Almost a quarter of a century has passed since the Atlus’ Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers launched on the Sega Saturn, but now the sequel has arrived to allow us to continue making deals with demons. Yes, the long wait is over as Soul Hackers 2 is here, however a lot has changed technology-wise since the original. Can Soul Hackers 2 appease its old school following, whilst also drawing in the new breed of JRPG enthusiasts? Or is it a soulless dungeon crawler that should have been left in the past?
The end of the world is coming. That’s what a sentient hivemind, Aion, has discovered in Soul Hackers 2 and it’s decided to intervene in human matters, which is against its usual hands-off approach. Two agents of Aion are created to do its bidding, in the form of Ringo and Figue. Posing as humans, they must delve into a technologically advanced city to figure out the cause of the impending disaster. What they don’t realise is that a war rages on in the shadows, between Devil Summoners from two different factions, over Covenants that bestow anyone who possesses one with great power.
Okay, so it’s not the most original plot point, but very swiftly you’re introduced to three other main characters to help hook you in. There’s the good-natured Yatagarasu faction member Arrow; the efficient, yet often heartless Phantom Society aligned Milady; and the witty freelancer Saizo, who’s a romantic at heart. All three are killed very early on and, due to their importance to the mission, must have their lives restored by virtue of ‘soul hacking’. Henceforth, they each decide to team up with Ringo and Figue for their own unique reasons.
Putting the apocalypse to one side, I found the back-stories and their vengeance seeking personal journeys to be the far more interesting aspect. The trio’s vastly different personalities and moral compasses also create a great dynamic in the team, especially with the constantly evolving Ringo character who evolves from being matter-of-fact and robotic, to understanding and feeling human emotions. A lot of the supporting cast introduced to further develop the sub-narratives are intriguing too, while the main antagonists have an instant impact that gives off menacing vibes excellently.
Moving on, you’ll take control of Ringo as you navigate hub locations and roam various dungeons looking for trouble. Focusing on the dungeons initially, the idea is to explore every passage and reach the objective usually placed at the furthest point from the start. These contain mysterious demon entities that regularly spawn out of nowhere as you traverse through them. Upon making contact with an entity, this triggers a battle and your opposition is then unveiled. You could be up against a sole demon, or a group of the evil swines, which then allows you to use your own demon summoning abilities.
The action unfolds as a turn-based affair, with Ringo, Arrow, Milady and Saizo, able to use elemental attacks and abilities. Each of them has a futuristic weapon that doubles as a COMP device, which taps into the powers of their devilish demon partners. These range from a pair of sai – like those wielded by Raphael of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame – to a tommy gun, which all look quite cool. Unfortunately you can’t change the respective weaponry for your party members, however you can upgrade and enhance over time. The real variety comes from the spiritual abilities gained from whichever demons you’ve made a pact with.
That’s right, Ringo can make deals with demons she meets within the dungeons for her and the trio of Devil Summoners to bring into the fights. The fact that there are more than 100 demons with varying designs, stats, elemental abilities and personalities throughout, means it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to partner up alongside so many different kinds. Some are super cute like the little icy guy Jack Frost and the pretty Mermaid, while others are badass such as Loa the skull with a feisty snake in its eye socket and an electrically charged dragon Qing Long.
Venturing through the dungeons, you’re going to be fighting against many of them, as well as a number of Devil Summoners. With every elemental reaction hidden when meeting an enemy for the first time, working out their strengths and weaknesses is all part of the fun. Should you attack an enemy using the enemy’s weakness, this leads to a special move triggering at the end of the turn, which handily damages every enemy. Everything combined ensures battles have a tactical side to them and that you experiment using different demons regularly. Once you find a nice balance though, it pays off to stick with them to level up and unlock new manoeuvres.
Levelling up the actual party members doesn’t bring quite the same excitement in terms of instant rewards. Raising the affinity between Ringo and the crew is far more interesting as it unlocks skills, memories and enables you to delve deeper into the Soul Matrix dungeons. They’re essentially mind palaces harbouring their greatest enemies or fears; it’s pretty good from a narrative point of view. Not so much from a visual standpoint however.
In fact, the majority of the dungeons are aesthetically challenged and lack any kind of wow factor. Bland doesn’t even begin to describe how lacklustre they are and, to make matters worse, you’re sent back through the same monotonous labyrinths multiple times if you partake in the Requests (sub-quests). Shipping yards and train lines are hardly enticing settings, just to name a couple. Honestly it becomes a chore to revisit the dungeons after venturing through once as you’re usually over-powered by then – literally one-shotting enemies with basic attacks. The Requests are rarely creative either; it’s a case of go here and kill one or multiple beings of a certain race/type.
Bizarrely, the hub areas, which house shops and such, are wonderfully vibrant and exciting to be at. It’s in these places that you truly feel as if you’re in a futuristic version of Japan with gorgeously eye-catching neon lights and uniquely designed buildings. Additionally, it’s in one of these that you’ll meet an unforgettable character who lets you create special demons by fusing others together; incredibly shady yet awesome in equal measure.
Whether you’re familiar with the original or not, Soul Hackers 2 is a fascinating supernatural JRPG that excels in character development and storytelling. Sure, the turn-based action is fun thanks to the elemental aspect and the demon variety is excellent, but the dungeons are very underwhelming. Are the dull areas and monotonous requests enough to be off-putting? I don’t think so, because Soul Hackers 2 is still a darn good game otherwise.
Souls Hackers 2 is on the Xbox Store