The Pokemon titles have engaged the imaginations of children as well as adults. Trying to catch all of the pocket monsters has been an addiction since the original Game Boy. While the gameplay is strong, some adults might be ashamed by the too cute graphics (even if they aren’t embarrassed about playing a Game Boy or DS in public). Those wanting a more mature theme might want to take a look at Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey.
Those familiar with any of the Shin Megami Tensei games may be a bit surprised by Strange Journey. The most unique aspect of the game is the futuristic sci-fi plot. A black hole-like entity dubbed the Schwarzwelt has occupied the area over Antarctica, slowly increasing in size. Worried about the Schwarzwelt enveloping the entire planet, you are assigned as a member of the four ship task force to enter into the Schwarzwelt. Donned with your Demonica suit you enter the Schwarzwelt and discover an entire world all its own.
When starting out Strange Journey you start talking with the members of the crew of the Red Sprite, the ship you are on. Each one has their own personality and responsibility. Some hang out in the command room, while others are in the medical room, and a few people are in engineering creating new gear. Each has their own personality, as well as give you tips for playing the game. The members of the strike force hang out in the deck in the back, ready at a moment’s notice to head out into danger. Of course nothing can go smoothly, and upon entering the Schwarzwelt your vehicle is tossed around and you lose contact with the three other ships who entered the Schwarzwelt along with you. Alone and low on resources, you leave the Red Sprite and try to figure out what is going on inside the Schwarzwelt and find the other ships.
When you first go outside everything is cold, just like you might expect from Antarctica. You explore a dungeon that is conveniently mapped out for you on the bottom screen. You need this map, as the dungeons consist of several levels. They also contain traps and environmental dangers. The dungeons are confusing enough, even with the map. Without a map, it would be easy to go in circles. The dungeons include traps such as falling down trap doors. This can make going through the dungeon a bit frustrating.
Your Demonica suit not only maps the dungeon for you, but you are able to upgrade it to gain abilities. These abilities include scanning for gems, finding hidden enemies, and finding secret doors. These become very important for success in creating upgrades and leveling up. Be careful of the hidden enemies, as they can be very tough to defeat.
Eventually you encounter demons in the dungeons. These demons are not only your adversaries during the game, but they can also become your allies. You have the ability to talk to demons and convince them to join you to battle against other demons. They won’t always talk to you or like what you say, but if you can convince them to join you, you can gain a roster of demons that will assist you in many ways. Sometimes demons will talk to you before the start of a fight and ask to join you. If a demon in your inventory that is the same as an enemy in battle, often talking to that demon makes the party of battling demons leave. Up to three demons can be active in your party, but you can have several along with you. If a demon dies in battle, you can summon another demon from your inventory to take its place.
As you face combat your character levels up. The demons in your party level up as well. This increases the party’s speed, stamina, luck, life points, magic points, and other statistics. You do have to keep a balance with your party, because if your strongest demons get killed off your survival depends on the lower-level demons. This can mean a lot of grinding if you try to keep all of your demons at the same level. Leveling up a demon can also mean receiving a Demon Source gem from them that includes their abilities. Leveling up can also result in a the demon learning a new skill. Sometimes it’s better not to change the skills they have, as you might end up with something completely different from what skill they already had, but sometimes you can end up with a much more powerful or useful skill.
While you might have to capture most Pokemon to find them in your inventory, Strange Journey has a mechanic to get demons you might have missed or can’t convince to join your party. You can fuse two demons together to get a different, and hopefully more powerful, demon. If you have a Demon Source gem, you can fuse that as well, giving the demon abilities it normally wouldn’t have. The phase of the moon can make a difference in demon fusion. Demon fusion on the full moon is a risky proposition, as it can go haywire. I did this once and got a very powerful demon, but it was the opposite alignment from what I had originally expected.
The alignment of the demons can have a significant impact in battle. Three alignments available are Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. If a demon has the opposite alignment of you, they may be less willing to join your party when talking to them. In battle, if any member of your party hits an enemy with an attack the enemy is weak against, then all the other party members of the same alignment perform a Demon Co-op attack. The more allies with the same alignment and the stronger they are, the more damage done to that enemy. These co-op attacks can be devastating.
Strange Journey follows in the same vein as other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series in one particular aspect, the encounter rate. While battling isn’t quite as prevalent as Digital Devil Saga, fighting occurs after a certain number of steps, making Strange Journey not only a battle of strength but of endurance as well. You can go back to the beginning of the dungeon at each save point, but then you need go through the entire maze again and fight the monsters again or talk them out of fighting you. Save points are scattered through the maze, but healing stations are less common. The healing stations do cost money, but being able to heal within the dungeon is an asset not to be taken lightly.
It may seem that with a high encounter rate you and your demons will make grinding unnecessary, and after several battles it does get easier to stand up to demons that proved to be a challenge at one time. The boss battles and hidden demons can be incredibly difficult, especially with underpowered demons. Getting the higher level demons and increasing their statistics will make those battles much easier.
Each member of the game is very distinct, but you either have to wonder if the writers lost a little something in the translation or recently lost their job from a canceled soap opera. The characters all have big personalities, but they tend to be a bit on the melodramatic side. This is true of the demons as well, and the conversations you have during negotiations can be quite confusing. For instance, one female demon wants to know what earth females do for fun. If you say karaoke, the demon might giggle and think that it’s a great idea. Another time, she might not like that answer because she doesn’t like to embarrass herself in front of a crowd of people. Sometimes it is funny, while other times it’s truly a bizarre experience. Even a death scene feels like something out of a high school play with the gasping for breath and extended moaning.