Anvilicious: The game drops a lot of anvils about everything wrong with humanity, especially in conversation with demons.
Played for Laughs when you fight Kanbari the toilet god, who just wants humanity to have a little bathroom etiquette.
And then, in a genius move, this is actually Deconstructed. At the end of the day, the demons are just trying to guilt trip and manipulate the humans into giving them what they really want: the gods of old are sore about their loss to the Great Will, and they want their old stomping ground back. The Neutral path involves the realization that humanity can learn from its mistakes, while following the Law and Chaos paths basically involves throwing up your hands, saying humanity can't change, and taking drastic measures to 'fix' it by force.
In a rather inexplicable case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, the full-demon Soil Jimenez fought on the Law route is actually far easier than the half-demon "Awake" form fought on Neutral. The former form doesn't change his weakness and will only use his strongest attacks if you're dumb enough to let him buff to full, while you'll have no such luxury with the latter.
The Bonus Boss can be this if you know the trick. Unlike III and IV, Strange Journey doesn't use the Press Turn system, meaning enemies, like you, can only take one action per round. This particular boss is programmed to always use Dekunda, the debuff-canceling move, if his stats ever drop below three debuffs, and if you bring two or more demons with Debilitate or Jihad, you'll reach that point in two turns. Or, in other words, it's quite simple to cheese him into wasting every other turn. This strategy costs a lot of MP, however.
Breather Level: After what you had to go through in Delphinus and Eridanus, Fornax is relatively simple and straight-forward. Of course, Grus follows after to pick up the slack...
Broken Base: The fandom is divided over whether this game is main series or a spinoff. Those who call it a spinoff refer to the lack of a number, the absence of Tokyo, and slightly different gameplay. Those who count it as the fourth main game claim that there are enough similarities with the main series for it to count, as well as the fact that this game was going to be a part of the numbered series until Atlus decided against it.
Arthur's dialogue after the battle with Awake Jimenez in the Neutral path shows that even AIs can have a soul:
"This is Arthur speaking. I have verified your victory over Jimenez. [Player], I understand the pain of having to eliminate a former comrade. I will not tell you to forget it. So long as you continue to live alongside humans capable of sin, it cannot be avoided. But I am partially responsible for leading you down this path. Like you, I am an entity that bears sin. The only way to atone... is to succeed at our task. [Player], continue your mission."
The game does something if you go Neutral that really makes you feel like it was a good choice. In other SMT games, hardly anyone cheered you on if you decided both the Law and Chaos sides were crazy. In this game, every human on your team will not only cheer you on, but as you go deeper and deeper in the boss dungeon, you get so many slaps on the back and encouragement to put your foot up the ass of the final boss that it's impossible not to feel like humanity's survival is worth your efforts.
In a way, Lucifer's speech in the Chaos route about how while he has no love for humans, he will never ever abandon them.
Crowning Music of Awesome: As to be expected from this franchise, but notably, many Shin Megami Tensei fans consider Strange Journey's soundtrack to be the best in the series.
Victory Cry + Jihad (or any powerful Almighty-type spell) on a demon. The Eternal Rest spell in conjunction with any sleep spell is also effective, as status ailments work quite often on a surprising amount of enemies, and the combo can lead to a near Disc One Nuke if you get it early enough.
There are several guns that allow you to cause the Stone ailment. This counts as instant death. Almost everything except bosses are weak against this attack. Your Main Character gains 4x the EXP he would normally get if you have no demons out. Manshonyaga (an early game weapon that can cause Stone) will allow you to gain levels every 2-3 fights for a while.
The 4x EXP bonus can also be gotten by softening up an opponent with your demons, then giving them the return order and finishing the battle on your own. This makes it trivial to break the game in a different way.
While Jihad is commonly considered the ultimate skill, it isn't necessarily the most damaging. That falls to the ultra-rare skill Desperate Hit (only naturally on Demonee-ho, and can only be passed on via demon source), which does a random number of almighty hits. If it does 3 or more to a single enemy, that enemy takes more damage than it would from Jihad. VERY useful against bosses. Not to mention it's only 40 mp.
It's possible to fuse Rangda so she reflects everything but Almighty and the two instant death elements. This means that almost any time an enemy casts a hit-all spell at your party, a chunk of it will bounce back and damage them. Gets even funnier if they target her with an ability that has a chance to cause a status effect, as it also bounces back; they can wind up inflicting Charm, Petrify, or even Instant Death on themselves.
The password system lets you get yourself just about any demon you want if you have the cash and are at a high enough level. Find some good ones on the internet and suddenly the game is far easier.
IF you have the absurd amount of Macca to purchase really strong ones, that is. Plenty of demons cost so much that they will only be realistically purchasable late in the game, where you can likely fuse them anyway. Unless you grind all of it, in which case you're just going to be overpowered anyway. Though it is very useful in getting Luster Candy and other good spells to pass on to demons, making it a subversion.
At one point, you get an item called a Shibboleth; Mastema points out that Zelenin pronounces it well.
Mastema frequently makes a big deal out of the fact that the team's ships are made out of iron. This would seem to be a reference to one of the stranger verses in The Bible, which depicts the Israelites, with all God's power behind them, couldn't defeat an enemy armed with the then-latest technology, iron chariots.
A good deal of the game's soundtrack uses rather intimidating/panic-inducing chorus vocals. Somewhat nullified when you realize that the majority of those vocals are the Jack Brothers' "hee" and "ho" over and over.
The sound of a successful Hama or Mudo going off also counts. It's a tiny stylized scream as the target is zapped out of existence.
Les Yay: After Zelenin becomes an angel, Dr. Zoe, the head of the medical team who is repeatedly hinted to be much shiftier than she lets on, goes off on a tangent about how she's like to "examine" every inch of her.
Jack's Squad crosses it when they set up a lab to mutilate and "fuse" demons in their own violent and flawed way, and prove they—Captain Jack included—are well beyond it when they try to fuse a human (Jimenez) with a demon (Bugaboo).
Mastema is revealed in the Chaos route to have been morally bankrupt a long time ago, but his current plan to make Zelenin his pawn and start a World of Silence in order to transcend angelhood started very soon after the two met in Bootes. It's just not revealed that he crossed the Horizon until Horologium 5F on the Chaos route.
A successful Mudo or Hama going off on one of your enemies.
The "splutch!" of an enemy being Charmed or Muted.
"Unidentified forma successfully analyzed!"
The rumbling when a boss demon is defeated.
Nightmare Fuel: Some subtle, in that the game has no problem gutting optimism and human achievement in light of human atrocity. Some overt, in the hideous monster designs and grim plot twists. Some self-inflicted as you stumble around low on health and magic points looking for the next healing fountain.
The absolute worst is that brief moment while your suit scans for a hidden demon. Will it be a pushover who drops a high-Macca forma? Or will it be one of the Heralds out to gut you like a fish? Or, God forbid, a Fiend?
The standard Game Over screen. You see the Schwarzwelt quickly advance over the Earth's surface and absorb it entirely, which isn't that bad (the same thing happens in the Law and Chaos endings) but you also hear a swelling chorus of voices during the event. Whether this is is the demons or the angels crying out in awe, or every last living thing on Earth screaming as they're disintegrated, is up to you and your nightmares.
Try talking to an Angel on a full moon. It's pretty disturbing.
Some of the demon designs will make you sleep with the lights on.
Mitra's castle, the "Palace of Pleasure." It starts off with Sexy Silhouettes peeking through diaphanous curtains in the walls of lower levels. As you climb up, the silhouettes are replaced with Iron Maidens, silhouettes of demons holding torture devices, and metal slabs hanging from the ceiling with the chained-up (and disemboweled) corpses of fellow Strike Team members and crewmen of the Elve. Then you're captured a second time and get to see the results of those experiments...
Discovering what Jack's Squad does to the demons is an Ironic Echo that's no less unsettling.
The Law and Chaos endings. Law? Everyone is reduced to mindless worshipers stripped of their free will. Chaos? Humanity lives amongst the demons... as barbaric savages in a world of Might Makes Right anarchy.
Not everyone in the Law ending ends up being mindless beings stripped of their free will. The Three Wise Men mention after the defeat of Mother Maya that the weak willed shall be eliminated and only the strong willed shall be allowed to live in the new world.
So basically, neither side is willing to succor the weak? Yeesh, when did weakness become blameworthy...?
Mem Aleph's "Empty" form. It's a deformed embryo-like thing floating in a glowing orb.
Nightmare Retardant: Pay close attention to the Ominous Chanting in the soundtrack, and you will quickly realize that it's notLatin- it's nonsense language that resembles nothing so much as "hee-ho hee-ho hee-ho," Jack Frost'sVerbal Tic.
Older Than They Think: Jihad, the game's ultimate spell, did not debut in this game. Demon Fury, a combo move in Digital Devil Saga, was a move in a previous game in the franchise that had the same effect, except it required specific moves and took up a whole turn.
Captain Gore's death hits the crew, and probably the player, pretty hard.
In the Law and Neutral paths, having to fight Jimenez, who saw you as the only friend he had on the Red Sprite. In the Neutral route, it's at least mitigated by Arthur comforting you after the battle—though it is what you have to do, he's aware of just how heartbreaking it is to have to kill a former comrade.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: While a bit heavy-handed, the Demon Lords drive home some hard-hitting points about humanity's flaws that are sure to stick with you long after you close your DS.
Of course, since there doesn't seem to be much in the way of realistically practical suggestions for improving humanity, it can come off as just the writers unloading their spite towards humanity onto the players through the game.
Any situation where the appropriately-titled track "Sorrow" plays, such as seeing the results of Jack's Squad's experiments in Jack's Squad HQ or Arthur malfunctioning and self-terminating just after the Point of No Return in the Law and Chaos routes.
If you lock yourself into the Law or Chaos paths, Arthur, the AI who has been assisting you and your comrades for the past eight sectors, suffers a critical bug in his personality matrix and shuts down for good. Just to twist the knife further, the Red Sprite crew are then brainwashed to fit the alignment you've chosen—even if you were aiming for the Law or Chaos paths because you wanted to, you'll probably feel a sense of regret when you see the personalities of your crewmates overwrote with unquestioning worship of God or primitive savageness.
Having to fight Jimenez in the Law and Neutral paths, who until alignment lock regarded you as his best friend on the Red Sprite. Turned into a Heartwarming Moment in the Neutral path, where Arthur acknowledges the Player Punch factor and grants you some words of comfort and encouragement.
The fight with Zelenin on Chaos and Neutral is also quite sad, but for a different reason: unlike Jimenez, she doesn't even get to die as herself, being subsumed too far into angelhood.
This being an Atlus game, there's quite a few of them, but the one that gets the most attention is Ouroboros, the final boss of the fifth block. Her first form isn't terribly hard, except for the fact that she heals about 160 damage per round, which is more damage than you can do to her unless you exploit her weakness to fire. Her attacks include Wild Thunder, a powerful group lightning spell, and Disaster Cycle, a spell that hits for moderate physical damage and inflicts random status ailments. That last one is really nasty because sometimes she gets really lucky with it and manages to either leave you with a dead weight party or petrify the main character (instant game over). Fortunately, your chances of seeing Disaster Cycle are slim. All this is just her first form, however. Her second form no longer regenerates every turn, but now she uses Disaster Cycle almost every turn, and whenever she's not using Disaster Cycle, she's using Wave of Death which hits the whole party for nearly 300+ physical damage per hit! Her liberal use of Disaster Cycle almost makes the fight a Luck-Based Mission. Fortunately you can save between her two forms.
Don't forget, Ouroboros in both forms likes to spam Mahama, which luckily doesn't have a chance on you (unless you are wearing armor weak to light) but can kill any demon in your party that isn't completely immune. And she usually uses it often enough that the odds aren't bad that even a demon strong against light can get wiped out eventually.
Maya, the boss of Sector G also qualifies. For starters, if anyone on your team uses an Elemental- or Almighty-skill, they're dead. No exceptions. She can safely be damaged with Phys. and Piercing skills, the latter of which she is weak against, but just hitting her can be a problem as she has a tendency to use Illusion Ritual, which doubles her agility. Oh, and she knows pretty much all of the single-hit -dyne spells, extremely powerful Gate spells which can one-shot anything vulnerable to their element, and Ultraviolence, a hit-all attack that deals gobsmacking amounts of physical damage. Basically, if you don't have the ability to nullify her stat changes and/or have demons that block or repel Phys., you're not going to win.
A demon with Luster Candy helps here. Stack three shots of this and you can usually hit Maya even if she does Illusion Ritual, and it'll also soften the blow of her elemental spells. Unfortunately, she also has a move that randomly petrifies people. If this hits the MC, game over.
The final boss of the Law and Neutral paths. When you reach it, you will probably be around level 75. At that point any of its attacks will kill you in two hits (three if you're guarding). It has extremely powerful spells of all elements as well as a particularly nasty physical attack that hits up to eight times (random target each hit) which is perfectly capable of killing a guarding protagonist at full health. It is also capable of cancelling all buffs and debuffs (healing about 600 HP in the process) and possesses the Disaster Cycle attack of Ouroboros. This is its first form. The second one, which is a Clipped Wing Angel in appearance but a One-Winged Angel in gameplay, does about twice the damage the first form did and gets the ridiculous MA attack, which instantly kills a party member and absorbs their HP without fail. Pray it doesn't happen to the protagonist. All in all your best bet is to get demons that reflect as many of its attacks as possible and hope for the best. Even the "perfect final boss party" you can get through passwords isn't a guarantee you will win.
Then again it IS the Mother of all demons. No one said it would be an easy fight.
Hell, even with the best possible equipment (read: equipment that prevents Curse and Expel [which it just LOVES to spam] from working and reflects all elements and reduces damage from Phys and Gun), you can still be killed on turn 1 of the second part of the boss with Mother's Kiss (6~8 hits, as mentioned above), even if your first action is to summon a demon from a full set of 12 level 99 demons (which, due to the game mechanics, gives you the first action automatically regardless of agility).
Captain Jack also qualifies. Unlike many of the bosses in the game, he has no real gimmicks. Just absurdly high damage output and the ability to heal himself to full whenever he wants. The battle is basically a matter of doing as much damage to him as possible in a short amount of time.
Commander Gore on the Law & Chaos routes. His normal attack does 5 hits to one party member (enough to kill if you're not careful), and his abilities don't help either. Self-Denial heals him and boosts his attack. His other abilities do very high random-target phys or gun damage... and when he Turns Red, he starts spamming Charge + Adaptation, which is fatal if you're not both strong to phys and guarding (and still can be even then). Not to mention that when he hits 0 hp the first time, he gets healed 7500 hp. His starting health is 15000. That puts his total (22500) as the highest in the game. The only thing going for you is he's weak to wind, and if you were smart, you picked up something with Garudyne (differing by alignment) back in Grus, and maybe the Reaper Colt gun while you were at it.
Pillar Zelenin, the Final Boss of the Chaos path. You thought Mem Aleph'sOne-Hit Kill move was bad? Try a One-Hit Kill that hits the entire party. It is literally a Luck-Based Mission where you and your demons pile onto the boss, doing as much damage as possible while praying that Zelenin doesn't bust out Requiem.
That One Attack: Asura Roga, Disaster Cycle, MA, Bites the Dust, Wave of Death, any sort of Mudo or Hama, the list goes on. Special mention goes to the new "Bomb" status ailment; it makes the afflicted physically fragile. If they get smacked around too many times, they explode, and do damage to all other party members equal to their own total health. Just one "Bomb"ed party member (including yourself, for an instant Game Over) can wind up blowing up your entire team. Annoyingly, you can't inflict "Bomb" on the enemy.
Mother's Kiss turns the final boss for the Law and Neutral routes into a luck-based mission. Mother's Kiss is a 6-8 hit (random target) physical attack capable of total damage above 1000 on capped characters. The only way to prevent it from working allows the boss to instant-kill you via the next skill she has, as the only equipment that negates or reflects Physical is an accessory, and another accessory grants you Endure.
Just that? MA is 100% guaranteed instant death for whoever is targeted—arguably the most bullshit attack in the entire game. You have a 1 in 4 chance of getting a Game Over every time it's cast (even higher chance if you have empty slots). It doesn't matter if your entire team is level 99. It also heals the boss, but that doesn't matter when you're DEAD. At level cap, if the Random Number God is feeling merciful you can dodge it.
A different sort of horrid attack: Macca Beam. It'd be one thing if it stole a set amount of Macca, but it doesn't. It steals a percentage of your current cash. If a Preta in the second dungeon hits your New Game+ party with it, you can lose six-digit amounts of money.
Anything that can cause the Stone ailment. Petrified demons/characters count as dead, since they cannot move and the effect does not wear off without external intervention. Unlike Expel and Curse skills, Stone cannot be prevented with Tetraja, Sacrifices, or revival accessories. Was the unlucky victim you? <your last name> fell...mission failed.
That One Level: Sector Eridanus doesn't seem so bad at first... until you get a particular plot-character to move out of the way to get to the bulk of the level. Suddenly, you're dealing with unavoidable poison floors, enough hidden pits to turn the maze into Swiss cheese, one-way doors and a series of teleportation rooms with no rhyme or reason that forces you to memorize sequences just to figure out what'll let you finally move on. It's a dungeon-crawler-player's nightmare made manifest.
The game even lampshades it. Jimenez says he hates the area.
There are later levels that pull similar annoying stunts, but with much less frequency and intensity. After Eridanus, they seem like cakewalks.
With the single exception of the monstrous secret passage leading to freaking Alilat in Grus. Mix enough teleporters and pitfalls to make Eridanus turn green with envy, a fucking HORRIBLE maze with one-sided doors and two subdimensions you have to traverse over and over and over to unlock the stairs leading to the "exit", ditch in a powerful boss with Diarahan (full HP recovery for one), reflecting Phys and Gun, and capable of firing off Mind Charged Megidolaons... and begin losing that hair.
Normal Grus, just as much (if not more so).
Let's face it, the developers love torturing us. They haven't had a chance to make a ridiculously complex dungeon since Nocturne.
Floor 5 of Delphinus, anyone? It's a massive maze of conveyor belts that you need the Visualizer to see; in other words, it requires a Rare Forma that can be easily missed and/or ignored, and the conveyors don't show up on your map, even with the Visualizer. It's almost a Guide Dang It to figure out how to get to the upper floors.
Tier-Induced Scrappy: Did you get your Demonica to be tuned around your Magic stat? Might as well reset, because your Magic stat only influences the power of single-use somewhat-common-but-not-exactly-spammable attack items, not your gun skills that are spells in all but name.
The Woobie: Bugaboo and Zelenin. Even the Demiurge has some Woobie traits, being played very similarly to a mentally-disabled person. Possibly a Jerkass Woobie, given that he used to be YHVH.
Woolseyism: Shifting the protagonist's nationality from Japanese to American in the North American version makes a lot of sense when you consider that the United States military is well-known for being one of the largest and highest-spending military forces in the world. Contrast the Japanese armed forces, which deliberately keeps its scope mostly limited to national self-defense and declines to refer to itself as a proper military. Aside from all this, it also adds a touch of closeness to the relationship between the protagonist and Jimenez, who is also American, especially if you side with him and pursue the Chaos route.