Soul Hackers 2 Review
Soul Hackers 2 is the latest spinoff of the apocalyptic RPG franchise Shin Megami Tensei. This new game brings a lot of changes to the standard formula, which had me worried at first. I’ve been a Shin Megami Tensei fan for at least a decade. I’ve been there through the franchise’s highs and lows. Needless to say, I have very strong opinions about what makes Shin Megami Tensei good—and different from its sister series, Persona.
This game is an ambitious attempt to blend the dark, esoteric brilliance of Shin Megami Tensei with the more personal, character-driven storytelling of Persona. And I gotta say, I’m into it. In Soul Hackers 2, Atlus discarded many of the 90s hacker trappings of the original Soul Hackers. Instead, the game leans hard into modern cyberpunk, with its sleek lines and bright neon lights. This works just fine with the storyline, which takes a hard turn into film noir.
A few decades in the future, a secret AI singularity known as Aion predicts the end of the world. To stop this, AI terminals Ringo and Figue are sent to protect two key individuals. Unfortunately, both die before Ringo even gets her feet on the ground. Determined to salvage the mission, Ringo uses the dangerous and unknown tactic of soul hacking to bring back three murder victims connected to the coming apocalypse. Together, the five set out to save the world and avenge themselves.
Cyberpunk Goes Occult
The cyberpunk genre often takes nods from film noir, but Soul Hackers 2 goes even further. Ringo and Figue are dropped into a clash between two Devil Summoner groups, Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society, that feels like a gang war. The rest of the cast also fit film noir archetypes. Arrow is effectively a deep cover agent, Milady is a classic femme fatale, and Saizo is a down-on-his-luck freelancer. Even the villains, with their menacing demeanors and outlandish costumes, wouldn’t be out of place in a particularly dramatic crime thriller.
The story focuses on a frantic reverse-caper of sorts. Iron Mask of the Phantom Society is gathering the five Covenants, mysterious energy sources that travel between humans. Bearing a Covenant grants great power, but it must find a new host when its current one dies. Gathering all five Covenants could well trigger the end of the world. And after Figue absorbs the Covenant from Milady’s corpse, Ringo and the crew have a personal reason to get in Iron Mask’s way.
The decision to run with the cyberpunk aesthetic and lean into noir archetypes is a good one. The Persona games are fundamentally about teenagers. Making Soul Hackers 2 about adults automatically puts some distance between the two. This allows the game to find its own identity somewhere between cosmic horror and the more mundane fears of city life.
Soul Hackers 2 is the Ideal Spinoff Game
First and foremost: Soul Hackers 2 makes a serious change to the way demon summoning works. Instead of summoning demons to fill your party, you equip them to your human party members. This changes the humans’ stats and allows access to the demons’ skills. It also really reminds me of Final Fantasy 8. Hammering on enemy weak points is rewarded by Stacks that trigger Sabbaths—an extra attack that hits all enemies at once. The more Stacks you gather, the harder the Sabbath hits, and you can theoretically get one every turn.
I adore the way you can interact with demons in dungeons. The possibility of encountering one of my demons around the corner made the grinding fly by. This is good, because there’s a metric ton of level grinding, demon collecting, and exploration to do. This puts the replay value through the roof. You can go hours without encountering a single plot element and it’s incredibly fun. Assuming you enjoy turn-based battles, of course.
As you traverse through the game, you must balance advancing the plot with the optional Soul Matrix dungeons. Drawing inspiration from Persona, these dungeons bring Ringo deep into the minds of her party members. There, she must drive out the literal and metaphorical demons haunting them and uncover their last memories. Progress in each Soul Matrix is dependent on you building up your relationships with Arrow, Milady, and Saizo. Fortunately, the party is full of interesting personalities with fascinating secrets to uncover. Ringo is also a surprisingly fascinating protagonist.
There are three difficulties available: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Even on the lightest difficulty, some battles will provide a challenge. And no, I’m not just talking about the challenge of high-level Risky Enemies spawning on top of the dungeon entrance. Although that does happen and it is really inconvenient.
Something Completely Different
I wasn’t expecting to like the aesthetic as much as I did. There are some really stunning sights in this game. Every notable character has a distinct and memorable design. The environments can be genuinely jaw-dropping at times. Everything has a certain surreal, high-tech flavor I love. And as pretty and colorful as the characters are, there’s a certain manic charm to them. Maybe I’m biased as a fan of the artist, but I quite enjoyed seeing the cast in motion. Also, giving the human characters a distinct anime vibe means the demons stand out sharply with the classic art style.
Speaking of which, the demons have never looked or sounded better. The new animations make them look more uncanny and digital than ever. Shin Megami Tensei has always been about the blend of high-tech and occult horror, so the pixelized look works.
I had some qualms going in, but this game looks and sounds fantastic. It’s clear the developers wanted something with the style of Persona and the eldritch flair of Shin Megami Tensei. For the most part, they succeeded. At its core, Soul Hackers 2 is a story about betrayal and learning to live after your world feels like it’s ended. It’s no Shin Megami Tensei mainline title, but it’s not supposed to be.
While the game does a good job of establishing the agents of Aion as emerging AI, Soul Hackers 2 tells a deeply human story. This isn’t a shock to me, as Shin Megami Tensei spin-offs have always been more character-focused than the mainline games. I like Soul Hackers 2’s anime noir approach to character building. I recommend it to anyone who likes RPGs or cyberpunk.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
- Occult horror plus cyberpunk
- Good introduction to the franchise
- Excellent characters
- Fun dungeons
- Tons of replay value
- Combat tweaks aren’t for everyone
- Very anime
- Very film noir
- Risky Enemies can spawn on dungeon entrances