sprites, easier demon customization options, a unique variation on the series' Press Turn System, and an auto-map using the Nintendo DS's bottom screen.
Amidst a modern human society increasingly hostile towards one another and hellbent on abusing the resources of Earth, a scientific base at the South Pole reports the appearance of a mysterious black void but is subsequently consumed by its rapidly expanding mass. This prompts the top-secret convening of an international council to study the void, which is dubbed the Schwarzwelt by the German scientist who first successfully analyzes its initial properties. Preliminary interior scans of the Schwarzwelt reveal conflicting, unexpected imagery, such as warscapes, shopping malls, and toxic waste dumps.
With the data gleaned from these preliminary analyses, the world's governments pool their resources together and develop specialized equipment suitable for human exploration of this strange expanding void, including shielded air-and-land vehicles and adapted body armor called Demonica Suits. Aboard four of the specialized shielded vehicles and outfitted with the custom Demonica Suits, multi-national teams of the Earth's most highly skilled are sent to the Antarctic to penetrate the Schwarzwelt and investigate if its encroaching body can be halted or destroyed before it envelops the entire world, with a nuclear bombardment from outside being a last resort.
Strange Journey's protagonist, an experienced soldier whose nationality is American or Japanese depending on the region of the game, serves aboard the Red Sprite, one of the four exploration vehicles, whose leader is a consummate officer named Commander Gore. He and the rest of the Red Sprite crew are aided by Arthur, one of four onboard hyper-intelligent AI personalities specially developed for the exploration vehicles. In a pre-mission briefing, the protagonist is also introduced to Jimenez, a brash American who views the mission as little more than a job, and Zelenin, a Russian scientist who is anti-confrontational. All the crews are made to realize the danger of their mission and the high risk for failure.
However undaunted, this danger manifests seconds after entry into the chaotic Schwarzwelt, as all four ships lose both operational control and all contact, either with one another or the outside council. As the protagonist and the Red Sprite crew regain consciousness, they realize they have landed somewhere within the Schwarzwelt, in an icy, terrestrial sector named Antlia by Arthur. Beyond their control, an expansion is downloaded to the crew's Demonicas called the Demon Summoning Program. Soon after, they are beset by attacks from mysterious forces who, with the aid of the Demon Summoning Program, are revealed to be the denizens of the Schwarzwelt: demons. With the other ships unaccounted for, no way out, and the future of the Earth hastily expiring, the protagonist and the Red Sprite crew set forth to explore an increasingly alien dimension that seemingly exists to mock the failures and excesses of humanity.
True to the series, Strange Journey includes the Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment system which provides choices that can affect the outcome of certain portions of the game's story. Other, new characters encountered within the Schwarzwelt act as alignment catalysts and include a mysterious angelic being named Mastema and a distant, young blonde girl. In contrast are an independent crew of human opportunists lead by a man named Jack, who seek to exploit the unique properties of the Schwarzwelt for financial gain. Beneath the main layers of the game's plot is a heavy emphasis on aspects of mother goddess figures and the female principle in mythology, especially in regards to cleansing and rebirth.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is primarily a first-person dungeon crawler with a heavy emphasis on combat and customization. The sectors within the Schwarzwelt become increasingly complex to navigate, and, as with other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, combat is augmented by a party made of demon allies. Aside from new features like Demon Co-ops, many of the game's systems and mechanics are adapted from its direct predecessors Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.
Exploring the eight sectors of the Schwarzwelt is foremost aided by the constant automap on the bottom screen of the Nintendo DS. As the game progresses, more and more obstacles present themselves in the dungeons, such as damage tiles, trap floors, and teleportation mazes. Other exploration anomalies, such as dark areas and hidden walls, can be managed with adaptations made to the protagonist's Demonica Suit. Save point terminals and healing stations are available in small quantities throughout the sectors. The game also uses random battles, though they can be controlled with optional Demonica applications.
Basic combat structure
Like other games in the series, combat in Strange Journey is turn-based with an emphasis on exploiting elemental properties, or combat avoidance through successful negotiation. Enemies and allies will succumb or resist to elements including physical, gun, fire, ice, lightning, wind, light, dark, Almighty, and status effects. Turn order is determined by the agility of the combat participants. Many other aspects of combat are intertwined with defining characteristics of the Shin Megami Tensei series, including player character progression and the extensive demon mechanics.
The stat build of the main character is determined by a personality test given by Gore during the game's introduction and will result in favoring one of the game's five stat categories: strength, vitality, magic, agility, and luck. The skills Strange Journey's protagonist has available at any one time are determined by the gun he has equipped; unlike Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne's Demi-fiend, who could learn a variety of skills of different categories, Strange Journey's is limited to attack skills. He can also equip swords for a regular physical attack and use items. His elemental resistances are determined by the type of armor he has equipped and can also don accessories to provide defensive or offensive variables. As with other games in the Megami Tensei series, if he dies, via HP depletion, instant-death, or petrification, is it game over.
Forma resources and apps
Macca returns as the currency within the Schwarzwelt, but new is a resource called Forma. There are three types of Forma: Base Forma, Assist Forma, and Rare Forma. Forma can be found on the field, from fallen enemies, or, especially in the case of Rare Forma, hidden throughout dungeons or as part of plot progression. Forma can be refined to create usable items at the cost of Macca at a specialized workshop in the Red Sprite run by crew members Irving and Chen. Base Forma allows for the creation of weapons, equipment, and items; Assist Forma can affect the properties of the items the Base Forma creates; while Rare Forma can be used to create Demonica Suit applications.
Rare forma can be refined into a variety of main and sub applications that will impact gameplay, the variable applications of which were first introduced in Soul Hackers in the form of GUMP extensions; in fact, many are the same in name in function. Examples of available apps include mains that affect dungeon exploration such Enemy Scan and Gate Scan, while sub applications can affect demon negotiation, battle conditions, and demon fusion. While main applications become permanently available, sub applications are customizable under a weighted point system and are swappable in the Red Sprite lab and save point terminals.
Alignment and Demon Co-Ops
The Alignment system, beyond its affects on the game's narrative, also impacts gameplay mechanics. As the player makes those choices throughout the game, the protagonist's alignment will either change or remain steadfast. Alignment is noted by the color of the protagonist's or demon's name: blue for Law, white for Neutral, and Red for Chaos.
Not only will sharing an alignment with a demon make negotiations easier, aligment also affects a new mechanic known as the Demon Co-Op system. When an enemy’s weakness is exploited in battle, demons in your party who share your alignment will have a chance with following up your attack with one of their own, dealing unblockable Almighty element damage. Co-ops can be activated up to four times per turn, as long as the members of your party all share the same alignment and can exploit the same weaknesses.
The Demon Co-Op system has been criticized as a flaw in Strange Journey's gameplay design, especially compared to its parent Press Turn System. Its usefulness early in the game encourages players to build demon teams of like alignment only to see diminishing returns as the game progresses and becomes more unyielding and, in some cases, punishes the player for having a single-alignment team. It may also condition players to ignore more powerful normal skills as they become available.
Another new gameplay element is in EX Missions, a collection of sidequests where both demons and crew members will challenge you to complete tasks for varying rewards. Many of the EX Missions are themed based on mythological characteristics, such as the shared pomegranate of Persephone and Hariti, or take a more humorous turn with the lovelorn crew member Anthony who pines for the affection of a female demon. There are over 60 of these EX Missions to undertake and are largely unmissable, with the exception that certain ones will vary or become locked off based on the alignment your character takes during the final section of the game.
Much of Strange Journey's gameplay, from battle to customization, revolves around the variety of methods to demon interaction and acquisition. Strange Journey features 318 demons, a number which was second at the time of its release only to the obscure PC release Giten Megami Tensei: Tokyo Mokushiroku. The majority of the game's demon compendium is taken from games of the 32-bit era largely unseen outside of Japan, or, in the case of Frost Ace, from the Demikids series.
Series artist Kazuma Kaneko provided far fewer new demon designs for Strange Journey than other titles in the series, but gave demons like Asura a facelift, in addition to a handful of brand new designs including Morax, a bull-headed demon from the Ars Goetia, Bugaboo, a red-skinned, masked creature who takes a liking to Jimenez and befriends him, and Demonee-ho, a Jack Frost who takes a special liking to the exploration of the Schwarzwelt.
Supporting certain themes within the game's story, some of Strange Journey's demons, including Morax, Mithras, Horkos, and Asura, share explicitly or implicitly expressed mythological connections with demons faced later in the game, such as Moloch, Mithra, Orcus, and Asherah. Some of these connections are supported by previous decades of academic discoveries within the field of comparative mythology, while others are more tenuous. Much of the latter half of the game is devoted to exploring these links and how they tie, through the hermaphroditic threshold guardian Ouroboros, to arching theme of mother goddess figures such as Tiamat, Maya, and Mem Aleph.
Combat and Negotiation
Aside from normal combat mechanics, Strange Journey spins demons in ways new and typical for the series. Demons in the Schwarzwelt cannot be initially visualized by the Demonica, but instead appear as pixelated, scrambled images. Registered simply as "Unknown," these veiled demons cannot be negotiated with but instead each have an analysis gauge that fills up as the player kills numbers of the demon, fuses it, agrees to a negotiation contract, or uses it in battle. The analysis gauge has three levels: upon reaching the first the demon is visualized, for the second the demon's elemental affinities are revealed on the lower screen in battle (fusing or negotiating the gauge will automatically fill to this level), and the third and max level halves the demon's resummoning cost from the compendium.
Special battles are available in dungeons through the Enemy Search main application of the Demonica. Appearing as red spheres on the automap, scanning and engaging with these demon signatures leads to battles with demons that otherwise cannot be encountered in the game. These battles are typically more challenging than the normal battles in a dungeon, but yield greater rewards in special Forma useful for advanced items and equipment, or simply a greater amount of macca. Depending on the level of the player's Enemy Search application, scanning these mysterious signatures can have a 3-7% chance of encountering a demon of the infamous Fiend race instead.
Demon negotiation appears in Strange Journey in mostly typical form. At any time during a normal battle, demons of Neutral affinity can be approached and bartered with; Dark affinity demons will refuse conversation and Light affinity demons do not appear in battle outside of boss battles and Enemy Search encounters. Upon striking up a conversation, the demon will ask the protagonist a pair of philosophical or ontological questions with random correct answers. If even one incorrect response is chosen, the demon will get offended and either leave or attack the player, though occasionally the demon will reveal itself to be joking or calm itself down. If initial conversation is successful, the player can now barter with the demon for extra macca, an item, or its services as an ally through a contract. The cost of contracting a demon can involve macca, items, or siphoning of HP or MP. The protagonist can have up to three demons in his active party at once, and a stock of up to twelve demons.
Success rates and other aspects of negotiation can be altered with Demonica apps. Negotiation will not work with bosses, fixed encounters, or special demons found through Enemy Search. However, the Enemy Search encounters do have unique dialogue when prompted to converse.
Fusion and Demon Sources
Demon fusion, the series' primary avenue of party customization, is available through traditional two-way fusion and special fusion types. In lieu of needing to return to a specific location, such as the Cathedral of Shadows, fusion is available at any time through the main Demonica menu. The demonic compendium is also available for easy access to every demon the player has either fused or negotiated with, for either quick repurchasing or information about the demon's background. Like negotiation, aspects of fusion can be affected by Demonica apps.
Demons are categorized by race and further defined by alignment and Light-Neutral-Dark affinity, all of which greatly affects the outcome of two-way fusion. For example, valuable Light demons can typically only be created by the fusion of those with Light or Neutral affinity, while certain races with opposing alignments are completely incompatible. Special fusion types use preset combinations of demons that produce otherwise unavailable demons, such as the traditional combination of Barong and Rangda to create Shiva.
New to Strange Journey is the concept of Demon Sources. Demon Sources are special materials gifted by demons to the player that allow a specific set of skills from that demon to be easily passed on to another during fusion. Demon Sources are gained by first maxing out a demon's analysis gauge and then gifted after the demon has leveled up. The player is limited to having only one Source from each demon at one time, and, after using one, the odds of getting another from the same demon are exponentially low.
The final new demon-related feature in Strange Journey is the password system. This allows players to trade demons registered in their compendium by way of a 32-character string that can be entered at any time and by any player, though Macca costs and level restrictions still apply. Some demons are only available through special passwords along with uniquely outfitted demons gained by inputting names of Atlus staff members. Passwords do not work cross-region between the Japanese and American versions of the game due to differing character sets.
The Schwarzwelt is divided into eight main sectors plus one sub-sector. Each of the main sectors is named after one of the 88 constellations, following an alphabetical designation given by Arthur, the Red Sprite's AI. The first four areas highlight faults of humanity and feature patriarchal themes, while the latter four more heavily feature the game's matriarchal subplot. Each sector is ruled by demon who contains an aspect of material named the Rosetta Manifold, which is necessary for further penetration into the Schwarzwelt's deeper recesses.
Antlia is the sector where the Red Sprite crew finds itself after entry into the Schwarzwelt. While initially appearing to be an icy cavern befitting its location at the Earth's nadir, its bottom floors reveal a warzone set within a burned out city. The Blue Jet, another exploration ship, also crashes on the first floor of Antlia. The sector's boss is the demon Morax, who blames humans and their tendency towards war for the Schwarzwelt's necessary creation.
Side areas of Antlia include a cloister reserved for the significant Fairy Village sidequest and a mysterious pillar that will unlock a boss rush mode after a certain threshold. Antlia, as with all of the first four sectors, also hides one of the Cosmic Eggs necessary for the culmination of the final sector. This sector is named after the pump constellation.
Boötes is a gaudy locale meant to evoke the licentious atmosphere of a red-light district and the human excesses thereof. At its center is a palace of pleasure devoted to its leader and deity, Mithras. In contrast with the palace's more sensual aesthetics including wafting incense and walls lined with female silhouettes, the demons of Mithras' cadre make it into a torture chamber for the crew of the crashed ship Elve, which includes science officer Zelenin. Mithras delights in the frailty of humans and it is only after the intrusion of the angel Mastema that the crew of the Red Sprite can counterattack.
Side areas within Boötes include an introduction to the Fiend race demons by way of the skeletal violinist David, and a special tanuki hunt with Halphas within the palace's more untrodden corridors. Boötes is named after the ox-driver constellation, which, when also considering that within the mythology of Mithras his central image is of him slaying a bull, gives extra meaning to this sector following the defeat of the bull demon Morax.
Inside Carina is an area that resembles a shopping mall. All around it is plastered propaganda commanding to BUY, CONSUME, and EAT, reminiscent of the John Carpenter film, They Live. The cult of Orcus is also in Carina.
Delphinus is a demonic junk heap, replete with barrels of nuclear waste. There are also dreadful oil slicks that act as conveyor belts to make portions mazelike.
The serene, park-like nature of Eridanus surrounds a large, white-tiled tower and hides the ugly truth behind a series of teleportation mazes.
Fornax is a hive-like area, golden-colored and with strange spinning shapes.
Grus at first appears like a war-torn city, similar to the second area of Antlia, but most of the area is comprised of a huge teleportation maze that is made up of environments from many of the previous sectors.
The final area is a hellish, dark area reminiscent of the Labyrinth of Amala from Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.
Shoji Meguro composed the game's soundtrack, but with orchestral and choral overtones that differed from his usual rock style. A single-CD soundtrack to the game was released in Japan on November 18, 2009 and featured 31 tracks.
Atlus USA included a bonus soundtrack CD inside a special box set for all US launch copies of Strange Journey. However, this CD contained 10 tracks instead of the full 31 due to licensing issues from the Japanese release that prevented the full disc being given away as a promotional item. Due to a manufacturing error, these bonus CDs were pressed with the music only accessible as data .WAV files, rather than standard redbook audio. Atlus recalled those discs and briefly issued replacements.
|Japanese Tracklisting||North American Tracklisting|
|01. Eternal Throne (Main Title theme)|
02. The Beginning of the End (Opening)
04. A Scorched Nation (Theme of Antlia)
06. A Frivolous Nation (Theme of Bootes)
08. The Fear of God (Battle theme)
09. The End (Battle results)
10. A Squandered Nation Theme of Carina)
11. Malevolence and Benevolence
12. In the Master's Name (Boss conversation theme)
13. Vehement Rage (Boss theme)
15. A Rotten Nation (Theme of Delphinus)
16. A Land Controlling Roads (Theme of Eridanus)
17. An Honor Befitting That Name (Fixed battle theme)
18. A Land Remembering Seeds (Theme of Fornax)
19. Chaos Theme
20. The Tyrannical Hero (Chaos Hero battle)
21. The World of Chaos (Chaos ending)
22. Palace of Pleasure (Theme of Bootes palace)
23. Law Theme
24. Holy Miracle (Law Hero battle)
25. The World of Law (Law ending)
26. A Land Bringing About Life (Theme of Horologium)
29. Take the Shield, Raise the Spear (Final battle theme)
30. The World of Man (Neutral ending)
31. Scepter of Justice (Staff roll)
|01. The Eternal Throne|
02. Beginning of the End
03. Kingdom of Decadence
05. Furious Wrath
06. Land of the Way
09. Land of Birth
10. Scepter of Justice
In addition to the soundtrack CD, Japanese clothier and cosplay supplier COSPA has produced some Strange Journey items including shirts and a coffee mug. Both styles feature Bugaboo and the Jack-Frostified Demonica Suit known as Demonee-ho.