In the last few years alone, Atlus fans have been eating pretty good lately specifically in the realm of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise with recent releases like Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V. Now with Atlus under publisher Sega, the brand continues to show off their craft with Soul Hackers 2 which is releasing on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on August 26th.
The upcoming release is a sequel to the original Soul Hackers game, which is a part of the Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) sub-series, Devil Summoner, and was first released in 1997 on Sega Saturn. For a long time, the first Soul Hackers game was stuck in Japan, but after 15 years, Atlus finally localized and released the game in the west only on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013. While the game is a sequel that takes place in the same world as Soul Hackers, you don’t need to play or have any knowledge of the first game to enjoy Soul Hackers 2.
A Long but Worthy Wait to the Sequel to the 25-Year-old Original Game
Even as someone who has played the first game, there are no direct references to the original in the game’s plot or exposition but for any who has played the game, you will discover a couple of Easter eggs as you explore the world of Soul Hackers 2. Speaking of which, the game’s play style/aesthetic is more like a Persona game than anything but easier digestible for newcomers not looking to invest 70+ hours into an SMT RPG.
One thing I love about Soul Hackers 2 is it honestly gives you a taste of what a post-high school Persona game would play like while oozing a slightly futuristic world reminiscent of AI: The Somnium Files. Throughout Soul Hackers 2, you will bond with your party by drinking some beers at the local bar to increase your bond level by talking about some triggered past events. That’s where the mature setting of the game stops sadly as the developer doesn’t dive any deeper.
Break Some Rules While Cancelling the Apocalypse
The story of Soul Hackers 2 starts in the digital world in the data-rich sea of Earth’s information, from a top view perspective—an unknown young woman in her early 20s is on the floor in a cradle position on the digital landscape. This is Ringo, the game’s protagonist and supernatural AI that works under Aion, an “eternal” conscious consensus born from the internet’s data of information. The digital entity usually tries to take a neutral stance and doesn’t intervene in human events, but things have changed as Aion has discovered an apocalyptical threat that will end the world.
To avoid Planet Earth’s worst-case scenario, Aion’s administrator in charge Flamma breaks its own rules by giving two AIs (Ringo and her comrade Figure) their identities and human bodies as they begin their journey to save the future of humanity which is set in the 21st century. The two AI will find themselves in the human world as each of them is tasked to track down two humans whose survival will help prevent the apocalypse. To make it a quick both of the AIs turned human beings split, Figue is tasked to find the first is Ichiro Onda, a renowned computer engineer and a luminary in his field.
Ringo, meanwhile, goes over to the shipping district to find Arrow, a Yatagarasu faction Devil Summoner who worked as a double agent when he was a spy for the Phantom Society. Both factions are at a war with each other for their different ideals with Yatagarasu’s goal to protect humanity from the supernatural and the Phantom Society wanting to destroy the world, so evilly original. The sad news is that Ringo was too late with her finding Arrow dead with a bullet shot between his eyes. That would usually be where most stories would end for Arrow, but this is when the game’s titular title comes into play.
Let the Soul Hacking Begin
With no real choice, Ringo decides to Soul Hack Arrow’s corpse and enter his soul to offer him a second chance at life. As Ringo falls into Arrow’s subconscious, she sees three of the Soul Hack-ie’s memories which will come into play later. After Arrow agrees with Ringo to bring him back, his soul makes it back to his body, and the wounds that led to his death heal in an instant. This will not be the only time that players will be Soul Hacking because you be doing it a lot more as you build out your small party, which will be less than Persona 5’s full party size thankfully. Afterward, Arrow tells of his mission to save another fellow Devil Summoner, Milady and when they find her–it’s revealed that the Phantom Society is trying to find energy sources known as Covenants which when all five are collected will destroy the world and rebuild in the user’s image.
This is a part of the game’s story I did not enjoy as the way the writer pushes the story is through a MacGuffin which isn’t too inspired but it makes up for this choice by its memorable characters/moments and how they interact with each other. In some way how Soul Hackers 2’s presents the world as a departure from the world instead of being a faceless/silent protagonist like in the original. This is great as the sequel gives players control over a character – Ringo – who over time evolves into a much more charismatic character than some of her party members over time which is kind of ironic since she’s technically a robot.
Familiar Gameplay with a Fresh Coat of Paint
Getting into the actual gameplay, compared to the first game Soul Hackers 2 is similar but with a much more so fresh coat of paint that features a battle system that Persona 5 players will find familiar. Like other SMT games, Soul Hackers 2 is a turn-based RPG where players will run into familiar devils from the franchise’s past and other Devil Summoners trying to get their way. When battle imitates you have multiple options to choose from including Skills for offensive attacks, Guard for defending, Items (replenish health, MP, status ailment, etc.), Assist, Commander Skills, and Escape to “future victories.” The normal attacks from party members are exclusively either physical or gun attacks. There is no choice but to use both as each party member can only use one in combat; unlike in Persona 5.
When you get into actual combat with enemies, like in other SMT games, players can cause massive damage by hitting a devil with either physical, gun, fire, ice, electric, force, or ruin attacks. Whenever a player hits an enemy’s weakness successfully, Ringo’s unique ability that allows her to stack a party member’s devil and summon into an extra attack at the end of the round called a ‘Sabbath’ which targets all enemies on the field. The more devils you stack in a single round the bigger damage is which for Persona fans is this game’s version of ‘All Out Attack’.
Unlike Persona, being a Devil Summoner isn’t that unique as players will interact with a whole community of Devil Summoners that will either help you or get in your way. Each Devil Summoner doesn’t get their unique battle partner so no loyalty to keeping the one you start with but players can switch out in the menu for a stronger demon either by acquiring one in the game’s many dungeons or through fusion via the compendium. Demons in Soul Hackers 2 are digitally housed and summoned through a COMP, a handheld gun-shaped computer that allows Devil Summoners to enhance their demons with up to five special effects. Players will stick with the same COMP through the whole game with no option to equip a batter one to make up for this the game allows you to upgrade your COMP by redeeming money and materials.
A Standalone Experience That’s Easy For Newcomers to Jump Into
I think Atlus’ visual style approach to Soul Hackers 2 is one of the most visually pleasing games to look at I’ve played all year; the game presents the almost perfect quasi 2D/3D art style that is just a real treat to watch and play. One difference I could not help but notice is the game’s perspective, unlike the first Soul Hackers game the long-awaited follow-up is not in a first-person perspective but takes a page out of Persona 5 and presents the game in a third-person perspective but more over the shoulder than Persona 5. I think if you’re a fan of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei games specifically Persona 5 then Soul Hackers 2 will be like your old stomping grounds with a new fresh coat of paint. That doesn’t mean newcomers to Atlus games should beware, as Soul Hackers 2 is a completely standalone experience.
While Soul Hackers 2 is great, the loading times slow down my experience of going across the game’s map when I go to a new location, in a world of new hardware where loading screens are getting rare in the games I play anyway—it was just a sad reminder of “oh yeah this still exists” but thankfully it’s not too long of a wait. Like its predecessor, Soul Hackers 2 has a breadth of content for players to distract you from the main story by including completing the compendium, fulfilling requests, and completing your party’s unique dungeons. The latter will help you become closer to your party and discover more of their hidden memories.
Soul Hackers 2 offers a great yet familiar gameplay experience that continues to push Atlus’ envelope of RPG titles. Persona 5 fans will be right at home as Soul Hackers 2 brings over some past features including gameplay systems, its approach to cinematic cut scenes, and a fantastic cast of English voice actors with a fresh coat of paint. While Soul Hackers 2’s MacGuffin-like story progression feels uncreative it makes up for this in its approach to its characters, backstory, and development that showcases the vulnerable side of each party member that joins the protagonist, Ringo on their Soul Hacking journey to protect the world from apocalyptic-level devastation.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Xbox Series S