There is no disputing the brilliance Atlus has created throughout its history of video games. From the storied Persona series to the devilish Shin Megami Tensei games, there’s a lot of goodness to dive into throughout their library, and now there’s a new entry: Soul Hackers 2. The game is a sequel to Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. Despite its cult following, it is a game that is an often overlooked title from the JRPG giant.
It was first released in 1997 for the Sega Saturn. Later, the game found its way to PlayStation in 1999 and the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. It featured many of the same creatures found in other Atlus games with a similar gameplay style. Now, more than twenty-five years after its initial release, Soul Hackers 2. I’ve played many Atlus games but never made my way to that one.
Soul Hackers 2 features the best parts of Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series. It includes its signature gameplay style with a twist, demon negotiations, strategic turn-based battles, and a rich and vibrant sci-fi world. Unfortunately, I never completely connected to the story and found myself frustrated with much of the game’s character development being stuck behind uninspired dungeons. Despite that, the good parts electrified me, and when the credits rolled, I was a little sad to send off the game’s characters.
Data Personified: Soul Hacked but Not Much Heart
Soul Hackers 2 is a quest, like many JRPGs, to stop the end of the world. The game opens with the introduction of Aion. Aion is more or less humanity’s data personified and sentient. Aion calculates that the end of the world is nigh and sends out two agents to save it: Ringo and Figue.
The game is vague about how certain things come to be, but JRPGs have never been great about explaining everything. I didn’t have a problem squashing my questions I had after the game’s exposition-ladened opening. Though, I took issue with how the game handles its characters.
Soul Hackers 2 is not overloaded with them like some RPGs can be. Many exist mostly as side characters who run shops and the demon fusion circus. There are side quests you can take to learn more about them, but they’re mostly forgettable.
Stakes in the game never feel incredibly high, even with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Performances across the board are honestly great, but I never connected with the plot much as I felt like it never really hit me in the heart.
The game also dives into Soul Hacking, or bringing the dead back to life. This process can allow the person initiating the Hack to influence and plant thoughts in the dead person’s mind. At times, I felt like the game was trying hard to influence me to care, but I never really did. There are moments, of course, I enjoyed. From sweet moments at the local orphanage with Milady reading to a child to a big mid-game antagonist reveal, a lot of it was a miss for me.
Some of Soul Hacker 2’s Best Moments are Hidden in a Labyrinth
My biggest issue with the story is that much of the development for Arrow, Milady, and Saizo, is hidden within the Soul Matrix. The Soul Matrix is a labyrinth-esque dungeon with dead-ends, teleportation pads, miscellaneous side quests, and some intriguing story moments. While I enjoyed learning about my fellow party members, getting through the dungeons was a slog. Each of Ringo’s fellow party members have their own dungeons, but honestly, there is little besides floor layout that makes them stand out. Almost everything is the same between the three – including very frustrating warp pads.
As you reach the end of each floor, you’ll fight a strong enemy or boss and see a scene from the character’s past. Many times, these moments are enlightening. You might see a tender moment between Milady and a lover or an amusing scene with Saizo, but I found it hard to appreciate them. For a game about the darkness and sorrow of humanity, it buries some of the game’s best moments in hazy hologram-like scenes at the bottom of a tedious and uninspired dungeon.
Also buried here are unlocks for your party members. You’ll get access to stat upgrades and abilities as you unlock various floors. Pro-tip: Do it as soon as you can unlock Assassin’s Steps in Milady’s dungeon. It lets you spend 10 MP to run faster in dungeons and is a lifesaver.
It is easy to avoid enemies, making exploration quicker when paired with a faster running speed. Hitting enemies on the field with Ringo’s sword stuns them. It’s easy to get through an entire floor without a battle if you’re overleveled for the area you’re exploring.
Well Designed Enemies and Characters in a Vibrant Sci-Fi World
While the game’s dungeons (including the story-based ones) aren’t incredibly inspired, all other areas shine bright in a recreation of a cyberpunk Japan. The game isn’t as expansive as Persona 5, but those areas that are there, while somewhat small, are distinct and beautifully executed. I found myself looking around to see what might be hiding around corners of its busy city streets. Some areas feature familiar demons alongside their summoners. However, these details made me sad that more attention and detail wasn’t given to the game’s dungeons.
Ringo, Arrow, Milady, and Saizo all have their own distinct style. Saizo’s design was especially delightful with his oddly fanged grin, bowler hat, and shaggy eye-hiding hair. I must also give a special shoutout to Ringo’s light-up jacket. I need it. Right now. Outside of the main four and Figue, I didn’t find many designs incredibly memorable. I honestly thought characters who ran the game’s various shops who only received a 2D art portrait were more striking in design than some of the game’s side characters.
Enemy design is typical Atlus fare – familiar demons abound. I always love seeing which ones will pop up. There were even a few that were new to me. It was always a delight running into an enemy I had not seen in a previous Atlus game. I knew later I’d likely be able to recruit them. Another positive thing about Atlus using the same demons across many of their games is they usually have the same strengths and weaknesses. As a seasoned Shin Megami Tensei veteran, it was a delight realizing I remembered a specific enemy’s weakness as I hit them with a Zionga attack.
Battles Hacked Right Into My Soul
If you’re a turn-based battle fiend like me, you know how good it feels when a battle system gets its claws into you and really clicks. Soul Hackers 2 achieves that and more. Soul Hackers’ gameplay is similar to the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games. The system here thrives on using your demon’s abilities to exploit an enemy’s weakness, just like in those games.
As you do so, you’ll add a Stack to your Stack meter. These Stacks allow you to perform a Sabbath attack that damages all enemies using demons that are with you. Some demons can learn Sabbath skills which, when triggered during a Sabbath attack, offer a variety of effects. They can do more damage, heal your party, steal items, etc. It really ups the strategy needed at times. It feels good when your HP is low and a Sabbath skill triggers that heals your party.
Because there are other things to unlock to build your stack meter, there can be a lot of ways to wiggle out of tough situations. Later, using the gun-wielding Arrow to strike an enemy’s weakness to gun attacks can increase the count. It made me feel powerful when fighting against a tough foe who I thought had me pinned down only to pull off a larger-scale Sabbath Attack to kill them.
While each of the game’s four party members each have their own weapon and design, they don’t feel incredibly unique. Milady and Ringo favor physical, blade-based attacks, while Saizo and Arrow use guns. It’s not a huge detriment, but I’d hoped for a little more uniqueness. The party also has access to Commander Skills via Ringo. These are special abilities, like swapping each party member’s demons at once or raising defenses high for a turn, that can only be used on occasion. They do add a lot of value to keeping Ringo alive. If she falls, these skills are no longer accessible.
The Final Verdict on Soul Hackers 2
Soul Hackers 2 is absolutely worth your time if you’re a fan of Persona or Shin Megami Tensei. With no knowledge needed of the previous entry, it’s easy to jump right in. Even if you’re unfamiliar with those other series, it’s a good introduction to the world of Atlus games, thanks to the game’s shorter length. I beat it in 35 hours – compare that to the 70 it took for me to beat Shin Megami Tensei 5 and 130 for Persona 5 Royal.
Soul Hackers 2 is an easily digestible game with a fantastic, quick, exciting battle system and gorgeous visuals in a cyberpunk Japan. While the game’s narrative didn’t stand out, I think it will have its fans, and there’s a lot of charm from the game’s core five characters. If you’re okay throwing on some music or a podcast while exploring the game’s dungeons which can be tedious at times, it’s easy to stick it out for the game’s demon-based battle system.
A game code was provided by the publisher.