Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Preview

Did you ever feel like a black hole was opening up over some remote corner of the world, allowing demons and other strange supernatural creatures to cross over into your peaceful realm of existence? No? Well then this is going to be a strange journey.

That is indeed the basic story behind Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Atlus’ newest addition to the SMT franchise. In this unique role-playing experience, which can aptly be categorized as arcane science fiction, players will find themselves exploring an alternate dimension where demons prepare to destroy the world as we know it. In the demon’s eyes, humanity poses a threat of armageddon to itself, so the process may as well be hastened. According to the developers, the demons are at the same the story’s external antagonists and a representation of humanity’s destructive flaws.

Strange Journey puts a unique spin on classic JRPG mechanics, making players form a party, level up, fight in turn-based battles, use skills and items, swap equipment, etc. over the course of a 40-to-50-hour adventure. Missions tabs on the game’s menu screen present the next steps in the journey, as well as approximately 60 side quests players can embark on. The special Demonica Suit the main character wears allows access to new areas by adding special "unlock" apps to its interface, and "sub-apps," which each take up a specific number of the suit’s 10 slots, will provide special effects and bonuses for the party. Non-usable "forma" is another important part of the game, and is found via exploration of the game world. An area scanner points to new forma on the overworld map, which can then be collected and brought to the weapons dealer in town to produce new equipment for the party.

SMT: Strange Journey

What really sets Strange Journey apart from the standard RPG is its focus on demons; demon collection, negotiation, fusion, and trading (the game’s demon compendium lets you output passwords to give specific demons to friends) are all central to the game’s mechanics. In fact, only one member of the 4-character party is human, so it will be wise to diversify and improve the group by enlisting the help of various demons and investing time in their development.

Whenever players encounters a demon, they’re given the opportunity to talk to it and avoid a fight or even gain a new ally. Brief dialog choices and the effects of alignment on the interaction determine the outcome, and if the demon doesn’t like the player, the fight is on. During combat, all commands are given at beginning of each round, to be executed all at once following the menu selection process. Because of this, battles play out quickly, and strategy is required to anticipate the results of mid-round actions. Of particular interest are the elemental strengths and weaknesses of all characters, which must be discovered by trial and error and can be exploited via the demon co-op system. Whenever an attack is made on an enemy using an element it is vulnerable to, all of the player’s party members whose alignment matches the attacker will get a bonus attack for that round. By involving the three components of skill type, enemy weakness, and character alignment in the demon co-op formula, Atlus has created the potential for a great deal of strategy in how to be most effective in battle. At the same time, an "auto mode" button is included for fights with weaker foes who require no effort to vanquish.

From what I saw during Atlus’ convenient web demonstration earlier this week (which was awesome in an E3-in-my-living-room sort of way), Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey doesn’t look like it will be slacking with the SMT name, and seems expansive and immersive for a DS title. Look for it to hit North American shores on March 10, 2010, each copy shipping — in true Atlus style — with a soundtrack CD included in the box.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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