Review by Calamity
"Hardcore hacker! Hack YOU!!!"
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Soul Hackers is the second game in the Devil Summoner spinoff series. It was originally released for the Sega Saturn. Later though, it was also ported to the Sony Playstation and Nintendo 3DS. The Sega Saturn and Playstation versions of the game were never localized and brought overseas though. With the announcement of the 3DS version, fans got excited and hoped Soul Hackers had a chance of getting localized. Soul Hackers was one of the games of the series that people most wanted to get a localization. Needless to say, Soul Hackers fans did get lucky and the game was officially announced for localization by Atlus USA. Soul Hackers plays similar to the first Devil Summoner, but with many improvements. I personally waited years for Soul Hackers to become playable. Long ago, I had finished Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Using a fan translation I played through the game in English even though at the time it had never been released in the U.S. Those same fan translators then announced they would work on a fan translation for Soul Hackers and that's how I learned of the game. As I learned more and more about the game I became increasingly more excited. I waited very patiently for years for the game to be playable in English. Eventually though, a significant amount of time passed and it seemed the fan translation would not be finished for the game. I became a little upset, but I didn't give up hope. Eventually, the 3DS version was announced and shortly after Atlus U.S.A. informed their fans that the game would be localized. I was ecstatic with excitement. Soul Hackers had been my most highly anticipated game in years. Shin Megami Tensei was my favorite series and I could hardly wait to play another game from the legendary series. April 16th eventually rolled around and I obtained the game. I rushed home to play the game as soon as I could and I was pleasantly surprised to see the game lived up to my anticipation of it. Read on to see why Soul Hackers did live up to the anticipation I had for the game.
Soul Hacker's graphics are outdated and one has to keep this in mind when they play the game. The game was originally developed for the Sega Saturn and even despite all of the 3DS version's additions and improvements it's still ultimately a port. Despite that though, the game's graphics were great for it's time. On a purely technical level the graphics are pretty good. For example, the area designs are interesting and all have a lot more detail compared to previous games of the series. Other then that, the character and enemy designs are really well done. Character designer Kazuma Kaneko arguably hit his peak with the artwork of Soul Hackers. Each of the characters have a cool design to them that is realistic and memorable. In battle, the graphics are also a step up from previous Shin Megami Tensei games. There's a vast amount of different attack, spell and skill animations in battle. No longer do you just see one normal sword swipe. Instead, now you'll see all kinds of different slashes, swipes, spells and the creativity doesn't end there. Even more attention to detail was given to enemies in battle. When a enemy is defeated in battle sometimes they'll split in half or die in some other crazy and unique way. This adds a slight bit of style to the game that helps make it more interesting. There is unfortunately one flaw to the graphics though. The character sprites are poorly rendered. I dunno if it is due to the hardware limitations of the Saturn or the developers not doing their job, but the characters all have a lot of pixels. It's noticeable very heavily throughout the game, but you do eventually grow accustomed to it. As far as the graphics go, I'm going to give them a 9 out of 10. For the most part they are extremely good, but the sprites could be much better. In addition, the FMV scenes weren't appropriately adjusted for the 3DS's resolution and look pretty mediocre compared to previous versions of the game. With graphics covered, time to move onto gameplay.
Without a doubt the most important aspect of any game. The gameplay. If a game isn't fun... why bother playing it? Well, fortunately Soul Hackers succeeds extremely well in this aspect. This game is a lot of fun to play through. It's a Japanese Role Playing Game. As in, you progress through the game going from area to area. Getting into encounters against enemies and fighting them in combat. You defeat them and doing so grants you Experience Points and money. The Experience Points you acquire from battle help level up your characters to make them more powerful. Meanwhile, money is of course used to buy items that can help you out. Soul Hackers is a first person RPG. Everything in the game takes place from a first person perspective.
Regardless of if you're moving through an area, seeing an event that happens or fighting enemies the whole game takes place from the first person point of view. While this is different from many other JRPG's(Japanese Role Playing Games), you'll find that this game does have similarities to other games of it's genre. Soul Hackers is a lot like other games of the genre. In the regard that you follow a fairly linear story for the majority of the game. You go to the main area of the game Amami City and buy items whenever you can. Once that's done, you go to your next destination and usually watch a scene unfold. After the scene finishes, you then generally go through a dungeon. Which is an area where you fight enemies and usually have to solve puzzles. Each dungeon generally concludes itself with a boss fight and a major event relating to the main story of the game. While moving through a dungeon though, you will get into random battles. Like many RPG's of it's time, Soul Hackers has random encounters. Meaning you'll randomly get into battles against enemies as you move through an area. Once a battle begins, you then go through a transition from the area you're in to a battle screen.
Battles in the game are turn based. You can have up to six active participants in your party of characters. Usually your group will consist of the main hero, Nemissa the heroine of the game and a few demons whom you've obtained over the course of the game. Combat basically involves you inputting commands to all of your characters and then watching the battle unfold. Once all your commands have been given and you confirm your selection, you watch as everyone does their assigned commands and the battle begins. The battle then continues until either you die and get game over or you end up successfully defeating all enemies. Soul Hacker's battles do take a lot of strategy though. Even on the easiest difficulty you can't just breeze through an area. Enemies have weaknesses to certain types of attacks and using that to your advantage is essential. If you hit an enemy's weakness, you'll do significantly more damage then you would if you had attacked them differently. Also, you need to make sure to assess battles and determine if you need to heal your party, attack, defend or even maybe try to cast spells that weaken enemies or make your characters stronger. Boss fights certainly will keep you on your toes in this game too. A couple of times throughout the game I died at bosses and I had to analyze my strategy and think of a way to beat the boss I was currently at. When you complete a battle, you obtain EXP, money and an additional currency called Magnetite.
When you gain enough EXP from battles you level. When you level in Soul Hackers, you can allocate a point into different stats. Each stat increases different aspects of your characters. So smart status allocation is essential. Aside from EXP, I also mentioned Magnetite. Which in the Shin Megami Tensei series is a currency that allows you to keep demons you have in your party summoned out. When you summon demons whom you obtain through fusion or negotiation in battles they use up Magnetite when you move through an area. If you run out of Magnetite, then your demons will begin to get damaged as you keep them summoned out. So balancing out your usage of demons and Magnetite is important in the game. A cool feature of the Shin Megami Tensei series is that you don't just have to defeat all enemies to win a battle. You can instead choose to speak to your demon opponents in battle and try to reason with them to get them to give you items, hints or even have them join you to be used in battle alongside you! Soul Hackers is no exception to this either and it's primarily how you get demons in this game. Demons have always been a major feature of the Shin Megami Tensei series and Soul Hackers is by all means not different in this regard. A classic feature of the series demon fusion also makes a return in Soul Hackers too.
In the game, you're introduced to a man named Victor. Victor runs a area called the Goumaden where he helps summoners whom control demons for various purposes to fuse demons together. It is here that you can do demon fusion. Demon fusion is a staple of the series where you take two demons whom you obtain from battling or other means and combine them together. In doing so, you generally fuse a new and more powerful demon. This adds a lot of depth to the game, but there's still more depth to be found. Every new demon you fuse inherits a few skills and magic spells from the demons it was fused from. Each demon has it's own stats, strengths, weaknesses and features. Using demon fusion though, you can fuse two really good demons you have and have the new demons who's more powerful inherit their really good skills you used often. The demon fusion of the game adds so much customization and depth to the game it's unbelievable. It's a lot of fun fusing demons together. Beyond that, you can also fuse demons into swords later in the game. Sword fusion is unlocked later in the game and you can take a demon and make it into a sword. In doing so, you can create new and more powerful swords with several different effects. One great thing about demon/sword fusion is an addition in the 3DS version known as the Demon and Sword compendiums. You can register fused demons and swords into their own respective compendiums and then later buy them back with Magnetite. In doing so, you get that same demon or sword back with all of it's skills and features that it had when you originally registered them into the compendium. To finally finish covering the positive parts of the gameplay, time to go over the final positive aspects. Replay value, design and content.
The game has a lot of replay value. For starters, there's multiple optional dungeons and numerous optional bosses. There's also two endings to the game and one of them can only be obtained on a second playthrough. Furthermore, you can do a New Game + file on a new file after finishing the game where the game difficulty is automatically increased and more additional optional content is unlocked. Needless to say, the game is loaded with content. There's plenty of things to do even after finishing the main story and a lot of reasons to do another playthrough. Beyond that, the game itself has great design. At all points of the game I always understood where to go and I figured out how to get past everything using the information given in the game. I never got frustrated at the game and felt as if though it was next to impossible to get past any part of the game without asking someone what to do on forums or consulting a walkthrough. With all the positive aspects mentioned, I want to get into the more negative aspects of the gameplay of Soul Hackers.
I'll start with what is in my opinion the smallest flaws with the gameplay to what is the biggest flaw of the gameplay. To begin with, the game's localization seemed rushed. At certain points of the game I encountered untranslated text and even in a few battles the dialogue went out of the dialogue box. Luckily, this only happened maybe three or four times at worst throughout the entire game. My second problem with the game happened near the very end. While fighting the final boss, the game froze on me. I literally was playing and then the game simply froze and stayed that way. I had to shut the game off and restart it to get around this. Needless to say, I then had to do the final boss fight over again. This would be a major problem if it had happened more then once, but fortunately it only happened once. Next, my second biggest problem with the game is the loyalty feature. After obtaining a demon, you have to build up loyalty with them. Otherwise, they won't listen to you in battle and may disobey direct commands. The loyalty system though adds really no depth to the game and just forces you to fight battles inputting specific commands that make the demon happy in order to build up it's loyalty. My final and biggest problem with the gameplay is the balance between the hero and Nemissa. The main hero of the game is rather weak throughout the game. His physical attacks do pretty low damage for most parts of the game aside from a few instances and Nemissa vastly outdamages him with her spells. For example, using a spell in a boss fight Nemissa can deal up to 500+ damage. In that same boss fight, the protagonist would deal maybe 200 or so at the most with a regular attack. Which is a huge problem when the protagonist can only do normal attacks and never is able to use magic throughout the entire game. There are moments where the main hero shines and he is good for taking damage in battles, but for the most part he felt a little too weak. Overall, I give the gameplay a 9 out of 10. It's a lot of fun to play the game, the game requires strategy, the demon fusion feature adds tremendous customization, there's a lot of replay value and optional content and last the game just has a significant amount of depth to it.
Devil Summoner Soul Hackers has you assuming the role of a silent protagonist. This silent protagonist is a hacker who is part of a hacking group named the Spookies. When you first begin, you're introduced to Amami City. A futuristic city that was made to be a dream city and a ideal place for people to live. It was meant to be a technological marvel. A city where all of it's citizens were given free fast advanced internet, amazing computers and advanced technology in general. Immediately you are put into the story when you're speaking to your best friend Hitomi who is also a hacker and a member of Spookies. You hack into some beta for a game and enter yourself into it. You then win a beta to go into a virtual world known as Paradigm X. There things begin to go wrong. As you and your friend Hitomi encounter a demon. You're attacked by it, but then saved by someone named Kinap. He explains a great catastrophe is about to befall Amami City and that only you and a few others have the means to prevent it. Shortly after, you get a gun type computer known as the Gump and obtain the ability to communicate with demons and control them. Next thing you know you're caught up in a struggle that will affect the entirety of Amami City and it's inhabitants. The main plot of the game is good albeit a bit unoriginal. You and your group of hacking buddies in the Spookies have to figure out why Amami City is suddenly being attacked by demons and what the intentions are of an evil group trying to steal souls known as the Phantom Society is. As you go through the game you learn more about each of the main characters.
All of the important main characters of the game are developed in Soul Hackers. Every single character has their own distinguishable personality, story and presence. They are all very interesting characters and the dialogue throughout the game is written pretty good for the most part. You learn a lot about each member of the Spookies and what their intentions and hopes for the future are. This is a great aspect of the game since characters are what truly can make or break a story of a RPG. A great main plot is important too, but the characters more so. Those powerful and interesting interactions the important characters have over the course of the game are what people remember. Not a main plot to a storyline. Despite the great characters, there are some problems with the story of Soul Hackers.
One major problem is Nemissa. She is a great character and the female lead of the game. However, a lot of the story of the game revolves around figuring out her true identity. Needless to say, you eventually figure out what Nemissa truly is, but it's not that exciting when you do. This is a letdown. Since the game heavily builds up figuring out Nemissa's identity as a really important part of the story. Another disappointing part of the game is the final boss confrontation. You expect an exciting climax as you confront the main and final antagonist of the game, but you don't get one. It's an extremely brief and anticlimactic confrontation and you quickly just rush straight into the final boss fight. Some people may like this, but I thought it was a little disappointing. Ultimately, the storyline of the game gets a 9 out of 10. The main plot is a little unoriginal, finding out who Nemissa is was disappointing and the final boss confrontation is a anticlimatic, but the rest of the storyline is very good. All of the characters in the game were pretty cool and I cared about them as I played through the game. Nearly all of them were developed and the game threw a few curveballs along the way too. There's a couple of solid plot twists you'll encounter as you go through the game. Last, what about the Music of the game?
This game has an amazing soundtrack. I loved a lot of the songs in the game and the songs really made playing through the game more enjoyable. Beyond that, the voice acting of the game was great. All of the voice actors did an excellent job and I really enjoyed listening to the voice acting of the game. The music, sound effects and voice acting are all amazing and this is easily the strongest aspect of the game. So how is Soul Hackers overall?
+Extremely fun and enjoyable gameplay.
+Fast paced battles.
+The game is well designed. I never ever had to use a outside source to figure out how to get past any part of the game.
+The character designs in this game are great.
+Game is challenging even on the easiest difficulty, but also without crossing the line and becoming way too hard.
+Interesting cast of characters whom you learn a lot about. Each of them have backstories and are pretty well developed. The story is slightly minimalistic, but still really good.
+Excellent soundtrack accompanied by exceptional voice acting.
+Great replay value. Two to three optional dungeons, two endings to the game, tons of optional bosses and a New Game+ difficulty mode.
+Additions to the 3DS version are great. Multiple difficulty modes, faster load times, character portraits were redrawn well, additional optional bosses and much more.
+Powerful ending that leaves an impact on you after you finish the game.
-Translation seemed rushed. In a few specific instances text appeared out of boxes and some text was left in Japanese untranslated. Fortunately, this only happened a handful of times.
-Game froze during final boss.
-Main character is weak throughout the majority of the game. Meanwhile, Nemissa the female heroine of the game is extremely overpowered.
-Anticlimactic final boss confrontation.
-Story heavily revolves around figuring out who Nemissa truly is, but when you find out her true identity it's disappointing and anticlimactic.
-Graphics could have been a little better. Even in the original version of the game the character sprites have a lot of pixels and aren't rendered that well. The FMV scenes from the previous versions of the game also weren't appropriately adjusted to the 3DS's resolution and can look poor/very blurry at times.
-Loyalty system doesn't add depth to the game and only encourages grinding.
Devil Summoner Soul Hackers is a great game. Even despite it being originally developed for the Sega Saturn, the game still holds up in 2013. I had a lot of fun playing through the game and the story was really interesting too. This game had a lot of cool characters who got developed as the game went on. Last, the music was incredibly good and the graphics still hold up very well aside from the character sprites. If you're into the Shin Megami Tensei series there's a massive chance you will enjoy this game. Meanwhile, if you're new to the series it's still definitely worth a try. People who enjoy games with a great storyline, fast paced/strategic battles, amazing soundtracks and really good voice acting will definitely want to check out Soul Hackers. If you don't enjoy RPG's because of their turn based combat or numerous other factors though, you may want to pass up on this game. As this is truly one of those games that is more meant for people who are fans of the genre. In conclusion, Soul Hackers gets a nine out of ten from me and I personally consider it one of my favorite Shin MegamI Tensei games. If you're a fan of RPG's or this series and don't mind first person perspectives in a RPG or turn based combat then you should definitely give this game a try. It's a great game with only a few flaws.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/10/13
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Soul Hackers (US, 04/16/13)
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