While the Shin Megami Tensei series can be pretty diverse, including in its music and its gameplay, their similarities are more obvious than their differences. They all share the demons that you fight alongside and against, the apocalyptic and sometimes post-apocalyptic storylines, not to mention the guy behind the music for the last decade – Shoji Meguro – and I have to give him credit for being able to make each SMT soundtrack suit their games well.
With the slight change of setting in Strange Journey for the DS, the change in style on this soundtrack should come as no surprise to anyone. Forget anything you heard in Persona 3 and 4; the Strange Journey soundtrack’s mood is not surprisingly dark, but this time in a more ‘traditional RPG’ sort of way. The most noticeable thing is the use of a full orchestra alongside a (usually) male choir, and at times the militaristic sound of brass and drums fits in well with a game which sends high-ranking teams to investigate a potential threat to the world.
At first listen, the album sounds like a solid backdrop, yet not overly spectacular. But as is always the case, some tracks stand out more than others, and on the Strange Journey soundtrack, this remains especially true. For starters, ‘Eternal Throne’ evolves into an outstanding opening song, setting up an epic feel right off the bat. That sense of doom which is inevitable in every MegaTen title shows up in ‘A Scorched Nation’ with its deep, heavy drums and vocals, and continues with tracks such as ‘A Land Remembering Seeds,’ which is some of the same but with added strings – just enough to make a player feel like they’ve just entered a hostile environment.
One other song that stood out the most comes early on, the rather intense ‘The Fear of God,’ which I love mostly for the dramatic use of violins, both when the song speeds up and slows down, making for possibly a perfect battle theme. A rather different example is ‘Sorrow,’ a lovely sombre piece later on which relies mostly on a piano melody and faint strings – simple, and still gets the job done. Brass instruments hold up another personal favorite, ‘An Honor Befitting the Name,’ and without any really joyous songs present, this is about as close as you’ll get.
However, for all that I enjoyed on this album, a fair share of underwhelming material still exists. Not that I personally expects an RPG to have endless action, but for the slower, less exciting moments, most of the themes are rather, well, slow and unexciting. ‘The Beginning of the End’ sounds much less dramatic than its title might suggest. ‘Fear’ is not so fearful, although it was probably designed more for paranoia while a player sneaks around an area. There are enough of these tracks that, unless you make good use of the Skip button, detract from how enjoyable the rest of this album is.
With all that said, I still feel that this album is definitely worth a listen for any game music fan, or even just fans of orchestrated music in general. For those who enjoyed the soundtracks for God of War, Fire Emblem and/or heck, even Final Fantasy titles will certainly find a few songs they’ll like on this album. As for the MegaTen faithful, the bonus music CD from Atlus USA (which will likely be a track-for-track reprint of this import OST) is just another reason to make sure to pick up Strange Journey in North America.