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.

There’s a part of the beginning that I’ve glossed over – after you enter the Schwarzwelt in your (strangely) amphibious assault vehicles. Even though all four expedition vehicles (Red Sprite – that’s us!, Blue Jet, Elve, and Gigantic) enter the Schwarzwelt at the same time, they land in different places. Although it’s an unsurprising setup, it does add to the atmosphere. After you crash-land in the first sector, your companions literally can’t see the demons until “divine” intervention occurs (with the transmission of the Demon Summoning App from parts unknown). This part, to me, seems unnecessary beyond reinforcing what happens to the other vessels (which do not get the app). Several crew members get abducted or chased off the ship, although the civilians are recovered (Strange Journey does kill off the Strike Team in spades, which leads one to wonder how many there were initially). Although the Demon Summoning App business is kinda weird (especially with the knowledge that, later, the demons “appear” outside the Schwarzwelt – leading one to wonder if they can be seen and fought outside the Schwarzwelt without the app) the oppressive atmosphere is reinforced when vital crew members almost die.

Although your first demon is given for free as a “demo” of the demon conversation system, you need to manually recruit your second and third to round out a starting party. This isn’t quite as fraught as in Shin Megami Tensei IV, where you can expect to die at least three times trying to build a party, but it’s rough.

Demon negotiation is frustrating, but it’s been worse in the series. You get two or three questions that you have to get “right”, before the demon allows you to formally negotiate and possibly recruit. The alignment system plays heavily into how frustrating it is – a demon of your alignment will always (in my experience thus far) join you if you get two questions right give them everything they want. A demon of a “near” alignment (e.g. lawful if you’re neutral) will occasionally (anecdotally, 20-30%) run off with your stuff once they’ve taken what they want. A demon of opposite alignment (lawful if you’re chaotic) will run off more frequently, and ask for more things. Normally, this would incentivize remaining neutral, but many neutral monsters specifically don’t care about alignment (directly stated, in-game, when you contact them), so while a neutral alignment reduces the chance of run-offs, they also have fewer direct compatibilities (since many neutral demons are compatible with anything, and no chaotic/lawful demons have been thus far).

In demon negotiation, some demons seem aware of the state of the outside world, and alongside the usual trivial-seeming demon questions are ones like “How did things go so wrong”, “What would you do to fix things”, “How would you describe your relationship with us”, etc that are simultaneously more philosophical and more directly story-relevant. It’s unusual in an SMT to see rank-and-file demons talking about a bigger picture. It’s a small touch, but it adds to the atmosphere.

The first major quest that you understake is discovering the fate of the Blue Jet, which Jimenez was on. The casualties suffered during the initial landing of the Red Sprite in Antlia are bad enough that Gore decides he should personally lead the effort to recover the Blue Jet. To nobody’s surprise, after a valiant fight Gore succumbs to the trickery of a minor boss and is slain. When you reach the Blue Jet, Jimenez is the only remaining survivor – nobody on board received the Demon Summoning program and the ship was already in bad shape when it landed. Jimenez jumps on the opportunity to use the demons to supplement his strength. Upon returning to the Red Sprite, Jimenez is reclassified as a crew member and agrees to cooperate, although he advocates strongly for finding a way out of the Schwarzwelt.

Jimenez is obnoxious most of the time. He has no tact whatsoever and is routinely self-serving. His reaction to the events on the Blue Jet is a very human one, though – and reinforces the hostility of the Schwarzwelt itself. In a very real way, it is an inescapable, unknowable hell. While the Red Sprite crew has thus far been duty-focused, Jimenez says what everyone is thinking – that he wants to get out. He rationalizes it by saying that the expedition thus far has already gained important knowledge and can help prepare another group to go in – but it’s clear that he has no intention of returning and didn’t realize what he had signed up for. The ship’s computer, Arthur, having taken over leadership after Gore’s death, reminds him that nobody can find the way “back”; in the Schwarzwelt, with the information at hand, the only way is forward. There is no way to know whether “forward” leads deeper or out.

Stepping back, this frames the entire game in a Sisyphean light. Although zones in the game are marked with sector designations, at no point (so far) has the game indicated how many there are, or how big they are. I’m not sure if Arthur’s framing is meant as a way to warn the player (“If you’re not finding enjoyment in the journey (Journey?), the rest of the game is like this”) or to add atmosphere. Strange Journey already seems self-aware enough as it is, so it’s probably just the latter.

Under the nondescript ice caves of Antlia is a world of nonstop violence. It pretty clearly takes its inspiration from World War I. I recall in the original DS version being able to make out occasional animations of biplanes dropping bombs in the background – that part interestingly seems missing in Redux. In any case, the shift to the warzone is accompanied by new and initially-unidentified demons. Even with proper preparation, I needed to be careful entering this zone as many enemies hit much harder than the ones in the first section, and I got killed multiple times. Although the opening section of Antlia seems inhospitable, the second part of the sector is where it becomes hostile in gameplay as well as atmosphere.

This part is where the original game lost me on multiple occasions. I started Strange Journey at least 4 times, and quit here on 3 of them. I’ve played many brutal games – the Etrian Oddysey games and other blobbers probably being most analogous to Strange Journey – but here, Strange Journey becomes brutal and unfair, with enemy targeting choice making the difference between a game over and a pyrrhic victory. If you can make it through three or four nail-biting fights, you’ll level up enough to make it through. Strange Journey feels more old-school than most of its companions this way – like the first Final Fantasy, you need to cautiously approach each new zone. As you gradually learn more, gain some levels and new demons to adapt, eventually your in-game avatar and your knowledge have grown enough to cope, you can continue exploration. If you think of it as a scale, where luck and skill determine your outcome in combat, most new zones push that scale further towards luck, and ease back toward skill as you level up a bit.

Once you make it through the first few hard fights in Antlia’s second floor, the rest of the sector is comparatively easy. The boss fight against Morax reveals how different Strange Journey is from much of its SMT brethren since Nocturne – since Strange Journey has no press-turn system (or even an “Extra turn” system as in Devil Survivor), boss fights feel much less like a puzzle, and more like a (short) test of endurance. Although Morax hits hard, and lasts a few turns more than most enemies, the fight against him is over in short order as long as you can dish out some ice attacks.

After defeating Morax, you discover a “forma” (pseudoscientific macguffin) that allows you to warp to elsewhere in the Schwarzwelt.

Time taken: Approx. 5 hrs.

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