Once you reach a certain level you can even fuse two demons into a new one. This is a critical ability, and knowing what kind of demon and powers you’ll get can yield some very powerful creatures. There was a bit too much trial and error in the alignment and fusing aspects for my taste but with so many combinations to experiment with, I guarantee fans of the series won’t get bored with the demon fusing anytime soon.
Your demon teammates are the main draw but your special Demonica armor is also an important aspect of the gameplay. As you progress you can unlock and buy new upgrades, allowing you to explore previously inaccessible areas or open locked portal doors. You can also get basic performance upgrades, such as special vision modes or a module that restores health as you move through a dungeon. This modularity added to the slick scifi presentation and reminded me a lot of Zelda or Metroid, which is always a good thing in my book.
Strange Journey has a handful of main hub areas but the maps are extensive and there are plenty of primary and side quests to complete. Part of the story is that the Schwarzwelt is a mirror universe. Each area is a strange mockery of a real-world setting, usually criticizing some aspect of human excess like greed or lust. The red light district was particularly interesting. The MegaTen series is known for its provocative themes and strange analogies, and it was still cool to see such mature, dry satire in a DS game. The game is never gratuitous in its adult concepts but its more serious characters and thought provoking situations were refreshing to see in a genre that usually goes with melodrama.
Strange Journey’s story is a welcome departure from MegaTen’s standard albeit bizarre fare, and its gameplay is the dungeon crawling turn based RPG that Atlus has perfected to a science. Its production values however are decidedly old school, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what you like. The first person dungeons are in 3D but tend to look pretty uniform after a while. All of the battles take place in first person too, without a lot of animations for any of the demons.
On the other hand the art for the demons is excellent, ranging from creepy to scary to cute and sexy and often a disturbing combination of all of them. With so many demons and fused combinations there is also a huge variety of different portraits. The character art for you, your team and your ship is also very high tech and professional looking, serving to ground you amidst the weird demon worlds, whenever you return to buy equipment or items.
The music isn’t anything spectacular but it’s well done and surprisingly complex for a DS game. There’s a decent range of styles, with dramatic heroic music for the action scenes that incorporates a lot of trumpets, and ominous atmospheric chants and drums for the different demon environments. The special edition of Strange Journey comes with a soundtrack CD, so you can tell Atlus was proud of the high quality score they pulled off on DS hardware.
In fact that’s a good way to sum up Strange Journey. It’s an atypically deep and challenging RPG for the DS and would stand out on any platform. Its story touches on some uncomfortable, thought-provoking concepts, which sets it apart from most weepy-eyed JRPGs. The production values aren’t extravagant but they enable a lot of good dialogue and story once you get into the meat of the game. The base gameplay doesn’t have a lot in the way of frills, but the demon fusing system is where the real depth is and the wide variety of quests will keep you busy for at least 60 hours. Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey is an old school RPG top to bottom, solid to the core in its fundamentals and embellished with a compelling offbeat story that will keep you playing for a long time.
If you're one of the fans who are mad about the unorthodox direction of Final Fantasy XIII, Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey is just what you need. Classic JRPG gameplay doesn't get more solid or addictive than this, and it's wrapped up in a cool scifi story that raises some compelling questions. If you're looking for a long, deep and engrossing RPG, take this Strange Journey on your DS.
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