Windows Central Verdict
Soul Hackers 2 is a wonderful JRPG that features an intriguing story, a cast of likable characters, and addicting gameplay that is both welcoming to newcomers and challenging for veterans. While the beginning can be slow, and some of the dungeons can be cumbersome to trudge through, the rewarding payoffs are worth the effort.
A gritty, engaging story
A cast of memorable, fun and well-written characters
A complex and satisfying combat system
Quality of life improvements that make this game beginner friendly
The story can take a while to get going
Dungeons can be a slog to explore when backtracking
The camera is finicky to control in dungeons
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During the mid-2000s, I grew up playing a bunch of JRPGs from Atlus' long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise on the PlayStation 2, namely Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga, and Persona 3 and 4. These games drew me in with their dark storylines, memorable characters, and relentlessly brutal combat systems where one wrong move could spell instant defeat.
As I grew older, I eventually moved on to other video games, even as Shin Megami Tensei catapulted in popularity thanks to its critically acclaimed Persona sub-series. Little did I know I would soon be returning to Atlus' occult JRPGs with its latest upcoming title, Soul Hackers 2. This game is a revival of Shin Megami Tensei's long-forgotten Devil Summoner sub-series, which featured action-RPGs like Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army and traditional turn-based JRPGs like Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers 1.
I was unfamiliar with Devil Summoners going into this review, and it's been several years since I last played a Shin Megami Tensei game, so I had no idea what to expect. After my time playing this game, though, I can confidently say that Soul Hackers 2 was a blast to play and has rekindled my love for the franchise.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible thanks to a review code provided by Atlus. The company did not see the contents of this review before being published.
What I liked about Soul Hackers 2
Outside the public eye of modern-day Tokyo, a secret war is being waged between two groups of Devil Summoners — supernaturally gifted individuals who can call forth demons and harness their powers. You have the Yatagarasu group striving to protect innocent civilians from evil threats on one side. And on the other, you have the Phantom Society, a dangerous cabal of Devil Summoners attempting to bring about the end of the world.
Amid Yatagarasu and Phantom Society's war, a third party watches from afar and decides to intervene. Aion, a mysterious hive-mind artificial intelligence with otherworldly powers, has predicted that the outcome of this conflict will lead to an apocalyptic disaster that will destroy all humanity. So, Aion creates two half-human, half-digital beings named Figue and our main heroine Ringo, to go out into the human world to prevent this catastrophic vision from coming to pass.
|Category||Soul Hackers 2|
|Release date||Aug. 26, 2022|
|Platforms||Xbox, PlayStation, PC,|
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
The story of Soul Hackers 2 is a bit of a slow burner in the beginning as it spends the first several hours teaching the player how to play the game and providing exposition to set up the world-building and plot. Once that's over, the story picks up quickly at the halfway point with intense moments of drama, character introspection, action, and wild plot twists that will keep you at the edge of your seat.
However, the main driving force and selling point of the game's story for me were the characters. In addition to Ringo and Figue, you will encounter several Devil Summoners who will aid them in their mission.
These include Arrow, a Yatagarasu agent dedicated to safeguarding the public from evil. The cynical assassin, Milady, who is out for revenge against the Phantom Society for betraying her. And Saizo, a smooth-talking freelance Devil Summoner who unintentionally gets swept up in Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society's turf war.
Soul Hackers 2's cast had me invested in the story with their interesting backstories, charming personalities, and well-paced character arcs with satisfying payoffs. My favorite summoner among this motley crew was Ringo. Unlike most leads in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, she's not a silent protagonist meant to serve as a blank slate but a fully realized character with a lot to say.
She's funny, sarcastic, compassionate, insatiably curious about the human world and a strong leader who will not stand by if someone messes with her friends. In short, Ringo was a delightful digital devil to play as, and her presence enriched the entire game experience.
On a side note, don't worry if you think you need to play any of the previous games in the Devil Summoners series to understand the plot. Soul Hackers 2's story is self-contained, and if there are any mentions of plot points, concepts, or characters from past games, the characters give enough exposition so newcomers can catch up. There's also a detailed in-game glossary with more info.
Dungeon crawling the dark side of Tokyo
A well-told story and well-written characters are one thing, but what about the gameplay? The gameplay of Soul Hackers 2 is divided between dungeon crawling the treacherous districts of Tokyo, battling demons and the Phantom Society, visiting the shops in between adventures for upgrades and items, and socializing with your teammates to strengthen bonds.
The dungeons start short and simple, then get progressively more extensive and more complex as the game goes on. Whenever you enter a dungeon, Ringo will dispatch her demons throughout an area to collect items for you or bring in friendly demons to negotiate with.
Negotiating with demons is a staple Shin Megami Tensei mechanic where you can convince a demon to join your team if you can meet their demands, and it's the primary method of recruiting them. Demons are utilized in Soul Hackers 2 by equipping them into a character's COMP, a weapon with a portable computer attached that acts as a catalyst for their abilities. Once equipped, that character's stats and elemental resistances will be enhanced and will gain new attacks based on the demon they have selected.
However, recruiting strong demons will not be enough to defeat the Phantom Society. You must engage the enemies to level up your characters' abilities and that of their demons. In Soul Hackers 2, there are no random encounters; enemies will roam around the dungeon as disfigured voxel monstrosities you can smack down with your sword to get the initiative or avoid fighting them altogether if you wish.
The combat system of Soul Hackers 2 is your typical turn-based affair where your party takes turns beating up bad guys and using their powers to exploit elemental weaknesses for extra damage.
I remember combat in the earlier Shin Megami Tensei games being notoriously tricky. For example, if enemies hit your character's elemental weaknesses, they get extra turns. And if the main character's HP reaches zero, it's game over even though the rest of the team is still alive and capable of reviving their leader. Thankfully, none of those unforgiving aspects is present in Soul Hackers 2, meaning that if you're a beginner, you can relax and learn how combat works without being punished too hard for making mistakes.
However, don't get too complacent, as Soul Hackers 2 is still a challenging game, especially on the harder difficulty modes. Enemies can and will ruin your day if your party's gear and demon setup aren't up to par. This rings true during the boss fights where they constantly change their tactics, hit like runaway trains, use dirty tricks to cripple your party, and summon minions to back them up. You will need to take advantage of all tools at your disposal and exploit your foes' Achilles' heels as much as possible to achieve victory.
To help accomplish this, Ringo has a repertoire of special abilities to use in tandem with demon summoning, like her Commander Skills. Once per round, you can activate skills as a free action to grant the party special buffs or allow a party member to swap demons they have equipped in case they need to. Her other unique ability is the Sabbath, and it is your party's secret weapon for dealing with the more formidable foes.
Every time your party hits an enemy's elemental weak spot, a Stack will generate, and one of your demons will appear in the background and alter it. The more Stacks you build up, the more your demons will appear.
Once your party's turns are up, Ringo will call forth all the demons you have stacked for the Sabbath attack and nuke the enemies into oblivion. And if that wasn't enough, some demons possess passive traits that can enhance the Sabbath to deal extra damage, heal your party, steal items, and more.
This is one of my favorite aspects of Soul Hacker 2's combat system. Not only is it satisfying to deal massive damage by getting enough Stacks, but seeing the Sabbath warp the background into warp into a distorted hellscape with silhouettes of my demons floating overhead was a devilishly incredible sight to behold.
Downtime at the shops
In between dungeon crawling, you can rest up in your safe house to heal your wounds and go into town to stock up on supplies for your next trip.
You access various portions of the city through a map menu, some of which feature shops where you can purchase weapon upgrades, support items, and accessories that give defensive traits. There is also a fortune-telling establishment that serves as a bounty board for Devil Summoners, where you can accept side quests to help civilians for lucrative rewards.
One of the more important locations to visit is a secret circus where Devil Summoners can take the demons they have recruited and fuse them together in magic rituals to create stronger demons. This is the second method of acquiring new demons for your party, and it's the most essential and fun method. When fusing demons, your creation will inherit the skills and bonus stats from the base demons used in the fusion.
If you play your cards right, you can create the ultimate demon army, which can withstand any attack and dish out twice the pain to any enemy you encounter. I became addicted to this mechanic as I have spent dozens of hours in this circus just experimenting to see what horrifying abominations I could come up with. I even managed to create some demons you can't normally find in dungeons, and it was so rewarding when I stumbled upon this discovery.
Dive into the Soul Matrix
On top of dungeon crawling, shopping, and demon fusing, there is one final component to Soul Hackers 2's gameplay loop — the Soul Matrix. Without getting into spoiler details, when Ringo first met with Arrow, Milady, and Saizo, they were in dire straits. So, Ringo used an extraordinary power called Soul Hack to save them and, as a side effect, gained direct access to their souls via the Soul Matrix.
The Soul Matrix is a side dungeon where Ringo and the party delve into a digital realm representing one of your teammate's souls. There are multiple floors for each of Ringo's comrades, and when you clear each floor, you will witness recreations of their memories to learn more about their personal history.
However, several barricades block passage to the Soul Matrix's depths. To remove them, you will need to level up your team's Soul Levels. This can be done by choosing dialogue options throughout the story and unwinding with your team at a bar in Tokyo.
Once certain Soul Levels have been reached, the barriers will disappear so that you can explore more of the Soul Matrix. However, some barriers will have a special boss guarding them that you must defeat to unlock fully. In addition, leveling up Soul Levels will give your team new passive abilities that can aid you in combat or when exploring dungeons more efficiently.
To me, this part of the game felt reminiscent of the Social Link mechanics of the Persona series but more streamlined and without having to worry about a time management deadline to upgrade your team. I particularly enjoyed the parts where I chatted with my team because this is where their chemistry and personalities shined and made them more relatable. Not to mention some of the conversations you have with them can be genuinely funny or insightful.
What I disliked about Soul Hackers 2
As much as I enjoyed the combat, the characters, and the story, there are some niggling problems I had with Soul Hackers 2.
Firstly, navigating some of the dungeons can be a chore to sit through at times. While they are fun to go through the first time, backtracking through them multiple times to complete side quests you have put off can be tedious.
The tedium is compounded by the fact that most of the dungeons have a lackluster presentation, taking place in low-resolution urban areas that look like they came from a low-budget PlayStation 2 game. Granted, some of the dungeons, later on, do have visually striking environments.
Nonetheless, it is disappointing that a majority of the dungeons you trudge through don't share the same quality and creativity as Soul Hacker 2's gorgeous, cell-shaded, cyberpunk-esque anime character designs.
What doesn't help matters is the camera. The camera is positioned really close behind Ringo, and the camera controls are slow to turn, which makes trying to avoid multiple enemies spawning behind you unnecessarily complicated. However, a day one patch will address this issue at launch with new camera options and miscellaneous bugs, so it is unlikely you will experience this problem I had on full release.
Lastly, as I said before, the story can take a while to get going. And if you're playing on a harder difficulty mode first, it can take longer due to how tough bosses can get, forcing you to level grind to beat them and bringing the story pacing to a screeching halt. However, if you can put in the time and effort to prepare your party, the rewards for making it through that slow start will be well worth it.
Should you buy Soul Hackers 2?
Despite the flaws, Soul Hackers 2 was a fun ride. It has an engaging combat system, a cast of cool characters, and a gritty storyline that combines the aesthetics of cyberpunk sci-fi with occult mysticism and, at times, cosmic horror.
If you're a Shin Megami Tensei fan or precisely a Devil Summoners fan longing for this sub-series to return, you will not be disappointed. And if you're a newcomer looking to get into this franchise or just a great Xbox JRPG in general, I highly recommend this title. It has plenty of quality-of-life improvements that make this game friendly for novices to get into while still providing enough challenges to whet the appetites of long-time veterans.
This game has re-affirmed my passion for Atlus' JRPGs, and now I can't wait to replay the upcoming Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S re-releases of Persona 3 and 4 and finally take a crack at Persona 5 since I never got a chance to play it when it was first released.
Soul Hackers will be released on Aug. 26, 2022, for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via Windows and Steam.
Alexander Cope is a gaming veteran of 30-plus years, primarily covering PC and Xbox games here on Windows Central. Gaming since the 8-bit era, Alexander's expertise revolves around gaming guides and news, with a particular focus on Japanese titles from the likes of Elden Ring to Final Fantasy. Alexander is always on deck to help our readers conquer the industry's most difficult games — when he can pry himself away from Monster Hunter that is!