Despite having a number of various releases, Megami Tensei has become best known for their Persona series. A few of their other games occasionally surface but for the most part they are most strongly connected to their popular spin-off. However, Persona didn’t always exist. If we look back far enough into the days of clunkier game systems and less impressive graphics, we’ll find Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, originally created in 1997 on the Sega Saturn.
It’s difficult to compress Soul Hackers into a single review. The gameplay and plot are a bit confusing at first, especially given the amount of depth and content there is. As a result, the learning curve is a bit steep. It’s geared less toward current generation gamers than it is for older generations, specifically those who played the original Soul Hackers or lived through its time period. But there’s more to Soul Hackers than just its target audience, and the game comes out strong regardless.
Soul Hackers takes place in Amami City, a futuristic, high-tech city with all the latest technological advancements. Everyone who lives in it has – incredibly enough – high-speed internet. However, that’s not all there is to it. The city is in progress of creating Paradigm X, a virtual world of the city that is yet to be released. You are a member of a small hacker group called the Spookies, set with the task of hacking into the beta version of this virtual world. You manage to hack into the system only for things to quickly go downhill. Shortly after entering Paradigm X, you see a vision of a dying man with a computer capable of summoning demons. The computer somehow ends up in your possession, and of course as a hacker you unlock the computer only to have a demon escape and possess the body of your friend. If that wasn’t unexpected or strange enough, the game also regularly brings you on several vision quests with a wolf named Redman as a guide.
Needless to say, Soul Hackers is a little out there in left field.
While the plot immediately establishes itself, the gameplay is another point of interest. Combat at the beginning of the game involves only you and your possessed friend. When you encounter a demon in a dungeon, the next assumed step is to fight it out; but in Soul Hackers, it’s possible to talk to demons in an attempt to recruit them or avoid confrontation. Caution needs to be taken though. There are times in which this backfires and demons respond angrily, forcing you into battle and setting you back a turn. Talking to demons is an interesting addition to the gameplay as it removes a good deal of grinding. But that’s not always the best route to take. Avoiding every single encounter diminishes your magnetite, a currency that is dropped by enemies and is required for almost anything and everything that involves your demons.
But all of this is only surface level. There are a number of other little details to the gameplay, including lunar cycles; demons’ disposition, personality, and loyalty; demon fusion; and managing separate inventory for demon and human characters. All of these things can affect the tides of battle. Demons aren’t just willing beings that listen to your every command. They have their own smart, sometimes sassy remarks, and they might refuse to obey orders if they don’t like you or don’t agree with you. Perhaps because of this, character development is another strong point in the game. The members of Spookies aren’t as two-dimensional as they could be, and the sharp contrast between your possessed friend’s personality and the demon that resides in her can be hilarious. Even the development of those two characters is interesting and intriguing as you progress through the game.
The one downfall to Soul Hackers is that it’s a bit dated. Other than the 3D effect and StreetPass feature, there has been minimal enhancement to the overall game. The visuals in particular cause Soul Hackers to look and feel old. Even with the 3D on, the graphics don’t seem up to par with the present day time period. The magic of such a high-tech society is lost in today’s world, where everyone has a phone that can do just as many things as a computer can. The 3DS version of Soul Hackers doesn’t achieve the same effect as the original because the original was made in a time in which technology was just gaining momentum and everything that was real in the game wasn’t quite so real outside of it.
On another note, people not very familiar with Megami Tensei might not enjoy Soul Hackers as an entry game into the series. Persona fans should tread carefully because this isn’t a Persona game. While there are a few similarities, those similarities are few and far between, and that should be a key point to note for gamers who have only played their spin-off series.
Still, Soul Hackers is excellent in terms of plot, characters, and originality. Even the micromanaging, while punishing at times, can be strangely satisfying. But it caters to a certain brand of gamers. While a worthwhile RPG, it has a few drawbacks as well, and those drawbacks should be weighed and considered by each individual gamer with his or her preferences in mind.
- Pros: Thoughtful plot. Plenty of comic relief among all the seriousness. Gameplay has a lot of depth, resulting in a lack of mindless grinding. Good use of StreetPass feature. StreetPass feature also allows the use of game coins to buy demons.
- Cons: Graphics are not up to date. Minimal improvements or additions from the original game. Some of the content doesn’t suit this time period as much as it once did.