Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (English translation: true reincarnation of the goddess) is a turn-based role-playing game with dungeon crawling.
You play as a United States Marine working as part of a team of scientific and military experts to investigate the Schwarzwelt: a giant black hole devouring the Earth's South Pole that leads to different dimensions, and filled with demons who despise humans.
Pro Your moral choices branch out to multiple endings
Your choices throughout the game determine which of the three alignments you fall under. Whether you lean toward Chaos with the demons, Law with the angels, or the Neutral alignment that rejects Law and Chaos, the later segments of the game change to reflect your views. Characters who were once your allies can become antagonists, or vice-versa, depending on which path you follow. Schwarzwelt and, in-turn, the world, shapes itself in drastic ways through your choices, leading you down different branches, each with their own powerful bosses to defeat, and unique endings that follow.
Pro You get to collect and control many types of demons and angels to fight in battle
Demons and angels act as your party members in battle. While fighting, you can recruit almost any enemy demon or angel as long as it's at your level or below, through a process called demon negotiation. You barter with them through a conversation before asking it to join you; if it likes you, and if you give it the items, money, and whatever else it asks you for, it may join your party. You can then fuse angels or demons together to create stronger allies with better abilities. And there are hundreds of different types of demons and angels with their own fitting designs and relevant mythological lore, ranging from familiar names like Shiva, Lilith, Valkyrie, Phoenix, Raphael, and many many more.
Pro Intense and foreboding soundtrack with classical influences
In the best ways possible, the music ranges from grave and serious to majestic and elegant. Regular exploration themes have deep, booming choruses backed by relentless military drums, keeping you on-edge throughout the many hours you spend dungeon crawling. Boss battles are as foreboding as the enemies you face, with a range of blaring brass sounds that ground the tone and elevate your experience: even the period of silence in "Vehement Rage" conveys plenty of weight and importance.
Major boss battles are even more impressive, fitting their Law, Chaos, or Neutral alignments in creative ways, with "Holy Miracle" bringing all the classical grandeur of a battle against a true being of Law. And the song that plays in the final dungeon, as well as the end credits theme, are both particularly special, with an unexpected tone that perfectly captures the end of such a strange journey.
Pro Philosophical sci-fi story that speculates on the consequences of human vices
The science-fiction story in Strange Journey is among the best in the Shin Megami Tensei series. It's a clever commentary on human greed and lust for power, and speculates on the ways the planet can end up suffering from our excess and wastefulness. It starts off with you as part of a team investigating the Schwarwelt, a huge black hole eating away at the South Pole, that leads to several different dimensions filled with demons. Each of these dimensions and the demons within show what could possibly happen if humans let their vices overtake them. It's chilling because of how real everything feels, even in the realm of "impossible" demons and alternate dimensions.
Pro Highly challenging, yet rewarding turn-based combat
The battles in the Shin Megami Tensei series are unforgiving in how difficult they are, and Strange Journey is no exception. You fight with a party of demons you collect, aiming to pinpoint your enemy's elemental weaknesses and exploit them. Once you find the weakness, the demons in your party who share your moral alignment (Law, Chaos, or Neutral) will team up for extra damage through a co-op attack. If you don't look up a guide, then finding weaknesses is a matter of trial and error, and hoping you don't die while you figure things out.
Most of the opponents you come across hit for a ton of damage, so you absolutely need to take advantage of their weaknesses for co-op attacks. And as you get farther along in the game, you get access to buffs to your party's attack, defense, evasion, and more, as well as debuffs to debilitate your foes. As you get better with the combat and earn some tough victories, the sense of satisfaction you get helps you to keep pushing forward.
Pro Hardcore dungeon crawling that keeps you on-edge
The dungeon crawling in Strange Journey isn't for the faint of heart. It's a real test of your endurance, on top of the added difficulty of the random battle encounters. You play in first person, trekking through the dimensions of Schwarzwelt in search of a way back to Earth, searching through the areas to find upgrades to your gadgets and your ship. You have to deal with several puzzles, hidden doors, riddles, and different types of traps in your path, all in uncharted land with only your wits to guide you. If you're the type who craves a serious challenge, then this just might be the game for you.
Con Your destinations are too often behind hidden doors
The bulk of exploration involves upgrading your gadgets to find more types of hidden doors, and it's done in a pretty unreasonable way. When you can't progress, chances are you need to find one of these upgrades somewhere on the map, though they're usually locked behind a door that you can't see. If you don't follow a guide, you have to spend a lot of time facing walls, backtracking again and again until you find what you're looking for. This happens way too much throughout the game, at times taking the fun out of the dungeon crawling and turning it into a slog.
Con Some of the puzzles can take a long time to figure out
There are a couple of notorious puzzles in this game. The main one, you encounter about halfway through the story: it involves a bunch of warping around the map and falling through traps in the ground to get to where you need to go. If you keep at it, you're sure to find your way eventually, but it's frustrating.
Con Incredibly hard, especially if you take the Law or Neutral routes
Since the difficulty in the Shin Megami Tensei games is a feature, this is more of a warning for new players than a complaint. Not only are the battles and dungeon crawling relentless, but the challenge really kicks in during endgame. If you go for either the Law or Neutral routes, then be careful, because the final boss in those routes is the hardest one in the entire series. First timers may want to opt for Chaos during their first run through. Otherwise, grinding all the way to level 90 may be required if you can't defeat the final boss at lower levels, and that may take several hours.