el33tpanda's Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (Nintendo DS) review

A Long, Strange Trip

 Before I get any further in this review, I must say that I am not a veteran of the Shin Megami Tensei series. I watched Giant Bomb’s Endurance Run of Persona 4 but that was just watching. This is the first title I’ve actually picked up and played, and I’m glad I did.

For those of you who have never heard of the Shin Megami Tensei (referred to as SMT for the sake of shortness) series, it’s an Atlus series that’s older than dirt. There have been so many sequels and spin-off series that even a die-hard fan would have trouble keeping them all in order. However, all of the series share one common thing. Demons. Lots of demons.

Let’s focus on Strange Journey now. The way demons are implemented is very interesting; they are almost similar to Pokémon. Basically, from a first person view, you dungeon-crawl each of the areas, with random encounters being, well, random. Depending on how many steps you take, a meter at the top of the screen will change from blue to yellow to red, signaling how close you are to the next battle. That’s where the demons come in.

When you battle, you’re allowed one party space for the main character, and three for demon allies. To recruit these demon allies, you must first analyze them by fighting in battle with them multiple times. This raises the analyze level, which gradually reveals information about the demon; revealing stats, attacks, level and health. Once you can see the demon on the battle screen (showing at least partial analysis), you have the option to “Talk” to it. Now, depending on your alignment (more on that later), the demon can either choose to talk to you, or refuse. If they agree, you must answer two questions in a way that the demon likes. This varies from demon to demon so memorizing the conversations is almost impossible.

Once you have answered a demon’s two questions, you’re practically in the home stretch. At this point, you have the option of asking for Macca (the game’s currency), an item or for the demon to join your party. When you choose the latter, the demon will ask for something, or things, in return. This ranges from your own health, your MP, or Macca. Sacrifices must be made when dealing with a demon, right? After going through this barter system, you have the demon in your party. Now the only thing to do it summon him and you have a new ally.

One last game system to be covered is the Demon Fusion system. This is awesome, one of the best ideas in any collectable monster game to date. Without overwhelming you with details, the premise is simply combining to monsters for a specific outcome, breeding for the best attacks available. Like most games, you want to have a wide range of attacks in your arsenal on the battlefield. To obtain the most varied attacks, you have to use Demon Sources in your fusions. Sources are given to you by a particular demon when you level them sufficiently and they contain some of the moves the demon knows. Adding a Source to your fusion alters the created demon’s attacks, a useful tactic in breeding the best and meanest demons you can. Once you have the demon of your dreams, you can register it in the Demon Compendium, that way you can always bring it back to life with only a small Macca penalty. Overall, I believe the Demon Fusion is one of the most worth-while and compelling reasons to continue playing this game to its finale.

The story holds its own, with the interesting twists and turns that Atlus is known for. It’ll keep you coming back for more and compel you onward. My only problem with it is how utterly long it takes to start up. A good hour into it you’re finally getting into the combat. The boss fights also could have been done a little better, equating to just using the same attacks to beat the crap out of the boss while one of your demons heal. Side missions keep the game varied, in a good way, and there addition to the game further’s the length but they wouldn’t be missed in an absence.

Graphics on the DS are either really impressive or really ugly. Luckily, this game leans a little more to the impressive side, with the first-person view being really fun to look at. However, while in this mode, the textures and environments in the dungeons hardly change at all, and you will get bored of them really quickly. You’re “home” screen, consisting of just four non-navigable screens, looks really good and character sprites, for the most part, are great. This game won’t be winning any best graphics awards, but the gameplay makes the decent graphics just feel like icing on the cake.

My recommendation for this game falls on a line. On one-hand, if you love Pokémon, or any game that requires you to collect monsters, then you’re in for a treat with this game. Fans of any SMT series, especially the original, should also pick this game up. However, if you are none of the above, a rent is probably more justifiable than a purchase. If purchased, it does come with a soundtrack which is, for the most part, very beautiful. That might just make the $35 you’re paying for it agreeable. This game is a hidden gem in the DS market. If you’ve never heard of the SMT series, time to jump in with this one. You might just find a new favorite.

Graphics - 3.5/5

Sound - 3/5

Gameplay - 5/5

Story - 3.5/5

Final Score - 4/5

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    The release of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey for Nintendo DS may not appear a big deal, since it seems Atlus puts out Shin Megami Tensei games on a quarterly basis. However, unlike the other games like Persona and Devil Summoner, Strange Journey isn’t a spin-off – it’s the first release in the main series since Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Bearing such a pedigree means Strange Journey retains the deep, addicting trademarks the series is known for like demon fusion...

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