Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a re-release of the Japanese Saturn and PlayStation title, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. The new release brings the title not only to the west, but full voice acting and additional content. Set in the vision of the future of the 90’s, Soul Hackers involves a world in which the player may enter the computer realm and demon companions may be stored digitally.
Amami City has been selected for redevelopment resulting in all of the city’s citizens obtaining their own PC and the entire city becoming connected via a network. Additionally, Paradigm X–a virtual realm connecting the stores, people, and other attractions of the city together–has finally entered its beta stage and a number of citizens have been invited into the beta test. To get in, a hacker associated with the hacking group Spookies obtains access to the beta illegally and enters for the first time; however, that hackers’ user experience is to be different from the other testers.
Publisher: NIS America (EU), Atlus
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release Date: 16th April, 2013 (NA); 20th September, 2013 (EU)
Rating: Pegi 12+
The protagonist, selected to be either male or female, finds themselves in command of a gun-styled computer and access to knowledge as to how to use the system as a result of a vision quest–experiencing the last moments of a person’s life. These vision quests are given to them by the spirit named Kinap, but they’re not all that’s strange in the city as of late. Demons now lurk in some of the important facilities in Amiami’s redevelopment, and they seem eerily linked to the new intranet system.
Soul Hacker‘s story isn’t entirely spectacular, but it’s not dull either. It’s a simple story with similarly simple characters. The title’s aged setting has a charm to it that might not have made it stand out when it was released, but certainly offers a unique setting now. It’s like discovering a time capsule and it’s quite nostalgic, even if the story often does disappear into the background.
Players are expected to wander dungeons, traversing their sprawling, maze-like structures to reach the dungeon’s boss while fighting a myriad of demons through random encounters along the way. Each step depletes the player’s supply of magnetite–energy that demons require to exist in the player’s world–and players need to balance the convenience of the members of their party, their magnetite, and their desire to explore adequately. Eventually, when exploring the dungeon, the player will be placed into a random encounter with a group of demons in which victory will reward the player with money, magnetite, experience points to progress the human characters, and possibly items.
In battle, players are prompted to select whether to fight, talk, run, or carry out other miscellaneous tasks. To fight, the player must choose each party member’s individual actions before executing that turn of battle. The fastest character in battle executes their action first, and the slowest acts last. As a result, the player is often required to plan their turn ahead, taking into consideration both the opponent and their own team. Similarly, each character has their own weaknesses and strengths that may be exploited. Players may also take advantage of the “Go” command, issuing demons with an order to do whatever they may want to do. This command allows the demon to react appropriately at the time of their action, rather than executing a command that has been given to them before the action has taken place, resulting in a more dynamic response.
Other factors must also be considered in battle. While enemies may have specific weaknesses to ailments, magical elements, or even types of weapons; the player must also be aware of the personality of the demons at their disposal as these personalities affect the demon’s loyalty. The more loyal a demon, the stronger they become. Each personality influences what actions they favour and which they don’t, and understanding these influences is key to an efficient party.
The Megami Tensei series has generally always offered an alternative to just beating up your opponents, and Soul Hackers is no exception. Rather than slay all the demons the player faces, they can instead opt to converse with them. These conversations can be informative, funny, rewarding, or harmful to the party’s health. It’s an interesting mechanic that breathes life into random encounter enemies. Some demons may even be willing to join your party, and talking to a demon of the same race as a demon in your party will see a reward of either magnetite or yen.
Unlike the protagonist and Nemissa, the individual demons in the player’s party do not improve over time. Rather, they remain at the same level as they were when they joined the party. Instead, players will look to recruiting newer demons or fusing the demons currently obtained. Fusing multiple demons results in a newer, stronger demon based upon the race of the demons combined and their levels–like a recipe. The game even offers a guide on what races combine into whichever other race.
Players unfamiliar with the Shin Megami Tensei series may find this game tricky as there is a learning curve; however, with a little bit of time and understanding of the mechanics players will find that the title not too difficult. In a sense, it rewards players who explore its gameplay and learn to balance their party.
Soul Hackers‘ soundtrack can be very good, creating a strong atmosphere and breaking up the possible monotone of some of the dungeons, which sometimes suffer from being too visually repetitive. Fortunately, these dungeons are often quite short, but the strong soundtrack can improve when players feel the need to grind up their human’s levels. Battles also suffer from not being very dynamic, with enemy sprites that have no animation, simple battle effect animations, and the party lacking any sort of visual appearance. It’s an old game, but this may deter some players who require a more visual experience.
The title is undeniably from a past era, where games required the mastering of its mechanics, and when the internet was this new and exciting thing. It’s got a charm to it, but don’t think that’s all the title has. Its intricate mechanics are a joy to conquer, and its lack of holding the player’s hand is a long lost pleasure. While it may suffer some faults from the era, it certainly has a lot of the strengths. Additionally, being a handheld title lends the title more to an experience with adequate breaks between dungeons, which may be the best way to play. Experienced gamers, in particular, may find a lot to love in the title, but the low difficulty might also make this a great entry point for slightly more demanding titles.