Some fans call the Shin Megami Tensei games ‘Pokemon with the lights out’. Even though the SMT series predates Pokemon by quite a few years, the flow of catching, levelling up and fusing demons feels very much like the basic Pokemon grind. But what sets SMT apart from other JRPGs is its willingness to tackle mature and truly apocalyptic themes. Strange Journey fits right into that tradition, telling the story of a doomed multinational effort to investigate a mysterious black hole called the Schwarzwelt that has appeared at the South Pole.
Strange Journey repurposes the engine Atlus created for the Etrian Odyssey series, so inside the Schwarzwelt you find maze-like dungeons brimming with demons and mythical creatures that, at best, are ambivalent about humanity’s survival. You’re protected by special power armour called the Demonica that lets you communicate with demons and turn them into allies. You can fight on your own in the dungeon if you want, but your guns and swords won’t take you far without some strong demon allies to watch your back.
The big difference between Strange Journey and Etrian Odyssey, modern paramilitary setting aside, is the alignment system. This is a classic Shin Megami Tensei feature that’s making a return after some time away. Throughout the story you’re allowed to make decisions that can align you as Neutral, Lawful or Chaotic. Your alignment dictates how well you get along with certain demons; if you have compatible creatures in your party, you can gang up on enemies to devastating effect.
In many ways Strange Journey plays like an update of the original SMT games that Atlus released for the SNES. Those games were deeply influenced by first-person PC dungeon crawlers such as Wizardry, and Strange Journey feels no different. Whether this is a positive or negative depends on your proclivities as a gamer, obviously. Many years ago, series creator Kazuma Kanako stated in an interview that the Shin Megami Tensei series was for players who looked at other JRPGs on the market and thought, ‘This isn’t me’. If you’ve ever felt that way, you’ll be quite at home with Strange Journey.
Apr 12, 2010