After being released twice in Japan, Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers has finally hit the US shores in the new 3DS version. Re-mastered with both game play and 3DS enhancements, Atlus is hoping to get fans of the MegaTen series into this title while trying to leave it accessible to new players. For the most part, it does a very good job on both accounts.
Players take the role of a computer hacker living in a newly redesigned city in Japan. This new deign is built around the government and private companies connecting practically everything in the city to a large virtual hub called Paradigm X. The protagonist is part of an underground group known as The Spookies. They investigate the appearance of demons coming through the virtual world into reality, and try to find out who is behind it all.
Just like the premise, many aspects of both story and game play come from previous entries in the MegaTen series. Strange Journey comes to mind as well as the older Persona games. Most exploration takes place on an overworld map as well as dungeons. These appear in the form of office buildings, storage units and other modern day locations. When traversing a dungeon, players control the entire party through first person. While the top screen serves as the action, the bottom screen creates a map that fills in after exploring. Random battles occur while in these areas, which play out in turn-based fashion.
Like Strange Journey and Persona, there are many things players can do during battles. Standard attacks with a gun or sword will handle most weak enemies, but magic attacks like Zio and Bufu can offer up some higher damage. Fighting demons is not the only option and, in MegaTen fashion, before each turn players can talk with the them, in hopes of letting them go, or even giving up money and items for the party. The ultimate goal is convincing them to join the party. These conversations play out depending on their mood and alignment. Choosing the correct dialog option can get the party some great rewards or may put them into great danger by enraging the demons with the wrong option.
Later on in the game, players can then begin demon management through storing, summoning and fusing. Fusing is a big part of Soul Hackers and can give players the upper hand in battles when creating new and more powerful creatures through fusion.
There are some deep mechanics in the game, both for battles and preparation. Soul Hackers does a very good job of conveying all this information to the player gradually throughout. Sure, I have played my fair share of MegaTen games and know my way around a demon or two, but I can see how an RPG fan that has never played a title in this series could pick it up and fully understand the complex mechanics.
Another great feature that makes the game more accessible are the “hacks” players can turn on. These are essentially options for making navigation easier by toning down the battle difficulty, auto-filling the dungeon maps and other things. For those new to the series or just wanting to enjoy the story, these options are a very nice touch. Of course, if players are looking for a challenge, the difficulty can be set for a harder experience as well. I personally found the normal difficulty to be challenging if I didn’t level grind for a bit, and that weighed me down at times. It felt like grinding had to be done to beat a certain boss fight. It wasn’t much but it did get annoying at times.
Speaking of story, Soul Hackers has a very unique one going through it. Futuristic tones mixed with the occult, corporate espionage and many other tones take place during the main narrative. It is a very strange tale that could become ridiculous and silly but has enough dark overtones to keep the overall experience mature in nature. The voice acting is well done, and impressively almost all character dialog is voiced throughout the game.
If there was one gripe I have with the game, it would be the visuals. It was made in 1997, but many of the sprites are washed out, and the multiple CGI cut scenes are very dated. The 3D is an afterthought as well. After about an hour of playing with it on, I turned it off and never went back to it. The sound and music are not a big standout either. This is highly disappointing due to how much I love Persona 3 and 4’s original soundtracks.
For fans of MegaTen games, this is a must play. RPG fans should really check out Soul Hackers as well. Even if you have never played a game in this series, I can safely say that after some time with the game, everything will be explained and understood. That speaks volumes considering how complex it really can be. There is a ton of content in this package and RPG fans will find it worth every penny.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.