Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X (Reviewed)
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD – Available Here
When it comes to the Shin Megami Tensei series, it has seen many ups and a few downs. Despite being the base that Atlus built some of their most popular RPGs off of, the series’ spin-offs such as Persona have long taken the spotlight. Then again, other spin-offs went so far into the dark that they had yet to see a new game in well over a decade. This spin-off series happened to be the Devil Survivor series and even then, the most recent game from that spin-off in nearly a decade came in the form of a remake of the second game, Soul Hackers. Now though it is time for the Devil Survivor spin-off to see something of a continuation as Soul Hackers 2 has arrived worldwide. Does this RPG do enough to stand on its own or does it simply slide by on familiarity?
The world is about to come to an end and the all-knowing AI of the world known as “Aion” has created two entities meant to save the lives of two seperate people whose deaths will send the world towards its inevitable demise. The first of these digital beings turned human is the lead character Ringo while her partner Figue is tasked with a more supportive role. The only problem is, both Ringo and Figue have arrived in the human realm just a bit too late and both people they were meant to protect have already been slain. While it is already too late to save one, Ringo takes the risky chance to perform a “Soul Hack” on the young devil summoner Arrow to try and bring him back to life and potentially bring humanity and the world back from the brink of destruction.
After a deceptively slow start that actually gathers the entire cast in quick order, Soul Hackers 2 tells a fairly enjoyable story that doesn’t really tread much in the way of new ground. The premise is an interesting enough one, with the “big bad” seeking to gather five Covenants that, if assembled together, can be used to summon the end of the world. For the most part though this retreads the usual law and chaos routes that fans of the franchise as a whole are familiar with with the Yatagarasu that Arrow belongs to being Law and the enemy Phantom Society being Chaos. As such it does come off as a bit predictable at times and really doesn’t make too much of an effort to throw in unique twists that longtime fans won’t see coming.
So, how exactly is it still enjoyable despite this you may ask? Well, despite its drawbacks the cast of characters are actually incredibly enjoyable as a group and this is mostly thanks to the fact that Ringo serves as a highly likable protagonist with an actual voice. Whereas Shin Megami Tensei protagonists usually are quiet with only players making a choice occasionally for them, Ringo really shines as her personality is absolutely glowing throughout the game. Part of this is likely due to her and Figue being freshly created humans from a super-intelligent AI and learning how the world of humanity works but as a whole she easily makes the story far more enjoyable than one would expect especially through her interactions with other cast members.
Along these same lines, while the small cast of characters may initially appear to be a rather ragtag group working together simply due to their goals aligning as the story progresses and players interact with them more, delving literally into their souls to learn about their pasts, and taking part in “hangouts” that unlock at the bar and safehouse it quickly becomes clear that this group is just as unique as fans of the series will hope for and only help Ringo’s character shine all the better, helping uplift the fairly straightforward story into being an enjoyable one.
Soul Hackers 2 surprisingly doesn’t do too much to change the formula that fans of the franchise as a whole should be familiar with. Players will delve into dungeons using 3D exploration with a camera angle attempting to give it a pseudo-first person feel though this can thankfully be changed. Nearly all exploration through dungeons is straightforward with players funneling through hallways that occasionally branch off into dead ends that contain an item or potentially a side objective. For the most part, dungeon exploration as a whole can feel a bit bland at times, especially during extended lengths in certain side dungeons, and only occasionally change things up by implementing simple puzzles or unique mechanics.
While exploring the dungeons themselves aren’t too interesting, a few elements unique to Soul Hackers 2 add a little extra enjoyment to the process as it deals with not only how players receive items but also obtain demons. Whenever players enter a dungeon, they will send all demons in their possession out into the field in what is called “Demon Recon.” This means that players will find their demons scattered in various places on the map and, when spoken to, will provide a variety of bonuses. Demons will find various items, money, and even offer healing for the party during exploration but they will also encounter other demons that may be willing to join the player’s team.
Unlike other games where players talk with demons in combat to try and convince them to join their party, Soul Hackers 2 instead has players recruit demons through the Demon Recon. This is something of a double-edged sword as players will find that, as long as their level is above the demon that appears, they will always join the player’s party as long as they are given what they ask for which, as usual, ranges from money, to health, or items. The other aspect here is that players have no actual way to determine what demons will appear for recruitment. This means that it is entirely possible to run through a dungeon and completely miss recruiting a few demons that would have been easy to obtain otherwise. Sure, players can return to dungeons and always try again but it does make for a bit of annoying grinding at times. Of course, fusion remains an ever-present option for those demons that may have been missed or used to fuse stronger demons as allies for an upcoming dungeon.
Players are encouraged to level each demon they obtain until they have all of their possible skills for a couple of reasons and while the main reason is obvious, having more skills possible for inheritance during a fusion, but also because a fully trained demon will provide the player with a gift. These gifts range from simple healing items to special “Mistique” equipment that will help buff the character it is equipped to. This can range from making certain elemental skills cheaper to use to increasing the damage dealt by certain attacks. In fact, equipment plays a fairly large role in Soul Hackers 2 as players will be fighting with their four party members at all times, only swapping out their equipped demon to change their attack skills and elemental strengths and weaknesses. This means that purchasing defensive gear, upgrading their “COMP” weapons, and more can play a vital role in surviving some more difficult encounters. This includes even having a bit of food before venturing into a dungeon as meals provide various bonuses that last an entire dungeon run.
As far as combat goes, players will be in for a fairly typical turn-based experience with their entire team taking actions and then the enemy team responding in turn. Players can gain an advantage before battle by striking an enemy in the field and approaching them when they are down but this isn’t always a guarantee. Unlike other games in the series, rather than using a Press Turn or downing system Soul Hackers 2 makes use of weakness strikes a bit differently. Now when players strike a weakness they instead build a “Stack” that deals a massive amount of damage to all enemies on the field. These “Sabbaths” allow all demons that dealt weakness damage to come out and serve as great ways to finish off weakened foes or even add other special effects as some demons can learn special Sabbath skills that will activate whenever that demon participates in one of these attacks. It is also worth noting that while the game has added “Ruin” as elemental damage from status effect attacks, it has opted to remove both light, dark, and nuclear elements.
Now earlier we mentioned certain side dungeons that players will want to spend quite a bit of time in. These happen to be called Soul Matrix dungeons and allow players to explore deep within the hearts of each of the party members that join the players party. These dungeons are unlocked as players interact with the characters themselves and build their “Soul Levels” by selecting various dialogue choices that make them happy during hangouts or story events. Players won’t need to worry about guessing with their choices as bond gains are shown when selecting a choice. These Soul Matrix serve as a major purpose in the way that they can not only help players level as needed but also unlock a large number of passive abilities for the characters in their party as well as unlock additional story scenes focused around the characters. Unfortunately, for as vital as it often seems to explore a newly available Soul Matrix level when it unlocks through story progression, the actual dungeons themselves are incredibly basic in nature and can feel far too repetitive for their own good. In fact at certain points it felt better to simply avoid enemy encounters while delving through a Soul Matrix simply to get through it faster and obtain the useful rewards and interesting character scenes.
As far as performance goes Soul Hackers 2 works incredibly well on the Xbox Series X with players jumping almost straight into battle outside of the initial attack animation. In something that is a bit of an odd design choice, the loading between areas is actually very fast to the point that Atlus appears to have intentionally slowed loading screens to allow players a chance to read the in-between tips and story recaps. The reason I say this is that an option to turn off loading screen tips or change it to button press advancement will shorten loading times immensely. This is fairly strange and something to take note of when beginning the game as it can be changed at any point.
Visuals & Audio
Of the Shin Megami Tensei spin-offs the Devil Summoner series has always had a more unique approach to their stylization and Soul Hackers 2 is perhaps the fanciest looking one yet when exploring outside of dungeons. Rather than focus on desolate areas, most of the places players explore in Soul Hackers 2 will be incredibly vibrant and feature futuristic looking designs and the rather outlandish stylization carries over to the character designs as well with Ringo really standing out in that regard. The monster designs remain as outstanding as ever with a number of possibly brand new demons being added into the franchise for the first time joining most of the returning roster. It is worth noting that while the world itself is fairly vibrant, a lot of the early dungeons can be rather bland in design and the Soul Matrix levels, despite their nature of being something of a digital world, are also similarly bland and uninspired in appearance.
This release of Soul Hackers 2 offers both the original Japanese voice track as well as an English dub for those who prefer listening to the game in English. While not all of the game’s dialogue is voiced, the English voice cast has done an incredible job here and it is nice to note that characters even chime in during battle depending on if players are targeting weaknesses or not. The soundtrack features an exceptional collection of background music that varies wildly depending on the locations that players are exploring or battling.
In many ways Soul Hackers 2 feels like a more middle-of-the-road take on an RPG from Atlus as its storyline is a bit too simple for its own good but is uplifted thanks to some great characters that are made all the better thanks to the charismatic protagonist that is Ringo. Along these same lines, demon recruitment is more random but at least a near guarantee while combat remains mostly the same outside of the addition of Sabbaths in place of the Push Turn system and removal of certain elements. This leads to the RPG being fairly satisfying at what it does but one that really doesn’t add much to the series outside of its great lead character.
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