The original Soul Hackers on the Sega Saturn and later the Nintendo 3DS port, which largely left things unchanged, came out when the internet was still in its infancy, a far cry from the smart device-connected world we live in today.
Instead of focusing on the wonders of the internet or virtual worlds, Soul Hackers 2 delves into what happens when information runs rampant with unfettered access that gives way to budding ideologies in an over-indulgent, demon-infested modern Tokyo.
Soul Hackers 2’s narrative revolves around Aion, a complex AI conglomerate that creates two artificial humans, Figue and Ringo, the player character, who are, in essence, a contingency against the end of the world.
Unlike most Shin Megami Tensei games, Soul Hackers 2‘s world is one in which being a devil summoner is commonplace, at least for those who may fall under the radar of normalcy. From giant statues of Black Frost to no-name summoners casually conversing about their latest demonic exploits, Soul Hackers 2 sometimes feels closer to a more mature entry into the Pokémon series of games than a traditional SMT affair.
The word mature is apt to describe the characters in Soul Hackers 2, who easily feel the most adult out of any previous characters found in the Shin Megami Tensei series. Initially, the player, Ringo, is tasked with saving key devil summoners who are intrinsically connected with events that have the potential to end the world. Unfortunately for Ringo and Figure, the initial cast of characters they run into who later join the party are dead. This is where the soul hacking portion of Soul Hackers 2 comes in.
Instead of reliving the lives of NPCs characters via the Vision Quest dungeons found in the original game, Soul Hackers 2 instead ties this mechanic into the narrative of the main cast of characters thanks to Ringo and Figue’s ability to resurrect or “soul hack,” the recently deceased.
Soon after resurrecting the first party member you encounter in Soul Hackers 2, Arrow and Milady — the player will get access to an area known as the Soul Matrix. The Soul Matrix acts as Soul Hackers 2’s largest dungeon, a mostly optional but essential feeling and layered labyrinth that slowly unlocks as the player progresses in the story and develops their relationship with other party members.
Aside from just advancing the plot forward, the player can invite party members to a bar by finding rare items in the game, completing quests and picking specific dialogue choices during cutscenes that gradually raise the corresponding character’s soul level. Soul levels unlock further depths within the main cast’s soul matrix, which should be explored as soon as they open, as they often contain powerful and exclusive demons that become available for fusion upon clearing (often with a boss at the end).
“Soul Hackers 2 feels familiar while still modernizing enough to warrant its jump to more powerful hardware.”
Soul Hackers 2 strikes a fine balance between pure dungeon-crawling action that fans expect from the Shin Megami Tensei series with better-realized story beats and character moments that bring it closer to something like Persona. Thankfully, devout fans can rest assured knowing Soul Hackers 2 still maintains that classic gameplay first, exposition second appeal that is more reminiscent of games like Shin Megami Tensei V.
In essence, Soul Hackers 2 does a good job of appeasing both Persona fans and Shin Megami Tensei fans, making it one of the more accessible entries into the series overall. Speaking of gameplay, Soul Hackers 2 features your typical turn-based battles but changes things up slightly by relegating demon usage to each of the main cast’s weapons of choice, meaning your party consists of human (or artificial humans, as far as Ringo is concerned) while demons act as equitable augments that give each party member access to spells.
In lieu of keeping with the hacking theme, special attacks during battles are called Stacks, which act sort of like the All-Out attacks found in the Persona series but are always active regardless of the enemy state. Stacks can be powered up by exploiting the enemy’s weakness, which depending on the severity of the attack, can add multiple numbers to the Stack at once. The stack-based attacks, which the game refers to as Sabbaths, turn the tables back towards the player’s arsenal of demons, giving them free rein to attack after the end of the player phase.
Demons also have access to unique Sabbath-only passive moves that activate automatically during a Sabbath phase, ranging from additional damage to stealing items after the attack. Recruiting demons works differently in Soul Hackers 2. Instead of negotiating during actual battles, whenever Ringo enters a new map, she automatically unleashes her stock of demons that disperse throughout the dungeon or level.
The dispersed stock of demons can be found strewn about the map, and approaching said demon nets the player with various rewards, including the option to recruit new demons they’ve found for the player for a fixed price or item. In essence, the negotiation system from past SMT titles has been simplified and taken outside the actual battling phase of encounters.
The dungeons outside the sprawling character-focused Soul Matrix area in Soul Hackers 2 range from your typical derelict office building to the Tokyo underground and feel the most familiar. Unfortunately, Soul Matrix included, these areas can sometimes feel a bit barren and uninspired, especially compared to the stellar and over-the-top designs of the main cast.
Ultimately, Soul Hackers 2 feels familiar while still modernizing enough to warrant its jump to more powerful hardware. Fans of the series, Persona included, should consider Soul Hackers 2 a must-play, though, for everyone else, the game does little in appealing to those outside of its established niche, making it feel somewhat antiqued compared to JRPGs.