This is a spoiler –free review as we feel the stories in ATLUS games– especially those from the Shin Megami Tensei/Persona line– deserve to be experienced first–hand and as spoiler–free as possible.
Antarctica is best known for being the home of the South Pole. What you might not know, is that it is classified as a desert and is on average the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on Earth. It was also unseen until 1820 and is noted as being the last region on Earth to be discovered in recorded history. Being a barren and low populated area, it is surprising that more arts of fiction -especially those in the Science Fiction genre- have not used this area as a backdrop. Luckily for gamers, ATLUS made a game back in 2009 (Japan)/ 2010 (USA), entitled Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey on the Nintendo DS, that used Antarctica as the setting. Now ATLUS has brought an enhanced port to the Nintendo 3DS that includes new artwork, voice acting, animation, demons, and a new character that brings along a new route. It is aptly named Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux.
I never owned a Nintendo DS as I was young and my Nintendo handhelds were mostly Pokemon machines at the time. So, of course, when I went to High School I thought I was too cool for Pokemon (truly the darkest time in my life that I have since corrected with a fully completed Pokedex in the Pokemon Bank) and did not buy the handheld. I had also never played an ATLUS game until I played Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse about a year ago (again, something else I have corrected since with Shin Megami Tensei IV and Persona 5.) I am sure there are people like me who never owned a Nintendo DS or never played the game for whatever reason but have since started playing Shin Megami Tensei/Persona games. To be completely honest, if the player has only played the most recent games, this game will be a culture shock; however, it will be a culture shock in the most fantastic way possible.
First off, let’s get it out there from the start, this is an entirely first-person game. Research shows that when the game was originally released this was a return to the original Shin Megami Tensei formula. This is likely the biggest shock to the system for those who have only played IV and IV: Apocalypse before. However, this not only feeds the addition as you will want to uncover every block of the map on the lower screen, it also means you cannot try to avoid encounters like you could in newer games. It helps make the grind more organic and feel like you are making progress in the story and team levels concurrently. With that said, there is one relic of the older games that can be frustrating to the player, and that is there is only one chance to please a demon enough to negotiate with it. In IV: Apocalypse, the player was able to start up another conversation if they messed up a response. In this game, the player can purchase a Sub App that sometimes allows the demon to shrug off the mistake, but it is not the same.
This becomes even more important as this game leans heavily into the alignment of your character in relation to the demons’. If the alignments are not compatible, the demon just will not entertain any conversation and the player will have to fuse two other demons they get to add that demon to the party. This aspect really spices up the game and makes party formation and fusing critical. Not only that, this game features co-op attacks where every party member aligned with one who hits a weakness jumps in on the attack for extra damage. As much as it is frustrating to not be able to get a demon the player may like due to alignment, the demon co-op attacks should return in future installments to keep the turn-based combat system feeling fresh. One aspect of the game that should never reappear is the personality quiz that almost forces you into a specific character build. At the very least, there should be an option to somehow change the end result.
While having the game delayed for seven months after the Japanese release without having an English dub is disappointing and caused a bit of an uproar within the fandom, a lot of English dubs leave a lot to be desired, so this decision may have been for the best. Not to mention, if the player has played a lot of JRPGs or watched a lot of Anime, then they are likely used to reading English subtitles with Japanese voice acting. The biggest selling point for this version outside of the enhancements was the new character and the new path she brought with her addition. Take it from someone who never played the original, the introduction of Alex felt seamless and her pathway is worth the price of admission alone. There has been some uproar about Alex looking more Anime-like and the new graphics reflecting that trend, but if you never played the original, you would not have that experience to compare to.
In the end, this enhanced port is a perfect appetizer while the main course of Shin Megami Tensei V is being developed for the Nintendo Switch. The highly touted graphic enhancements are well done and there are no technical issues to be found, with everything working flawlessly and staying stable. While there are some frustrations for those who only played the newer games, it is still a Shin Megami Tensei experience and that is pretty much god tier in the gaming industry. Add in their traditionally outstanding Shin Megami Tensei storytelling, with the addition of Science Fiction undertones this time around, and the player has a game worthy of the hundreds of hours that will be lovingly put into it. Rather an Atlus newcomer or a seasoned veteran, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a release one should not want to miss. (Ryan Williford)
Review code provided by Atlus USA