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Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: The Darkside of the Earth

Company: Atlus

Earlier this year, the Shin Megami Tensei series made its debut on the DS with SMT: Devil Survivor. Though a departure from the series' traditional gameplay, Devil Survivor managed to remain true to the series' roots by providing both an engaging story and plenty of demons. Early next year, the series' march on the DS continues with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey.

Strange Journey is officially the fourth game in the main SMT series - right after Nocturne (Persona, Digital Devil Saga and the like are considered their own lines). Sometime in the near future, a giant void opens in the South Pole, spurring a strike team to go down to the area and investigate. The craft crashes in the Antarctic, leaving you as one of the few survivors. Your first priority is survival, but you still have a mission to do, sending you straight into the void to investigate what turns out to be a demonic invasion.

In addition to marking a return to the core series, Strange Journey returns the series to its traditional dungeon exploration roots. Similar to the original games (which never saw release in North America), Strange Journey is a first-person dungeon crawl built on the Etrain Odyssey engine. Although you'll spend a lot of time in combat, exploration is a big part of the experience. Early in the game, you'll earn something called a Forma Detector, which acts as a sort of radar. As you work your way through dungeons, you'll discover Forma, which you can then use to upgrade your suit, giving you access to new weapons and accessories. Throwing a little Metroid into the mix, each new piece of equipment will allow you to unlock new sections of each dungeon. Additionally, new pieces of Forma will appear in already-visited dungeons, offering something new to find as you explore, and re-explore areas.

Negotiating with demons has always been a big part of the SMT series, and Strange Journey continues the trend by offering hundreds of new and familiar demons to recruit to your party. Each time you run across a demon, you can choose to fight them or negotiate, hopefully bringing them to your side. Bargaining with demons is tricky business and, if past games are any indication, should provide a bulk of Strange Journey's gameplay depth.

A key concept in negotiating involves alignment. All of the demons you encounter will fall within a certain alignment, ranging from absolute good to outright evil (and a few places in between). If a demon shares your alignment - which is determined based on your in-game actions -- they will be more inclined to join your party, while those of an opposite alignment will probably laugh off any attempt at a parlay. You'll also have to pay attention to other elements, like the phases of the moon and what you say to enemies. If there's a full moon out, demons may not be in the mood to talk. If you do manage to get a word in, they may not like what you have to say - sending even like-minded demons into attack mode.

Having similarly-aligned demons in your party adds the benefit of Demon Co-op attacks. If you're able to attack an enemy's weakness, such as ice or fire attacks, party members with your same alignment will get an extra attack. There are, however, bonuses to placing opposing demons in your group. Each demon offers a unique set of abilities that may augment your party's capabilities. It is also possible to avoid fighting certain demons if one of their peers is in your party.

It's also possible to fuse demons between battles, creating new, more powerful types of demons, including ones that appear as bosses. Just to sweeten the deal, Strange Journey allows you to generate codes that you can then send to friends, allowing them to import your created demons in their games. Atlus will even make a few special codes available around launch, granting access to rare demons.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey so far looks like an interesting entry into the series. It's got everything that makes the series unique, but with an interesting sci-fi setting. SMT: Strange Journey is set for a March 23, 2010 release.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

Multiplatform Darksiders Nintendo Wii Shiren the Wanderer

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