Shin Megami Tensei is now best known for its Persona series of Japanese role-playing games, but Atlus’ franchise has a rich history of different spin-offs. While 1997’s Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers recently received a second chance at glory due to a Nintendo 3DS port in 2013, a sequel seemed unlikely given it wasn’t one of the most beloved titles (being released on the Sega Saturn will do that). However, the sci-fi setting that separates it from the more grounded installments is tantalizing and winds up being the perfect framework for Soul Hackers 2, which is a comforting entry with satisfying combat and decent social elements that doesn’t require playing the first game.
The original Soul Hackers was a first-person dungeon crawler, but the sequel takes place in a more modern third-person perspective. Although the camera is tightly positioned behind the game’s protagonist here, which limits the field of view quite a bit and adds more strategy when it comes to general movement as enemies can hide behind corners and surprise players. Like many elements of the game, presenting dungeons like this is a nice mixture of modern and retro elements, especially with the glitched-out aesthetic that fits its themes. It even borrows some welcome depth in the overworld from the Persona series as players can whack enemies with a sword to subdue them, allowing them to either avoid combat altogether or gain an advantage by damaging the foe initially.
Later dungeons also feature a bit of puzzle solving, be it turning the power on for elevators or figuring out how to get past barriers. While the combat against demons and other summoners is usually the highlight, the dungeon exploration always has enough going on to stay intriguing. Throw in a wide variety of side missions that can be picked up and completed at any time, plus a helpful amount of fast travel icons, and you’ve got dungeons that are always enjoyable to go through whether it’s your first or 20th trip — although it would’ve been more streamlined if significantly weaker enemies were just automatically killed by your strikes.
Soul Hackers 2 has pretty standard Shin Megami Tensei combat, but some additional layers keep it feeling fresh. Users equip demons in order to use familiar spells, such as Bufu and Agilao, while targeting the elemental weaknesses of each enemy. The combat shines later on, as new abilities for the main character and party members begin to unlock. Targeting weak points grant players a powerful attack at the end of a turn that inflicts damage on all enemies, so carefully using these skills and equipping abilities that add additional perks like poison to these blows can change the tide of battle. It’s a wonderfully thought-out battle system with so many variables that is incredibly gratifying to experiment within.
There are also character-specific dungeons that players traverse to unlock new skills for their partners, which ties into the social element of the game that allows you to bond with your party over drinks. The cast is quite likable, although the script is overly wordy in a very specific JRPG manner where it goes on for about 10 lines too long after the point conversation has been established. Thankfully, a fast-forward button is on the right bumper and the conversation log help parse some of the dense dialogue. This is a problem in some other SMT games as well, but the characters aren’t quite as memorable as Devil Survivor‘s cast, so there’s not too much incentive to soak up every line up dialogue here.
While the original went in a more traditional cyberpunk direction with its world, Soul Hackers 2 goes more near-futuristic with its setting and involves players controlling an A.I. creation that has taken physical form to save the world from extinction (there are robots that make pizza, so it’s certainly a world worth saving). It’s an interesting setup, and players wind up bringing the recently deceased back to life by the titular soul hacking, but the story merely winds up being serviceable rather than a standout. There’s a solid amount of recycled material and themes here, particularly when compared to other Japanese games about tech and A.I., but there are enough compelling character moments to keep players wanting to see the story to an end, even if it isn’t one of the strongest SMT narratives.
This is essentially comfort food for series veterans as many other features that are standard fare in SMT appear here as well, like fusing demons, recruiting them with bribes, and coming into contact with plenty of familiar faces like Jack Frost and other signature demons. There’s not a ton of innovation on offer, as it’s more about refinement, but Soul Hackers 2 doesn’t disappoint with its stellar combat that rewards experimentation and evolving dungeons full of bonus content.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8.5 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.