|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Atlus||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 24, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
The grim soundtrack is a thing of wonder. It is slow and dramatic, and many tracks even have a deep, rumbling chorus that further darkens the atmosphere. It's perfect for a game with no need for "town" music, or "inn" music, or any of the usual light-hearted RPG chords. The player is on a military incursion through a hellish dreamworld, with the earth itself at stake, and the soundtrack drives this point home.
While the overall story is interesting, and it's enjoyable to unravel the mystery of the Schwarzwelt, the unique team system and old-school team dynamic means that character development is kind of a no-show. A year from now, you'll never look back and remember the hero of Strange Journey, nor will any of your teammates' "personalities" leave a mark on you. It's easy to forgive Strange Journey for this shortcoming, however, because the demonic recruitment system is fun enough to trump the desire to see the usual team of stereotypical characters undergo predictable developments. Plus, the strange and varied dimensions and levels of the Schwarzwelt actually have more personality than a lot of real human beings I know; in some ways this setup is superior to the inclusion of the nonsensical, "witty" banter between teammates that's so prevalent in Japanese RPGs.
As for challenge, Strange Journey is not easy, but that's not to say that it is unmercifully (or obnoxiously) "old-school". There are a lot of tactics to keep in mind, and plenty of team variations that can go wrong, and taking advantage of a particular enemy's weakness is usually a necessity rather than a bonus - but on the other hand, save points are usually in plentiful supply, so no single mistake is ever going to nullify five hours of grinding. If Strange Journey is someone's first RPG after playing, say, any recent Final Fantasy, then that person would probably find Strange Journey to be unnecessarily difficult. However, it's been my experience that most RPG players are already hard-wired to understand things like resource management, how to maximize a teammate's potential, how to undermine an opponent's weaknesses, and so on; thus, Strange Journey is the perfect challenge for someone who needs a little bit of difficulty and frustration in their life in order to truly relax and enjoy some downtime.
Expect at least fifty hours of game time, depending on how much you mess around with cooking up demonic combinations. The alignment system and its effects on the story make for additional playthrough potential. There is no online mode, but you can trade demons with your friends. There is no risk of any of these trades unbalancing gameplay, as you can't use demons whose levels are higher than your own. In fact, there are so many demonic combinations, and so many challenging battles ahead, that a little help from fellow demonic chefs would add a great dynamic to the solo dungeon-crawling experience.
Kyle B. Stiff
CCC Freelance Writer