Top 5 Callbacks in SMT: Strange Journey,
This week brings us the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers on the 3DS, the re-release of one of the only two games from the prolific franchise to grace the Sega Saturn. The game is notable not only for coming out on the Saturn, but for its role in the franchise. You see, the game was initially released on the Saturn on the tenth anniversary of the entire Megami Tensei franchise (1997) and the game took full advantage of this, putting in plenty of old monsters from past games including everyone’s favorite female chariot-riding phallic symbol, Mara. The game also was easier than other titles, allowing new players to have some breathing room before the game crushed their souls. This re-release came out in Japan on the 25th anniversary of the franchise and not only contains voice acting and a remastered opening but also 30 new demons, some of whom have never appeared in any MegaTen game, and even an appearance by Raido Kuzonoha XIV. Will this re-release be a chance for a new generation of gamers to bask in the glow of some retro goodness or will the gameplay not gel with our expectations? Well, we won’t find that out until our review goes live on Tuesday, so today let’s talk about Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey.
That may seem like a rough segue, but the two games actually have a lot of similarities. First, while both are spin-offs of the main series, they don’t take the Persona or Devil Survivor routes and instead stick to the old fusion system and first-person dungeons for which the main entries are known. Strange Journey is also a lot easier than Nocturne, with the ability to recruit demons regardless of your alignment and the demon co-op system replacing the “press turn” system that was present in Nocturne. The game also had a TON of callbacks, both to the MegaTen franchise, and rather obscure bits of folklore and mythology from around the world.
So this week, in honor of Soul Hackers and the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei IV, we’re taking a look at the obscure tidbits from one of my favorite DS games. There aren’t any real rules for this list other than the reference needs to be a callback to the franchise’s lore. So let’s get started, shall we? Also SPOILERS for SMT II, Nocturne, and Strange Journey.
All right, let’s go old school. In Strange Journey your two main NPC allies are Zelenin, a Russian scientist who is terrified of demons to the point that she refuses to ever use the Demon-summoning program, and Jimenez, a cynical mercenary who eventually prefers the company of demons. As the game progresses, two huge events take place that change the two of them into supporters of the angels or demons respectively and by extension, the Law and Chaos moralities. Depending on your final alignment, the two will either be your, ally, your reluctant foe, or your arch-nemesis. As a fun bonus, the game even foreshadows their alignments by making the color of their demonica (the suits in the game) bands red (Chaos) and blue (Law).
While this is one of the less subtle moments in the game, it is also a reference to the Chaos and Law Heroes from the original Shin Megami Tensei. In that game you also had two allies who traveled with you until they broke off to pursue the path of Law or Chaos and they even become transformed like Jimenez and Zelenin, with the Chaos Hero fusing with a demon (though for much more selfish reasons than Jimenez) and the Law Hero getting divine help to reach his new form (which resembles Zelenin’s dress). It’s a nice callback to the games of old while taking things to the next level by making Jimenenez and Zelenin capable of becoming the final and penultimate boss respectively, with screen-filling forms to boot. Of course, Nocturne also tried this out with NPCs supporting different reasons and SMT IV looks like we’ll have new versions of the Chaos and Law heroes, continuing the callback to the first SMT.
While Strange Journey isn’t numbered, it is usually considered part of the main series. While it does lack some of the trappings of 1, 2, and 3 (Lucifer only makes a cameo, for example), the game has more than a few winks toward continuity. We’ll get to the bigger connections later, but for now, how about the return of the most memorable bosses from Nocturne? Hidden within the game are all of the candelabrum-carrying fiends from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne with the exceptions of Daisojou, Hell Biker, and Dante/Raidou. While it may have been some time since these fiends got to do things with their own two hands, they are just as deadly as ever, with even the easiest one among them (who is ironically Matador) being a dangerous encounter.
The game even makes this blast from the past extra tense as you don’t get to see the fiends before you run into them. Instead of them being bosses, they hide as scannable enemies. So, whenever you reach a pink point on the map and scan it, you have the chance of running into a fairly harmless UMA monster, a dangerous but manageable demon like King Frost, or one of the riders… or worse, the Trumpeter. The only exception is Mother Harlot, who has an excellent send-off in a special EX mission where she has been trapped by the Angels. Still, however you come across them, the fiends are just as threatening and intimidating as they have always been. Speaking of dangerous beings from the series’ past….
Alice and her trademark attack/line have made her one of the more popular monsters in the Shin Megami Tensei Franchise. While the immediate inspiration for her seems to come from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, she is most likely a fusion of that Alice and an urban legend of the spirit of a dead girl who went mad with magical power and stalks naughty Scandinavian children, eventually killing them so she can become their friend. The fusion of the two can be seen in her design, which resembles the more common interpretation of Lewis’ Alice, and her backstory, which had her as a ghost in Shin Megami Tensei that Belial and Nebiros created a refuge for and cared for in the middle of a devastated Tokyo. That game also introduced her famous line of “Die for me!” as well as established her connection to Belial and Nebiros, who would both make cameos along with her in Devil Survivor 2, Shin Megami Tensei 2 (as dolls Alice carries around), the first two Raidou Kuzunoha games, and Persona 4 (they are her fusion requirements).
Her appearance in Strange Journey is an interesting one, not only because the mission perfectly captures her two origins but also how it ties back into the series’ lore. In the mission, “Catch the rabbit,” Alice asks your help in chasing down the Hare of Inaba (a Japanese myth about a hare that tricked some sharks, who then ripped its skin off and told him to go jump in salt water) as he pops into different holes, taking the two of you deeper within sector Fornax. The mission starts as a fun ode to Alice chasing the white rabbit, but then turns sinister when she catches the creature as she plans to do a twist on his legend by skinning him, dipping him in salt water and then eating him (if you want, you can even allow her to go through with this). After you defeat her, Alice will fade away, and the Hare of Inaba will sadly reveal that this Alice was merely a shade of the original Alice, a girl that was beloved by demons and given powers that drove her mad (a clear reference to Shin Megami Tensei). What’s extra sad is that creating her through fusion (which will also net you her “Die for Me!” spell) will make her ask for Uncle Black (Nebiros) and Uncle Red (Belial), which is a futile request because neither of them are in the game.
Hmmm, that was a real bummer. Let’s hope the next one is a bit cheerier, shall we?
After Jack got hees purple cap and boots, he’s slowly wormed his way into the hearts hof Altus faithful everywhere. Heets Ho surprise, after all. Hees got a cute appearance and way hof speaking, as well as a number of heequally hodorable forms. Strange Journey heeven added Demonee-ho and Frost Ace. With all these different frosts running around, and his popularity I wonder if Jack’s realized how popular he is.
Ok, I’m done now.
After Shin Megami Tensei II, We haven’t seen much of the big floating head known as YHVH. There are hints that he still exists–either as a mastermind, not wanting to mix it up with humans directly after his defeat by Aleph in SMT II, or as a shade of himself, too weak to really be in control and biding his time while Satan, Mastema, and his other lackeys run things for him or even behind his back. The sad thing is, we actually do know what happened to Aleph, the human who slayed him… and it wasn’t pretty. In Nocturne, the character of Jyoji Hijiri is strongly hinted at being a reincarnation of Aleph (purple headgear, accused of an ultimate sin, etc.). After failing to get to the hospital in time, Hiriji died and he was put inside a manikin body to witness the creation and destruction of countless worlds, unable to change anything; the man who killed god to give humans their freedom is eternally locked in a position where he has no choice but to watch.
So what happened to YHVH? Did he get resurrected? Is he setting about another attempt at making a 1,000 year kingdom? According to Strange Journey, the old tyrant isn’t doing so hot. After you beat the game for the first time and take on a mission where you kill Aliat (goddess worshiped in Mecca before the creation of Islam), you can take on an EX mission titled “False God in Chains,” in which you’re guided by Metatron to seek out the Demiurge (in Gnosticism, an artisan “god” who is incapable of true creation and instead used existing material that was either always there or left by a true god). While you quest to find Demiurge within the deepest level of any dungeon in the game, you start to put the pieces together and what is revealed about YHVH is pretty entertaining. Namely, after being resurrected and recovering some of his power, YHVH tried to take on the mother goddess who ruled over the demons in Strange Journey and was torn to shreds. Now, hiding within Metatron (who is his voice after all), YHWH is completely dependent on the humans he tried to conquer to get his full power back.
Then, just to make things even sweeter, Demiurge (who is another segment of YHVH) slaps YHVH/Metatatron around before the fight and calls himself the supreme creator, meaning that he is beating himself up. What’s better, if you heed the voice that tells you to look away when Metatron, the power you unlocked from killing Alilat, and Demiurge all try to merge, the fusion will be ruined, preventing YHVH from obtaining even the small amount of power he hoped to gain.
The fact that Demiurge, a boss who was only used twice before in the MegaTen franchise, is YHVH in disguise is actually pretty brilliant since YHVH’s portrayal in the series up to that point has been more in line with Gnostic tradition than traditional Jewish/Christian/Islamic portrayals. In SMT 1 +2, he was obsessed with the material world, grew jealous of Lucifer when he started receiving worshipers of his own, and most of the Law endings in the franchise are set up to create a never ending stream of worship for himself, as though he has the universe’s largest inferiority complex, one that might be born out of the knowledge that he’s never actually created anything.
Still, even if that’s not the case, getting to see him brought so low is pretty entertaining.
Well, that was the list, please share your thoughts in the comments below. As for Strange Journey, it’s a pretty solid entry in the main series and is worth a look if you get the chance. Who knows, maybe it will get a callback of its own.