by: Jason Love
The Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series of games is one that seems to run the entire gamut of RPG genre types, from action-oriented to the more traditional. The latest title, Strange Journey, takes its gameplay cue from the classic PC dungeon-crawler, Wizardry, and is perhaps one of the best examples of that particular genre that I’ve ever played.
The premise behind Strange Journey follows the fairly rote sci-fi idea of some mysterious anomaly suddenly appearing that threatens the whole Earth and you’ve been chosen to go into the anomaly to determine what’s causing it and how to stop it. While there are a few interesting story moments, including the feature to see one of three different endings depending on your character’s alignment (chaotic, neutral, or lawful), where Strange Journey shines is in its gameplay.
Strange Journey’s combat at first seems to be straightforward and just follows the basic tenants of “Fight, Magic, Item, Run,” but as the game progresses, there is a great deal of strategy and tactic involved. For the majority of the game, your main party consists of your character and three demons of your choosing that are recruited either through negotiation when you encounter a demon in the field, or fusion (fuse two or more demons to get a new one). As every demon has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, there’s a lot of variety available to you in terms of the type of party you put together. You could create a party that’s completely immune to physical attacks and unleashes devastating spells upon the enemies, or a mix of physical/magic based demons with varying alignments and immunities. It’s really these two elements, the ability to literally create your own party members and the varying strengths/weaknesses of each demon, that makes Strange Journey so much fun to play. Additionally, in a rather fun coincidence, using an attack against which an enemy is weak results in a “Demon Co-Op” attack, wherein all members of your party with the same alignment deal some immediate damage to the foe. Even demons recognize the joys of working together.
If you own a DS and are at all a fan of RPGs, you owe it to yourself to pick up Strange Journey. Not only is it a satisfying game with a lot to explore and do, but it also brings back the one feature that’s been missing from RPGs all too often lately: New Game+. Just when you think you’re all done and have tackled the final demon, a new challenge is waiting for you.