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.

That’s not really a knock on the game. All games are formulaic to some degree. It comes with the territory – part of the attraction of a game is that it has rules. A dungeon crawler that has no checkpoints would be even more grueling, and the sector splits give the opportunity to provide different themes and arcs split into (semi)digestible chunks of between 5-10 hours.

The second sector, Bootes, is frankly obnoxious. One reason is that it’s much longer than Antlia. Antlia only has three floors, and much of the actual time involved (probably about 1.5 hours of 5) is heavy on plot. That plot’s also broken up quite a bit – it’s only the bottom part of Antlia that’s pure dungeon-crawl and that section isn’t very long. Bootes has a lot of short plot interruptions, and most of them feel like events entirely outside of your control. I ended up re-treading the same sections of Bootes at least three times because of the way the plot pushes you to a certain place then requires you to leave.

The scenario in Bootes is called a “red light district” throughout. Maybe it’s my ignorance in that department, but it doesn’t look much like anything until you enter the palace, and then it’s a pretty boring nightclub deal. The music is jarring outside and boring inside. On the plus side, the encounters are relatively easy and straightforward for most of the sector, and you gain access to the remake’s bonus dungeon, the Womb of Grief, partway through.

The new section added to the remake is particularly welcome – it offers a shot of action and confusion exactly where it is needed. A new, mysterious (apparent) human appears, Alex, in a different-looking demonica – hunting you, Jimenez and Zelenin in particular. Without any direct explanation, you are attacked and killed. The animation is different – and more unsettling – than the normal “death” animation. You’re brought back in the mysterious Womb of Grief by Demeter, who rescued you.

At this point you can (mostly) ignore the bonus content, but sidequests inside offer many Quality of Life features missing in the original as sub-apps. You also gain access to additional sub-apps around this point that resolve minor issues with the game around this time (reducing surprise attacks, allowing battles to continue after the main character dies, reducing/increasing encounters) and these are all very welcome. In the original you were limited to a set number of sub-apps – in this one there is no limit. I think on some level, I’d prefer there be some limit so that there is some trade-off in terms of purchase/activation decisions, but given the difficulty of the game otherwise I’m fine with none. Anyway, suffice it to say that the game becomes easier mechanically around the same time as it brings in disturbing material plotwise that ends up being more grating than concerning.

In Bootes, at first you are merely exploring, but you quickly discover that there are prisoners from another vehicle – the Elve – that the ruler of Bootes is experimenting with. After entering the palace and searching, you yourself are taken prisoner by an invisible demon and barely escape. You learn that the demons have already killed many prisoners, with Zelenin the only known survivor.

Here is where Strange Journey starts to differ a bit from other SMT games I’ve played. The law/chaos representatives tend to have a pretty abbreviated arc – they start out pseudo-aligned with their doctrine, some event occurs that convinces them it’s an absolute, and then things go downhill for them from there (Devil Survivor’s minor law/chaos reps being the worst, but SMT4’s were cardboard cutouts from the start too). Jimenez starts off seeming this way, too – he’s rude and self-serving, but even halfway through the game he’s not “every man for himself”. Zelenin is a little less obvious. The only hint we have in the beginning, really, is that she doesn’t particularly like Jimenez and she’s polite and dispassionate (some call her “cold”). In Bootes, it’s clear she has gone through considerable trauma. The few comrades from her ship were taken one by one, and she’s the only one left. She accepts the demon summoning program, but after what she’s been through she refuses to use it.

Strange Journey’s “angelic” law representative makes his first appearance in Bootes, too (lucky for you and Zelenin). Mastema helps you to escape the clutches of the demons. He’s consistently mysterious throughout this section of the game – mildly scolding humanity, while still offering aid.

After some back-and-forth you develop an app to discover (and defeat) the invisible demon, but not before a lesser character from the Strike Team goes nuts and turns on you. You’re forced to fight him in a brief struggle, but this is merely foreshadowing for a later event.

From this point on, Bootes is pretty straightforward; you just have to find the big boss of Bootes, Mithras, confront and defeat him. There’s a hidden door involved, but finding it isn’t particularly difficult since you’ve been going through the palace so many times.

The overall theme of Bootes is hard to glean from the chaos of implementation. It’s a red light district / brothel, but the conflict involves human experimentation. We’ll just call this one “desire” and move on.

Before I defeated Mithras, I managed to struggle my way through the first section of the Womb of Grief. Although it is more tolerable than Bootes, the plot is paper-thin and some of the mechanics are a little annoying. Each section has a fun combat-puzzle subquest, and in one section I found a hidden unlockable fusion demon, but there’s not much else on offer there. The option to go through Womb of Grief for a bit as a palate cleanser is appreciated, even if actually going there is a bit dry.

Time taken: Approx: 12 hours.

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