Strange Journey Part 11: The Finale

As a reminder, these entries contain direct, unmarked spoilers for Strange Journey (specifically the Neutral path finale). If you’re reading this, please be aware.

I actually completed Strange Journey in November and had most of this written by mid-December, but I wanted to ruminate a but on it before putting it up on the internet where the world can see.

Overall I enjoyed Strange Journey Redux, but it was still longer than I feel it should have been. Specific “this is too much” moments are Carina (did we really have to chase Horkus three times?), Eridanus (teleporter maze + fetching forma for the bad guys), Horologium (11 floors…yeah). Fornax + Grus actually weren’t that bad, from memory. Antlia was fantastic, Bootes and Delphinus were kind of tedious but okay.

If SJ were about half its length, it could have been a snappy “sci-fi horror survival” story with a pro-ecological message and engaging characters that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. With the co-op system and demon fusion pain, and dungeons that go longer than they need to, it’s an incredibly slow burn even if it’s fairly easy to pick up and put down.

Having collected the Cosmic Eggs and the nuclear warhead, and completed the Womb of Grief, we resume the delve into Horologium.

As you get deeper into Horologium, you come across our final (pre-finale) opponent: Jimenez, in demon form. Although he is alone, he is no pushover – and his gun and fire abilities in particular can wipe out an unprepared party. By this point, you likely have buff/debuff demons (Luster Candy/Debilitate respectively), as well as some backup healing whether via items or spells.

After dispatching Jimenez, Arthur becomes particularly philosophical, saying (somewhat paraphrased) – “As long as people who sin exist, this is impossible to avoid. I am also an entity who bears sin; I am responsible for leading you down this path.” While this doesn’t go fully into the classic sci-fi “does a sentient computer have a soul, or rather is it as capable of sin or guilt as a human”, it’s an interesting characterization of Arthur. Up until now, Arthur has been a voice of reason among the crew’s storms of emotion. Arthur hasn’t been aloof or presented itself as above those concerns, like Zelenin seems to occasionally – on the contrary, Arthur is in many ways an empathetic machine, addressing emotion while pointing out where it interferes with the mission’s decision-making. Having Arthur admit that it feels emotion (or claim to feel emotion to assuage your guilt) is a cool touch late in the game and might be one of the most rewarding bits of characterization.

Building demons capable of taking on these later boss fights is difficult, because in many cases they have immunities to the easiest damage types (in SJ this usually means gun/physical) or you need to reserve some slots for buff/debuff or weakness coverage. In addition you’re likely restricted based on alignment – e.g. in the Neutral path, you’re mostly going to use Neutral demons to maximize co-op attack potential. There is a sub-app that allows the player character to join any co-op attack, but not the reverse. With only 6 skill slots, it can be rather difficult to work around all those restrictions. While not every weakness needs to be covered, it’s obnoxious to have to create specific demons for a single fight and limited access to Sources which allow you to customize demons makes that even harder – especially when the number of sources with buff/debuff skills are limited.

There is a strange difficulty curve in Strange Journey, made even more prominent in Redux with the addition of the new randomly-triggering Leadership Skills. Regular random encounters are hard at the beginning of the game, and easier at the end, while boss fights start out easy and end up being very hard. In Horologium in particular, there are not many variations of random encounters and most are very easily dispatched at this point in the game. The “reduced enemy encounters” sub-apps new to the Redux release become particularly handy, as this final section of the game would be a true slog without it.

After defeating Jimenez, and descending deeper into Horologium, we at last reach our goal; the 9th floor, where Mem Aleph resides. She has the usual demonic schtick of blaming all the events on humanity’s fall, lamenting that humans and demons once lived together but since went their separate ways, and now humanity denies demons while wrecking the world.

What’s the message?
Here SMT: Strange Journey straddles a weird line between some core Judeo-Christian concepts and other (ecologically focused) morality. Mem Aleph’s dialogue, taken with that of the other demons, kind of ties together a “fall from grace” with a more modern view of “sin” (encompassing violence, lust, greed or consumerism, and waste). But that original grace is the opposite of the “Law” world that YHWH typically desires in the series – rather than a strict monotheistic world, it sounds like it is more like the world Mem Aleph and Jimenez desire. One where humans and demons live together in a world ruled by the strong, where emotions outweigh thought and society. In some sense, it is like the “garden of Eden”, divorced of its original context.

On the other hand, the demons themselves seem to approve of the actual sins (aside from possibly waste?), but then the argument is that the “wrong” thing being done is systemizing them (or “civilizing” them). The message ends up feeling fairly jumbled – where Mem Aleph’s argument is that humanity has divorced itself from natural tendencies, the opening of Strange Journey implies that the core problem is ecological (the destruction of Earth by man), driven by consumerism, large-scale warfare, and a wasteful society. In that context lust seems tacked-on. It feels like the second of these messages (the ecological one) is the game’s argument, especially since the game not-so-subtly guides you to the Neutral path through Gore.

The core of the Neutral message seems to be “Humanity has done wrong, but humans can fix it without ancient demons or self-appointed gods interfering. Let us try again”.

Anyway, Mem Aleph shakes up combat a bit by targeting special abilities by alignment, thus inverting one of the combat’s core drives. You want a diverse set of alignments, but at this point with access to a large variety of useful abilities it is relatively easy to get things ready for the final battle of the original Strange Journey.

To make a long story short, after defeating Mem Aleph, Alex turns up and lets you know that she’s from the future and your plan didn’t end up working. The Schwarzwelt was destroyed, but another one appeared a hundred or so years later and destroyed the world. She proposes an addition to the plan; the protagonist (you) use the pieces of Fruit gathered in the Womb of Grief to become an eternal guardian of humanity. Arthur agrees that the plan seems viable, and the fruit should give you the endurance required. Since the future has already been changed, Alex vanishes after giving you a ring and the last piece of Fruit and thanking you for listening.

Naturally, as soon as she is gone, Demeter shows up. She steals all of the fruit pieces using some kind of magic, and bustles off to a (previously blocked-off) section of the Womb of Grief. This is the Empyrean Ascent, the final new section added to Redux.

The Empyrean Ascent is an obnoxious little dungeon that uses numbered gates. These gates teleport you if the last gate wasn’t one below the one you’re passing (i.e. you can only go through “1” gates if you last went through a “0” gate). The only good thing about the Empyrean Ascent is that it is relatively short, being about a quarter the size of Horologium. At this point of Strange Journey, I was ready to be done – what pathos there was, was lost. The Red Sprite crew has nothing new to offer at this point, either.

Reaching the end of the Empyrean Ascent means finally confronting the first nonhuman voices in the game – the Three Wise Men. It turns out the Demeter was working for them and gave them the assembled Fruit. This transforms them into Shekinah, they say something about how worshiping god is the only good in the world, and attack. Shekinah is a little tricky, but not overwhelmingly so after fighting Mem Aleph.

Once Shekinah is defeated, the final sequence plays. The nuclear device (with eggs) is deployed and the Red Sprite starts the escape sequence. As the amphibious assault vehicle is zooming out, Arthur says he must stay behind with all forma/technology gathered in the Schwarzwelt, to prevent it getting into the wrong hands. A crew member (you) must stay behind as well, to protect the world from the Schwarzwelt. To that end, Arthur detaches a portion of the ship, the crew thanks you and says a brief farewell, and you stay behind.

In the final movie, we see a view of the surface of the moon. Arthur is plugged into a mass of machinery forming a small tower. The protagonist stands nearby, helmet off. We see a black dome form in Antarctica, and Arthur says this is the seventh appearance since you started your vigil. He asks if you are okay and still feel human. You nod, indicating you are ready to go once more into the breach. The ring Alex gave you shows a projection of a woman with a small child.

Although the ending asks more questions than it answers, it feels more positive than negative – at the least, you are able to give humanity a fighting chance and let it survive several iterations of the Schwarzwelt appearing.

Visions of worlds that never were
After experiencing the ending and having some time, I tried reloading my save at the branch-point and tested going the Law route. Even at the time (which was probably a month ago at this writing) I doubted my ability to persist forward, but the start of the Law route is intriguing – first, you fight Gore in the command room disabling Arthur in the process. After an incredibly brutal fight, Zelenin drops by to help you brainwash much (but, interestingly, not all) of the crew with her singing. It isn’t explicitly mentioned, but presumably the brainwashed crew were those who wouldn’t have followed you in praising God (which includes Kato, the highest ranking crew member, as well as the ship’s doctor and laboratory technicians). You yourself are not mind-controlled.

I’ve read that the Redux Law route is much more nuanced than Law typically is – introducing a softer version of the route that sounds much more acceptable, although you have to go through the vanilla route to almost the end to get there.

I haven’t seen much discussion of the Redux Chaos route, but I’m not sure I could bring myself to follow Chaos that far.

Unfortunately, following either route would require an additional 15+ hours of play – even on Easy – and involve much of the demon fusion juggling / source extraction loop I’ve come to dislike in Strange Journey. And given my lasting distaste for watching other people play games on Youtube, it seems unlikely I’ll see any other endings soon. I’ve come to peace with that, though!

If you’re still reading, thank you for joining me on this journey. Leaving a comment of some kind would be great encouragement to me to write more!

Gameplay time elapsed: ~50h
Real time elapsed: ~7 months (April 2022 to Nov 2022)

Leave a Comment