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?

One reason is that it’s a long game, I have limited time to play it and extended time to write about it. I wish I’d done the same when I played Shin Megami Tensei V. Writing about things as I go (or in this case, days or even weeks after the time I finished a section) helps me think about the game more than I normally would. I’m trying to get to understanding games, any games, at a deeper level than I usually do. I have a bad habit of doing “surface level” plot analysis, and I’d like to get a little better at it. What better way than practicing?

Another reason is that Strange Journey has a particular place in my heart and mind. I enjoyed the opening and the themes years ago, dropped it, tried it again, etc. several times. Finally beating it would be a culmination of years of “I’ve been meaning to do this”. Having a project associated with that offers up some additional motivation.

Still another is that for all that Strange Journey seems to be loved by the SMT fanbase, very few people actually talk about what happens in it. While I haven’t actively sought out write-ups like my own, I do hang around on and read forums (and reddit) quite a bit, but there’s very little commentary on themes, arcs, even styles particularly when it comes to Strange Journey, when for other games like SMT5 or Persona 5 there seems to be more of that kind of discussion. For Strange Journey, you get comments like “Zelenin is a great law rep” or “Eridanus sucks” – or hints at how many sectors there are, but nobody is like “The straightforward waste dump aesthetic in Delphinus really made it a shock when the demons’ plan in Delphinus was relatively subtle”. Even though the character arcs were telegraphed from the start, the relatively slow growth for each of them (Jimenez’s attachment to Bugaboo and Zelenin’s fawning over Mastema) allows them to build up to their (presumed, as I haven’t got there yet) obsession with their relative causes eclipsing their duty to the crew (and humanity).

I think that’s about it. If you’re still reading, thanks! Any commentary, even “I’m reading”, would be appreciated, although I went into this without any real motive of being read and need no encouragement to gather my thoughts.

Anyway, in Carina, you shoot a giant pig a few times with an Angelic Rifle, then hunt it down and kill it. That’s almost all you do. In some ways it’s worse than Bootes, because the boss doesn’t have a “plan”, but it’s shorter and it gives the “outside the Schwarzwelt” plot a little room to breathe and you get to understand Zelenin a little better.

Thematically, Carina is a giant shopping mall. It’s pretty obviously a “consumption” metaphor – largely indistinguishable products of all sizes line endless shelves, giant pricetags and all. Porcine imagery is particularly prominent, and in some areas you can see meathooks bringing carcasses around to unseen processing plants. As the strike team explores they mention that the products all look realistic, but aren’t actually food (I think sand is mentioned as filling for one). This shopping mall is a fascimile made by the demons to match the land of utmost consumption – a massive supermarket. Although it seems clear at this point – from Antlia, Bootes and Carina – that demons are inspired to try to match humans, not much is really done with this beyond a few one-off lines that humans are even worse than demons – the implication that they do bigger evil accidentally (or incidentally) than demons do intentionally. At this point, it’s kind of a “big deal, let’s get on with it”, because this is an SMT and we can either assert humanity can change/fix it, or we can swing the pendulum to chaos/law and let some numinous universal construct deal with it. But more on that next chapter.

At the start of Carina, you discover a signal that could be the Elve – Zelenin’s ship (which prompts the question – how did she get to Bootes? Although later you discover there is “trade” between sectors, so presumably the demons can move more or less freely, and take people with). After you track down the signal, it turns out to be a giant pig-demon, Horkos, the sector chief, who has mostly-literally eaten the ship and grown enormous. It’s unsafe to approach him, but you do discover Mastema again and he offers you some help; a forma of divine power, with which your scientists make a gun (the Horkos Buster). You can decline it, but I assume that just gives you a few “chaos” points and you can’t continue until you accept his help.

Horkos himself is kind of a “meh” demon boss. He mostly spouts gibberish that I guess is supposed to be eating sounds?

After shooting Horkos a few times, he limps off elsewhere. The Elve is freed, although it’s in bad shape. I think it’s at this point you and Jimenez are sent to recover a special radio (quantum radio?) from the Elve, with the idea of getting back in contact with the Schwarzwelt Investigation Command Center. Recovering the radio from the Elve goes uneventfully, and you get treated to the (vaguely absurd) image of the command center, where presumably a team of executives assembled from various countries has been sitting in their fancy command-center chairs for days waiting for you to contact them.

Anyway, after transmitting a brief digest of the plot so far, the bosses at the Command Center reveal that the Schwarzwelt has almost expanded to other continents and that demons have been spotted (and fought) outside of it. The crew of the Red Sprite is shocked at this, but Arthur and the Command Center coordinate on the beginnings of finding a way out of the Schwarzwelt (via some kind of laser signal from the command center that would be detectable from the Red Sprite) which improves the mood somewhat.

Horkos, foiled in his plot to eat an entire interdimensional amphibious assault vehicle, slinks off to some hiding spot. This kicks off a search for a way to infiltrate a new kind of barrier – a lesser dimensional shift. There’s a brief scene where Alex (remember her? The other human who killed you in Bootes?) attempts to murder you again, and you escape into Horkos’ preferred subspace, foiling her hunt. From there you hunt Horkos down for the next-dimensional-shift forma. It’s a relatively straightforward fight, and once he’s down you can move on to Delphinus, where things get a teeny bit more interesting.

Time spent: 15 hours.

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