I was exposed to the Shin Megami Tensei games waaaaaaaay back in 1997, when I played the original Persona on the Playstation. In an era where RPGs were mostly fantasy based, Persona stood out because of its modern day settings, dark storyline and cool monster art design. Since then, I’ve been trying (and failing miserably) to play as many SMT games (and its spin-offs) as I can. The latest of course being Soul Hackers 2.
I played the original Soul Hackers on the 3DS, but I’ve pretty much forgotten everything about it. I vaguely remember it was about investigating demon appearances or something. I think?
Thankfully, Soul Hackers 2 has nothing to do with the original!
Depending on your point of view, that might be a good thing. Or it might be really bad.
What is Soul Hackers 2?
Souls Hackers 2 is a single player turn-based RPG. It is a part of the Devil Summoner series, which is itself a part of the Shin Megami Tensei games. Developed by Atlus, the game is published by SEGA and is available for the PC, Xbox and Playstation consoles. The game’s available right now.
Our review copy was provided by the awesome people at SEGA!
Soul Hackers 2 is a story about preventing the apocalypse.
A highly advanced AI called Aion determined that humanity’s going to be destroyed in the near future. To stave that off, the Aion creates two AI avatars, Ringo and Figue, which it sends into the world to prevent the deaths of a Devil Summoner named Arrow and a scientist called Ichiro Onda, whose deaths it predicts will kick off a chain of events culminating in the apocalypse.
Unfortunately, Ringo and Figue arrive too late to save Onda, though Arrow was successfully resurrected through an experimental process called Soul Hacking. From then on, the plot follows the adventures of Arrow, Ringo and Figue as they recruit more allies in their quest to stop the machinations of a man called Iron Mask, which involves gathering 5 Covenants, magical beings that grant their holders great power.
Honestly, the plot’s a bit hackneyed for me.
It’s pretty basic and the twists you can pretty much see coming from a ways off. It’s not good when you can predict the major turning points with relatively good accuracy.
To the game’s credit, the characters you meet along the way are wonderfully fleshed out. The main characters (Ringo particularly), are likeable enough and Saizo’s art design really gives me Hazama (from BlazBlue) vibes.
It’s not a bad thing (cause I think BlazBlue’s art is incredible) so don’t take it the wrong way.
In fact, Soul Hackers 2 has a rather pleasant art design overall.
It’s nothing that stands out like Persona 5’s, but the clean lines and bright colour palette (inspired by its Cyberpunk leanings no doubt) does give it a certain charm. In fact, the character art portraits sometimes makes me think Yoji Shinkawa (who did the Metal Gear Solid design) did some of them. He doesn’t unfortunately, but some of the character art (the older males especially) is strikingly evocative of his work.
Art style aside, Soul Hackers 2’s visuals aren’t anything to write home about though. It’s decent enough but nothing that really shows off the power of the new consoles. I played with Performance mode (for a 60FPS experience) and it was silky smooth throughout.
The loading could’ve used some improvement (it’s much too long when you consider the Xbox Series X’s SSD) but there were no performance hitches, hiccups or stutters of any sort when the game’s loaded.
Thankfully, loading into (and out of) battles’ fast and fluid too.
It also helps matters that the battle system fun and easy to get a hang of.
Enemies are all visible in the dungeons, though they randomly spawn in front of you.
When they do, you have a short window to run up to them and hit X, which has Ringo swinging her weapon. If it connects with the enemy, you’ll knock them down. At this point, running up to the downed enemy will initiate a battle, sometimes with your crew getting free hits in before the battle starts.
Fights are all turn-based, with your party going first and then the enemies.
Unlike the Persona or main SMT games, you don’t summon demons to fight for you.
This time around, demons are equipped to your weapons, which allow you to make use of their skills. You also don’t strike up conversations with demons to get them to join you. They can join you by being introduced randomly to you by your demons, or through fusing, which is unlocked a few hours into the game.
Despite that change, the game plays similarly to other games in the series.
As always, finding out your enemies’ weaknesses are crucial in battle.
Whenever you hit them with an attack they’re weak to, you’ll create a ‘Stack’, in the form of a shadowy avatar of your equipped demon that floats ominously behind the enemies.
Each player character can create one stack each. At the end of your turn, Ringo will summon the stacks to her and unleash them on your enemies.
The more stacks you have, the more damage the attack will do.
Since the attacks are done after your team has their turn, the Stack attack is more a bonus feature to add on more damage and finish off weak enemies.
It’s a great mechanic that makes you think about which attack to use, while also incentivizing you with a faster battle resolution if you’re good enough to pull it off. Since Ringo can switch equipped demons at will, finding those with skills that can trounce enemies in the area is essential.
That’s where summoning and fusing comes in handy.
If you’ve played any SMT game, you’ll be familiar with this.
A few hours into the game, you’ll gain the ability to summon demons and then combine them to unlock more powerful demons. You’ll also get to choose which skills (from the parent demons) to bring over, which gives you an unholy amount of leeway on how you customize your team.
It’s fun and I’ve spent hours (and a ton of in-game money) summoning, fusing and summoning again just to create demons with skills that I love to use in battles.
Soul Hackers goes a bit further with your summonings too.
Once you’ve unlocked all the skills for a demon, you’ll get special items from them that you can then equip as an accessory. It’s a cool incentive to make sure you fully unlock a summon’s skills instead of just using them as material for fusings.
Unfortunately, due to this, Soul Hackers 2 can be a tad grindy.
Each summon has 3 – 4 skills that you need to unlock, which usually means 4 – 6 levels each that you need to gain for the demon. Couple that with the relatively small amount of experience points you get per battle and you’ll be spending hours just grinding if you’re a completionist.
There is a way to eliminate the needless grinding, but it’s a DLC shortcut.
Yep, some people are definitely going to balk at coughing up more cash but in this case, I really recommend it. The DLC is in the form of a toggle in the options menu that makes the game drop leveling items (1 for the player characters, and 1 for the summons) for each battle you finish.
The items will automatically increase your character or summon levels by 1 for every use. That basically means as long as you have a number of them, you can increase the levels of your summons right off the bat, without needing to grind.
It’s a shortcut to wasting hundreds of hours grinding. Hours which I guarantee most of us don’t have the time to burn. It’s a bit of a gyp that it’s a DLC feature and not just built into the game, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles.
There’s also an extensive customization system hidden in all this. Characters can upgrade their weapons with special attributes, created through parts enemies drop after battles. There are even special skills for Ringo called Commander Skills, that are massively useful and pretty much required.
Characters also gain special attributes by completing their individual Soul Matrix dungeons in the Axis. Ringo also gets special upgrades by clearing those dungeons…so there’s a ton of unlocks to be done via doing the optional dungeon crawling.
Incidentally, though the fighting system is great, the dungeon crawling isn’t.
Corridors are linear, and boring and you can easily lose your way if you’re not paying attention because everything looks the same. The map helps and makes things easier but it still doesn’t change the fact that the dungeons look plain and boring most of the time.
The Soul Matrix (basically an infinite dungeon you can do) is even worse. Think of a maze without walls, but with linear paths you’re forced to walk on to traverse it.
It’s floor upon floor upon floor of the same thing. You’ll dread going into it, despite it being a necessity to make your companions (and Ringo) stronger.
There’s actually tons of side content in the game, though their quality is…uneven.
Early on you’ll get access to side missions, which you can accept from a particular club, through monsters you encounter in dungeons or by encountering NPCs in the town areas. You’ll also get tasks from the AI in the Soul Matrix.
While some of these are story based (these are rare but very fun), the ones in the Soul Matrix and a significant number of the ones you can accept from NPCs are simply head to this location, kill a certain number of monsters type of mission.
You can skip most of them but quite a few of the boring missions actually hold exclusive rewards. Like it or not, you’ll have to do them.
The Bottom Line.
Will Soul Hackers 2 have as big an impact as Persona 5? I doubt it. It simply isn’t in the same class.
That doesn’t mean that Soul Hackers 2 is a bad game.
It’s got a certain charm to it, and despite the rather basic plot, I enjoyed the story. The characters are lovable, the art design is cool and the battle system is certainly one that I hope gets reused (and enhanced) in another SMT game in the future.
There are some issues I have with the loading and boring dungeon crawling, but those can easily be fixed with a sequel.
Hopefully, we’ll see that sooner rather than later.
A decent but flawed JRPG with an interesting battle system and great art.
- Battles are fast, fun and tactical.
- Art design is pretty good.
- Likeable characters.
- Predictable plot.
- Loading between areas is much too long.
- Dungeons are boring.