Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is an experience you can’t re-fuse
Atlus has a great track record of revisiting its portable gems and giving them a new coat of paint. Just on the 3DS, it’s remastered both Devil Survivor games, the first two Etrian Odyssey releases, Radiant Historia and even the long-dead Soul Hackers. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux follows this well-established formula, retaining the original Strange Journey‘s gameplay while refining the visuals just a bit and adding new veins of gameplay to explore.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, approaching its own tenth anniversary, is an extension of the core series, regardless of its numbering (or lack thereof). It’s a dungeon-crawler steeped in SMT tradition, with lots of demons to acquire and lots of areas to map out through exploration. You explore a mysterious area that’s forming around Earth, trying to unlock its secrets and save humanity.
I mean… sort of. It’s definitely pure SMT, so really you’re just running around, fusing and negotiating and trying to build your ideal demon team to handle anything you come across, and the story basically just happens around you while you do that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; SMT, like Pokemon, has found a lot of success over the years doing just that. But it’s good to know going in, as many people seem to forget, that not every game in the franchise is like Persona. That said, the story’s totally respectable, and should keep you pushing ahead toward your goals.
The Redux update does a lot to make quality-of-life improvements, like making saving and various tasks a bit easier.
The Redux update does a lot to make quality-of-life improvements, like making saving and various tasks a bit easier. Those would make this the version to play even on their own, but there’s also a fresh injection of story paths and demons to make those returning from playing the first game feel like it’s worth their time. Some of those may feel like the changes make the game too easy (especially the new difficulty options that do literally that), and those people can play on even harder modes and maybe deal with everyone else getting to save more easily.
What sets Strange Journey apart from the rest of the franchise is how it leans into its system of alignments. Over the course of your adventure, you’ll shape your protagonist and party by building toward lawful, neutral or chaotic teams, and having that synergy is fairly simple to understand: you’ll do extra damage when hitting enemies’ weaknesses. How it plays out over the course of the adventure is a bit different, though, as it pulls against the traditional tendency to put your absolute strongest demons in your lineup or this game’s drive to use new demons until they’re fully analyzed. It also makes it harder to negotiate with demons of the opposite alignment, but how you play makes “opposite” variable and gives you a different experience if you return and push in the opposite direction.
What sets Strange Journey apart from the rest of the franchise is how it leans into its system of alignments.
Strange Journey Redux‘s extra narrative elements, which really are grafted on here in a way that’s sort of integrated but fairly easy to discern, open up new endings for those who wish to pursue them, as well as add some sudden challenge to otherwise-monotonous segments. The storytelling was already a bit difficult to parse and filled with metaphor and intentional mystery, so it doesn’t feel any more out-of-place than the game as a whole. From a gameplay perspective, it seems to function as a way to make the game a bit closer to its original difficulty after implementing all the player assists, giving you bigger challenges while it also delivers the tools to tackle them.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux adds even more to what was already an incredibly long, packed game, making playing it not for the faint of heart or short on time. This is certainly SMT tradition, and the 3DS is still the best system on the market for a portability that facilitates that kind of commitment. Still, it’s important to keep in mind when you enter. Its adventures will be less satisfying if you’re in a hurry, and more so if you allow yourself to dip in casually to build your team without the pressure of progress or the goal of rapid completion.
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