Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Reader Review
The latest Megaten game is out on the DS in North America and I've had this on pre-order since it was announced. The package arrived with a nice soundtrack CD which oddly enough is not an Audio CD but some sort of data CD you need to play on your computer. Was this intentional by Atlus or some rare missprint issue that will be worth a lot in the future? Who knows and who cares as the main content of that package is the actual game!
This is not a sequel to the fantastic that arrived last year on the DS, it reminds more of Nocturne on the PS2 and even the earlier PS1 titles.
The story follows a group of soldiers and scientists sent by UN to explore the black hole like phenomenon that appeared at the South Pole. Unmanned drones sent inside broadcast incredible pictures of what look like sceneries from human life and the hole is slowly expanding, threatening the planet. For once you don't have to deal with teen children and their twisted love affairs, high school nemesis and sexy teachers which is a very welcome turn. No parent waking you up from your sleep at the beginning of the game either! There is lots of room for crazy dialogue and situations but the characters responsible for that are the demons, which makes perfect sense and is quite funny and refreshing.
The battle system has a few new additions and omissions: gone is the press turn system where exploiting an enemy's weakness gave you an extra turn. Instead, the rest of the team which is "compatible" to the exploiter gets an extra hit, a so called feature. There are three alignments the character and demons can have (neutral, law, chaos) and these affect the co-op feature mentioned above but also demon fusions, dialogues, etc. The ever present moon is another factor that affects the outcome, similar to all other SMT games.
Help is at hand for the new players via a very competent help menu, something even veterans may appreciate after years of SMT absence.
Demon fusion is a great feature which lets you experiment with your fauna. Certain rare demons can be fused via a special fusion (which involves 3 parts rather than the usual 2) and known demons can be registred in a compendium. Another neat addition is that you can buy known demons in their "bulk" version or the improved version that they became under your leadership.
The soundtrack and artwork has a "doom and gloom" feeling about them while still maintaining a cheerful and original touch, both done by the SMT veterans involved in most - if not all - of the previous titles.
This game works great in portable format ideal for short bursts of play, tackling side quests, messing around with demon fusion or whatever you feel for at the moment. The save points are a bit sparse and it's wise to backtrack to the known save once you've made good progress. Also, there's the random battles feature which is not as bad as the earlier games: basically, it is not but based on a timer with a warning light in your HUD changing colour as you play. Once it gets red it means a battle is imminent and this works very well. Another difficulty spike for many new to the series is the labyrinth like dungeons with traps, holes in the ground, teleports, etc. This never becomes a chore like in the earlier games because of the wonderful automap feature which makes perfect usage of the dual screen.
Warmly recommended for SMT veterans and beginners alike.