The South Pole is one of those locations few of us will ever visit. In addition to not being conveniently located to a more inhabitable area, the environmental conditions are too harsh for most people to consider it comfortable. Throughout the year there are stretches with little or even no daylight and there are no months where the average temperature is above zero degrees. The South Pole does not sound like an inviting place at all and this is before the Schwarzwelt opened up and allowed a bunch of demons to come into our world.
Thus is the core premise of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, an enhanced remake of a 2010 Nintendo DS game by the same title minus the word Redux. The Schwarzwelt is a subspace anomaly that mysteriously appeared in the South Pole one day, rapidly increasing in size and destroying everything that comes in contact with it. The logical thing to do would be to run away screaming in terror from this anomaly, but that wouldn’t lead to an exciting game so instead the United Nations assembles an elite team to investigate this bizarre occurrence under the moniker of the Schwarzwelt Investigation Team. The Schwarzwelt is its own unique, hostile environment filled with otherworldly dangers, but the team members are fortunate enough to be equipped with special Demonica suits to allow them to survive in this unnatural environment.
Inside the Schwarzwelt the teams discover it’s inhabited by what most people would identify as demons and angels. Are these mythic creatures friend or foe? The answer is yes. In general, the enemies that the player will fight throughout the game are the resident demons of the Schwarzwelt, but not all demons are completely unreasonable. The player can speak to the demons in battle and if their pick up game is strong they can convince a demon to join their party to assist with the investigation and battle. The party consists of the player’s character and up to three recruited demons, and building the ideal party does include a certain level of complexity.
Throughout the game the player will make decisions that will shape and mold their alignment between Law, Neutrality and Chaos. This obviously will impact the story progression but also plays a role in battle. Whenever the player is able to exploit an enemy’s weakness in battle, party members with the same alignment will follow up with a co-op attack, so having a party where everyone has the same alignment can lead to devastating attack combinations. Demons can level up through winning battles as per usual RPG level progression, but thanks to their demonic physiology not having the same limitations of most carbon-based lifeforms, demons can be fused together to make even more powerful new demons.
For those that are familiar with this strange journey from when it first came out almost a decade ago, the basic gameplay mechanics have remained the same but there are some new additions thrown into the mix. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a first-person dungeon crawler with random turn-based battles, which while it has its own unique nuances it isn’t anything that any JRPG veteran would consider unfamiliar territory. The player will have a variety of attacks they can employ in each battle, and with the right combination of demonic assistance, figuring out ways to exploit the co-op attack feature is one of the more enjoyable features of the battle system.
Storytelling is not an area where Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux skimps. From the time the game starts it takes somewhere between thirty and sixty minutes before the player gets to leave their base and set foot into the Schwarzwelt. There are frequent cutscenes to advance the story and keep the player engaged in the plot between dungeon-crawling excursions. This is not a casual pick up and play title as it demands attention and time, but for those willing to invest both of those, it pays off as being a rewarding gaming experience. This is no surprise to Shine Megami Tensei fans and also it’s apparent how this style has influenced later games such as Ray Gigant.
Whenever a game receives an enhanced remake, the biggest question is whether or not the new features justify revisiting the title if they still have access to the original. This is one of those cases where there is enough new content where the answer is probably yes. One of the more basic new additions is the ability to change the difficulty. The player can choose to make the game easier if they just want to finish quickly (quickly being relative as this can easily be an eighty hour time investment) and enjoy the story or if they think they’ve mastered the combat and assembling the demonic dream team they can make it so one tactical mishap can spell doom for their party.
The difficulty change is relatively minor, but for a major addition there is a new route that introduces three new endings. This also includes new demons, a new dungeon and a mysterious new character named Alex. Without spoiling anything, Alex is meant to be symbolic of the new scenario. She appears, relentlessly pursuing the player and naturally trying to kill them, but her reasons and motives eventually become revealed over time. Upon completing the game, the player will have the option to start over a new game plus where the player’s Macca, items and current level will carry over, opening up new Ex Missions and Sub Apps. As with any enhanced remake, the visuals have gotten an overhaul to make the world more immersive and engaging.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is how an enhanced remake should be handled. The core gameplay and story remains intact for fans of the 2010 original, but the graphical enhancements and new story paths provide reason to check out this new version. This remake also gives people who discovered Shin Megami Tensei more recently to check out one of the older titles in a form that feels more contemporary. With the heavy emphasis on story and a campaign where fifty hours is considered a fast completion, this is not a casual game, but it’s well worth a look for anyone who enjoys story-rich JRPGs they can sink close to a hundred hours into it.