Warning: This will obviously contain Major Spoilers for Strange Journey on the DS and Strange Journey Redux / Deep Strange Journey on the 3DS.
Content Warning: If you’re the type to be easily offended at mere disagreements with your opinions on things, do yourself a favor and stop reading right here, click some other topic, and have a nice day. I am not going to hold back on my contempt for what I feel for this game. If you can’t handle that without angry comments, then this is your one and only opportunity to look away. I’m not going to hold anything back with how I honestly feel about this 3DS revision of Strange Journey.
I want to make a few points absolutely clear to explain where I am coming from before I really start this; I am a huge fan of the original DS game. I really liked it. It didn’t quite reach my absolute favorites list, but I loved the settings, the atmosphere (especially with how well the music blended it together), the artwork, the general story, and especially, the lore. The lore was a major high point that just never disappointed and it was such a fascinating mystery in the original DS game. By all rights, while I disliked certain aspects (such as Jiminez’s entire story arc), everything else was a major highpoint that never disappointed me. From start to finish, it was an enjoyable ride and came very close to being one of my favorites of all-time.
When Strange Journey Redux was first announced, I wasn’t very interested at all. In fact, I disdained Atlus Japan’s decision to do 3DS ports of all their previous DS games. It just seemed like a cheap way to make a quick cashgrab to me. I bought the DS versions of Devil Survivor and Devil Survivor 2, but I never bothered getting the 3DS versions of those games. I much preferred their model of creating new IPs such as Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (regardless of how fans feel about it) than the nonsense of replaying the same game. If I wanted to replay the same games, just give me a New Game+ feature on the old ones and leave it at that. Repackaging the old games with improved graphics and extra side story content really kills the mood and makes me think I should just wait 3-5 years for the “complete” editions of games instead of buying what are quickly becoming “vanilla versions” at release. This trend doesn’t bode well and I fear it is already normalized. Perhaps the worst scenario I can speculate is SMTV having a lackluster sales performance because people expect a Maniax style new edition within 3-5 years, thus sales bomb and then we get a deeper “Persona-fied” SMTV Golden version that reeks of Persona’s specific tropes being reinforced into SMT. Of course, that’s all mere speculation and arguably paranoia on my part. What Strange Journey Redux does do is reinforce an existing trend, but unlike other games . . . the difference here is that this re-release absolutely ruined the entire aesthetic, setting, plot, lore, and gameplay. In all ways except graphics, it is a complete downgrade from its original iteration. All I can do is gaze in astonishment at this absolute trainwreck of a game and try to carefully rummage through the rubble to see where it all went wrong. Whatever I thought it was going to be, I was deeply wrong.
The answer is immediately obvious to all of us who loved the original Strange Journey’s lore and story. The addition of Alex completely ruined everything about Strange Journey’s story, plot, setting, themes, and the impact of your decisions. It destroys all coherence in the story and reduces very brilliant writing on Atlus’s part into absolute garbage. With one stroke, one thoughtless change, and everything that made Strange Journey so enjoyable is reduced to a pile of rubble. Alex’s initial introduction and placement in Sector Bootes was perhaps the absolute worst choice for the story. Alex jams your communication with Jiminez and Arthur, she kills you, and you get resurrected by Demeter who implies you’re no longer human and have some “seed” growing within you that is giving you power now. In fact, upon defeating Anahita, Demeter repeats this same phrase and strongly seems to suggest that Doomguy (the affectionate fan name for the main character of Strange Journey) is something more than human now. Cue to returning to Sector Bootes, Jiminez comments on seeing you die, and Arthur begins talking about a distress call from the Elve just like in the previous game. Arthur never asks you for a full report on what happened, Jiminez seems to never tell anyone about seeing you die and doesn’t seem to question your return from literal death much, and the NPC crew provide no commentary whatsoever on losing contact or seeing you die. Immediately after this scenario; Crewman Norris appears to lose his mind and Arthur responds instantly to a serious emergency of Norris vanishing and going AWOL. Arthur tells everyone it is all hands-on deck to find Crewman Norris and investigate what exactly happened. This stark difference in reaction immediately after Alex’s introduction scene destroys the coherence of the plot, it makes a brilliantly written cast of characters look like complete idiots, and it further worsens the previous event since Arthur didn’t ask you for a full report of what exactly happened. Prior to Alex killing you, the crew say that you’re the most valued Strike Team member because of your accomplishments after Gore’s death. If you can believe it, it only gets worse from there in impact. Not only do you get kidnapped as per the standard story involving Sector Bootes, meeting Zelenin and the information of Mithras’s experiments, and Arthur does ask for a full report on the situation. This further worsens the pre-existing scenario with a double-whammy failure because Arthur doesn’t react to your death (which Jiminez knows and openly commented about on the Red Sprite), but Arthur does react with appropriate seriousness to your kidnapping. Finally, to top off how awful the scenario becomes, Mithras laments on the sickening power of humanity being enough to defeat him. In the previous iteration of Strange Journey, it was Doomguy’s battle knowhow, his combat tactics, an AI creation of humans in the form of Arthur providing guidance on par with the angel Mastema, and the innovative technology of his cutting-edge and self-upgrading powersuit made for combat that helped him defeat Mithras; essentially Doomguy representing the strength, perseverance, and creativity of humanity surmounting a God-like entity despite humanity’s shortcomings. Mithras was a scientific cultist who couldn’t truly understand why humanity could struggle despite being so weak and only looked at physical signs within their body. He did not look at their ingenuity, creativity, patience, and perseverance; seeing all of that as simply a nuisance similar to the buzzing of a bee. Within Strange Journey Redux, this message and theme which carries over across the entire game’s plot and setting is completely erased by Doomguy having some nebulous power within his body that Demeter has given him to turn him into something beyond human.
Aha! That whiny Jarin Jove and his Jarin Jove Logic! All that doesn’t matter because GAMEPLAY! I hate to tell you all this, but the gameplay is complete shit. You have to actively avoid the game handing a snoozefest of benefits that actively cripple any challenge that this game could have provided. Whether Command Skills that are basically a special handicap mode, the fact Sub Apps no longer require you to actually use your brain by having a number limit to which ones that you can use so you can do an accounting of risks versus benefits, the mutations now tell you what they mutate into which destroys all risk involved in mutating a skill, you can select the movesets of your demons via the forma system instead of Forma randomization which further degrades any risk involved in gameplay and removes any need to ever use your brain in combat, and overall, all these “quality of life” enhancements . . . sabotage any ability for the game to give the player a challenge. It seems a certain growing number of fans would rather force the harder difficulties to be an upgraded Easy Mode instead of settling for Easy mode because their pride is hurt from the fact that they just completely suck at using their brains when playing Mainline games. Like seriously, what kind of fanbase constantly harps on about how “easy” this series is, refuses to actually play the harder difficulties, and then whines about the normal and hard modes not being turned into glorified easy modes to protect their own pathetic pride? I can’t believe, from both a gameplay and story perspective, that people actually rate this unfun clusterfuck as higher than SMTIV Apocalypse. At least Apocalypse managed to add to the lore, intrigue, and story unlike this mess of a story. At least Apocalypse’s gameplay was actually a fun challenge at times. How can people even want both random inheritance and being unable to see future skills gone from SMT3: Nocturne’s HD Remaster when this crap with seeing future mutations and choosing skills in Strange Journey Redux makes the game braindead easy and completely kills all the fun of the challenge? Like, I am actually mad that people can say that when this game is bonafide proof that it’ll turn SMT3: Nocturne’s gameplay into complete garbage like this game turned out to be. What the hell is even fun about this anymore? If this is actually the direction future titles will be going, I’m not sure if I can continue even playing these games. Yes, yes, EO is harder. I don’t care. That doesn’t justify turning these games into braindead shit. If there is no difficulty curve, such as with this game, then there is no fun. I want harder difficulties that actually make it harder and more challenging and not this braindead glorified Easy mode shit. If your argument is going to be that I have to handicap myself in order to make the game artificially challenging, then you’re willfully defending shitty game design because your pride is hurt from being too scared to actually try harder difficulties in these games. I actually enjoy them and don’t mind losing because I have patience and I love the challenge.
If all that wasn’t enough, the story only gets worse. I was desperately hoping that it wouldn’t but plot hole upon plot hole keeps emerging with Strange Journey Redux that ruins everything that I loved about the original DS game. Part of the mystery and intrigue was the forma shifting you to different pocket-dimensions of the Schwarzwelt. This sense of mystery and intrigue is completely ruined by having a giant unexplained portal that transports you to the Womb of Grief anytime you want with no explanation for how it works, why your crewmen don’t comment on you vanishing and going AWOL like Crewman Norris for extended periods of time, or why you’re initially doing it before Demeter offers up a reason after you beat Anahita. In short, you have to turn your brain off and the sense of mystery and the lore of the Schwarzwelt is sabotaged completely. Even the interaction and alignment of Anahita doesn’t make much sense; she’s a Law goddess, but her behavior and dialogue sound like a Chaos demon. I had to stop at Sector Carina because all hope that I had that Alex wouldn’t show up to completely ruin even her own story was thrown away when she did appear. The reason is obvious and I’m sure many of you realized it when she did appear. If she wanted to stop Doomguy, Zelenin, and Jiminez . . . why didn’t she just break the Gravitation Radio device that Arthur said the Red Sprite needed in order to continue the journey? Even if, for the sake of the argument, she couldn’t break Horkos’s plasma barrier for some reason, why didn’t she just wait for them to knock him out of his fusion with the Elve, sneak in during the confusion of the Elve being busted, and break the device they needed? If that doesn’t work because the Red Sprite Strike Team immediately board the burning Elve, why didn’t she just wait until they were carrying it out to snipe it from a far distance or attack them all at once in a surprise move to break it? This is assuming that she would even need to take precautions, because nothing in the story indicates that she would need to be careful in fighting and killing several crewmen of the Red Sprite to destroy the Gravitation Radio device. The Red Sprite would be stuck and it would be all over for them. Alex’s mission would be accomplished without needing to kill anyone.
The Womb of Grief, if it had been some other game, probably could have worked. But Atlus placed it in Strange Journey’s story, and it destroyed everything in the process. Even if, in isolation, the content doesn’t seem that bad . . . some of the decisions are so terrible that it overshadows the positives. It’s actually a brilliant decision to have Demeter, a Goddess of Fertility and the underworld who is notorious for cursing people and their children, to be the Goddess introduced at the Womb of Grief and most of the endgame cutscenes I’ve seen of Demeter help fit with the theme and narrative for the Womb of Grief in isolation (that is, if you ignore how stupid it makes the main plot of Strange Journey and focus only on the side material). However, I completely agree with the fanbase that decried the Demeter design as a completely awful decision. I’m in full agreement. What should have been a mysterious and lightly playful Demeter personality meant to bring intrigue is introduced in some bizarre child form that clashes with her mythology so horribly that it overshadows the entire narrative purpose of why Demeter was chosen. They should have gone for something similar to Anahita insofar as physical stature which would have fit better. That’s as far as I’m willing to discuss on my gripes with the Womb of Grief because that point was the most straightforward.
I could probably add more, but I think I’ll just stop at this because I just don’t have any willingness in me to continue playing this game anymore. I can’t believe Atlus managed to pull something akin to Final Fantasy X-2 or Final Fantasy IV: After Years. This is not a good sign; they’re becoming too much like Square Enix and even the themes of their games are becoming like every other generic RPG snoozefest about power of friendship. Even disregarding story considerations, the gameplay is an absolute letdown and not fun at all specifically because of these shitty “quality of life” changes. I truly can’t believe how disappointed I am. I loved SMTIV, I loved Apocalypse because I truly felt that it added to IV’s experience without taking anything away, and I came very close to adding Strange Journey to my all-time favorites. Yet, this “Redux” has destroyed everything I loved about the original Strange Journey on the DS and left an incoherent story and poorly designed gameplay in its wake because some fans are so bad at the game they need training wheels but also don’t want to be told they’re using training wheels so they demand more changes for their own pride. The hardest difficulty I can choose right off the bat is basically an enhanced easy mode and any argument from people that I can choose to ignore using certain functions reeks of poor gameplay design . . . of a game that is a re-release of a previous DS iteration that did it all mostly fine and that was completely fun from start to finish. That’s all I can say. I’m tapped out of caring anymore; go ahead and call me an obsessive fanboy, go ahead and call me an idiot, go ahead and “lol Jarin Jove Logic”, and go ahead with your angry comments. I’m honestly too disappointed in this game to care.