Strange Journey Part 6: The World of Trash

Delphinus starts out seeming very straightforward – atmospherically, it’s a complete trash dump, with rivers moving garbage around. There’s actually very little substance to this beyond being the backdrop for this little chunk of plot. The second floor of Delphinus is the only mechanically interesting part. It’s a conveyer belt maze with pitfalls on wrong turns that take you to a big loop on the first floor. Particularly after the mess that was the second sphere of the Womb of Grief, it’s very tolerable.

Early in Delphinus, you work closely with Zelenin to try and identify the Rosetta (the kind of Forma needed to move to the next sector). Despite triangulating, and supposed upgrades to the detection capabilities of the Demonica, it’s not clear where it is. Shortly after these events, there’s an odd event – after Commander Gore died in Antlia, his body was brought on board the ship and placed in a capsule in the sick bay. The body is missing, which makes the crew (understandably) concerned about it being taken or – worse – walking off on its own.

Even immediately upon entering Delphinus, it’s clear that something else strange is happening. You come across strike team members that are acting oddly aggressive. None attack you, but it’s enough to unsettle you. You find a couple of these strike force members on the first floor, and some on the second as well. This is in striking (ha) contrast to other sectors, where you find that – if anything – the strike force is typically more calm than circumstances around them warrant. When you reach the third floor, you find Jiminez acting strange as well – and you also find someone else unexpected. Commander Gore, dressed formally, is standing in the Schwarzwelt – unprotected, but unperturbed. It’s clear that this Gore is not “the” Gore; it mentions using the body it found, but seems not to know or care whose it had been prior. Gore says some vague nonsense about humanity’s judgment, but very little concrete. The original Gore was determined, optimistic, and a humanist (in SMT terms – believes in the self-determination of humanity). It’s not clear yet what this Gore wants, but it’s pretty clearly anti-human (or, at best, has a “humans aren’t going to get themselves out of this one” attitude).

Going off on yet another tangent – one of the traits SMT (certainly modern SMT, at least) shares with the JRPG backdrop, and many other forms of media (manga/anime particularly) is the obsession with determination. If the team loses, the blame isn’t placed on a lack of preparation or equipment. It’s always placed on inner strength, or even on some perceived strength of ideas. And it’s important that both the protagonist and antagonist agree on this, because then the winner (and loser) are justified (try taking a shot every time a game character says the equivalent of “prove the strength of your ideas by fighting me”, because the best arguments are made with your fists). This is, to some degree, silly game world logic that makes the player feel good. Some of this “ideas are strength” paradigm stems from a post-WW2 existential crisis in Japan. It’s been many years since I picked it up, but “Embracing Defeat” is a great read although IIRC it doesn’t touch on this specific phenomenon. It bleeds over, though, from a distressingly widely-held belief (at least in the United States). The Just-World hypothesis, or “good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people”. Among the many awful conclusions it implies, “successful people are smart” or “poor people are dumb” are the worst. They lead to not only inaccurate assessments of people, but also extremely poor public policy.

Despite my frustration with this particular trend, it makes for an entertaining story, particularly in the context of SMT where a “war of ideas” is the core backdrop. Given how many SMTs end with “pick one of these relatively awful choices, and be prepared to live with the consequences”, though, it’s hard to feel like you’re determined about your idea is good so much as the other ones are worse.

After finding Jiminez and being unable to get through to him, the crew of the Red Sprite works through several theories and comes to the conclusion that what’s going on is a kind of brainwave parasite, and it’s getting worse – strike team members are fighting each other with uncontrolled ferocity. Arthur observes it is impacting 15% of the strike team and directs you to do further research. Zelenin observes that this is similar to what you saw in Bootes, where a strike team member was brainwashed into attacking you. After a brief excursion to collect some data, and an observation that there was some exchange of ideas between Bootes and Delphinus, Arthur directs you to the lab to collect a “mind control gun” that was apparently brought on the expedition. This gun is effective in clearing the minds of the affected crew members; Jiminez observes that Bugaboo protected him while he was afflicted, and says that while in a bestial state he felt like he was experiencing humanity’s “true nature”. The crew of the Red Sprite react with a jumble of emotions at the news: apprehension that a mind control device was brought on the ship and relief that they were able to use it to bring back the infected crew.

Once the mind control parasites are removed from the crew, the next step is to try and find the typical energy signal that leads to the next sector. You find several weak energy readings, that are the hives of these mind control parasites. As you encounter them, they taunt you with more vague “humanity’s true nature” stuff. After wiping out a few hives, you discover the true master of Delphinus – Asura.

It’s clear at this point that Asura was better at his job than Mithras, the boss of Bootes. Mithras was interested in experimentation, while Asura executed on the ideas that Mithras came up with. Asura isn’t really a pushover, but neither is this encounter particularly difficult. Strange Journey isn’t really well balanced with respect to these boss fights – simply doing some of the EX quests here and there keeps you leveled and fairly well equipped.

Time elapsed – I’m not sure, probably 16 hours? I’m writing this weeks after the fact, which was not my intent.

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Strange Journey Part 5: A World of Consumption

The resolution of Bootes brings you another Macguffin that allows you to travel to the realm of Sector C: Codename, Carina. Also known as the furthest I got in the original release of Strange Journey, although Carina is much more tolerable than Bootes I sensed the game was turning in a direction of less narrative, and I think the spartan way that the original Strange Journey told the story was also making it hard for me to stick with it.

I was wrong on the first count, actually. Although it’s true that the actual mechanics of sector traversal in Strange Journey (and Redux) remain fairly static, the world – both outer and inner (Schwarzwelt) does change and the narrative keeps on trucking.

But the relative dearth of story between the end of Bootes and the middle of Carina is a little hard to take, especially because you’re going from one “excess” to another thematically. Honestly, the character portraits and voice acting – even if undubbed – give the game overall a considerable amount of additional flavor. Yes, Redux is otherwise less difficult (you can change that!), and that removes some of the tension – but I just don’t buy the argument I’ve seen that the original Strange Journey is better so far. Yes, the endings might change that – but I didn’t get to the original’s endings, and I’m not going to replay the original to get there. Maybe I’ll look up videos sometime.

Actually, this segues nicely into the entire purpose of these “let’s play”-ish blog entries. Why start with Strange Journey?

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Strange Journey Part 4: A World of Desire

After reaching the end of Antlia, the overall cadence of Strange Journey becomes clearer. First, you encounter and recoil at another strange new plane. Then, you discover who’s in charge and what they’re doing, and through finding the right Forma or getting the right pseudo-divine guidance, you defeat them.

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Strange Journey Redux Part 3: A World In Conflict

This post contains spoilers for the first 5 hours, plus or minus, of Strange Journey Redux. I’d say “beware”, but if you’re playing Strange Journey only for the plot, that’s probably your first mistake.

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Continued Strange Journey thoughts

As I continue my Strange Journey into the Schwarzwelt, there will be spoilers. Although Strange Journey Redux, especially, telegraphs its story beats heavily, there will eventually be some things that you don’t find out from watching the intro movie on game boot-up or the opening dialogue on starting a new game.

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