Soul Hackers 2
The original Soul Hackers was released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013 as a classic Shin Megami Tensei experience on a portable device. What if I were to say that this is only a half-truth and that the game actually came out over sixteen years before in 1997? The original Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers was actually released on the Sega Saturn in the late 90s and on the PlayStation in 1999, albeit as a Japanese exclusive. When it was re-released on the 3DS, it was the first time many outside of Japan had experienced the game for the first time which was why it always felt archaic to many players. It also explains why Soul Hackers 2 is a modern game compared to its prequel.
Fans lauded Soul Hackers for being ported on an accessible console while managing to keep the themes of the plot up to modern times. The voice acting was also a nice touch as praise was given to the localization team for taking an old script and making it easily approachable to a different generation of gamers influenced by the Persona series. This made Soul Hackers 2 even more of a surprise upon its announcement as it has been over twenty years since the original.
The concepts introduced in the original remain in the sequel although with a familiar twist that Shin Megami Tensei fans are used to. The player controls a sentient AI program named Ringo who works as an agent of Aion. Aion is described as an omnipotent network whose sole purpose is to halt the end of the world. That duty is entrusted not only to Ringo but to her "other half," Figue, who is the reasonable side of Ringo's impulsiveness.
They are tasked to retrieve two humans, a Devil Summoner named Arrow and a scientist who is pronounced dead by Figue shortly upon arrival. Similarly, Arrow is found on the brink of death from being shot in the head which is something the player sees in Soul Hacker 2's intro. Fortunately, Ringo is one of the game's namesakes, with the ability to hack a victim's soul and "revive them" should their soul remain intact.
She does this to Arrow who tells her that he works for Yatagarasu, an organization meant to protect the peace of citizens from demons. He was investigating a rival demon summoning gang known as Phantom Society until his cover was blown and he was executed. Saved by Ringo, the two of them infiltrate Phantom Society as Ringo discovers how this leads to stopping the "end of the world" as they know it.
I mentioned the "P-Word" several times here, but after the first tutorial battle, it's clear that Persona was a huge inspiration for Soul Hackers 2. Your first assigned demon is a Pixie because it's always a Pixie and quickly the game teaches you to take advantage of an enemy's weakness. Unlike the base Shin Megami Tensei games where doing so adds an "advantage," instead a counter will appear. The demon used to exploit the enemy's weakness will appear ominously behind the enemy themselves.
Once everyone's turn ends, depending on how many members in the party used their demons to exploit their weakness, Ringo will perform what is known as a "sabbath." A sabbath acts similar to an "All-Out Attack" in Persona, dealing massive damage to all enemies the higher the counter goes. Demons can also be transferred to other summoners on Ringo's turn as her AI has the ability to do so. I've played this on the PC and on maximum settings the game looks gorgeous, running on a higher fidelity than Persona 5 yet with its own aesthetic.
Soul Hackers 2 has its own identity that flourishes thanks to its music as well. Within the first few minutes, my mind was designated to Nier due to the ominous chanting and hectic electronic breaks. Astute listeners will recognize the music as done by Keiichi Okabe, the same artist who had worked on the Nier soundtrack and countless other video games over the past few decades.
The lack of Shoji Meguro, long-time composer for Atlus, is felt at first as this is one of the first projects released after his departure. However, veteran Okabe does more than his fair share of bringing the tense and foreign atmosphere of Soul Hackers alive. As most Shin Megami Tensei games bear a long introduction before the ball actually gets rolling, I didn't play much past the introduction for my first impression.
That said, I felt like I could enjoy Ringo as a protagonist and I hope that Atlus continues the trend of having a woman main protagonist in future titles. Soul Hackers 2 is looking to scratch that itch for many who are awaiting Persona 6 news and as a standalone game it's a must-play for RPG fans alike.
Soul Hackers 2 is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.