Soul Hackers 2
This year has been an interesting one for video games as many titles that fans expected to win accolades would claim most of the spoils. God Of War and Elden Ring are games that come to mind when the discussion of "Game Of The Year" comes up. While it has been a standout year for both AAA and indie titles, there's only one game that comes to mind as the only GOTY contender. That game is Soul Hackers 2. It's a game that most hadn't played and those who had, instantly deemed the game as lackluster, a disappointment, and a middling average game. I'm here to throw down the gauntlet.
Before I begin why I feel Soul Hackers 2 is GOTY, I will say that most of my first impressions are unchanged. Since I'm picking up right where I left off, feel free to use the original First Impressions as a reference. Also, there will be spoilers, naturally, but I'm leaving this in just in case as a safety precaution.
I’ll start by saying that while this is my Game Of The Year, it is by no means a perfect title. While the October patch would fix many of the game’s problems, its core problems remain a part of the game. The dungeon system went from one of the worst I’ve played in an RPG like this, to something that’s annoying yet acceptable. The majority of the issues were tied to Ringo’s speed. She was far too slow in comparison to how large the maps were in the game.
Knowing that players would want to zip around the expansive floors, originally one of Milady’s command skills, Assassin’s Steps, doubled Ringo’s speed. The problem with this was that players had to invest time in said maps just to unlock the skill. A second glaring issue is that this cost the player 10 MP and lasted only a handful of seconds.
Realizing how mundane it’d be to have a skill that just increased movement speed, Atlus adjusted Ringo’s speed to toggle between running and dashing. Ringo’s dash is a little bit slower than Assassin’s Steps, but I’d take “A little bit slower for free” over what was previously possible. The skill now prevents the enemies from detecting Ringo, which doesn’t take away from the skill’s intention yet adds to Ringo’s ability to run.
The same can be said for battles, which was a common complaint as certain skills took way too long to complete. The final boss, specifically, had Sephiroth levels of cutscene animations for its skills. With the ability to increase the speed of the battle, enemy turns can be skipped almost instantly, making literal hour slogs end in a fraction of the time.
Despite this, the dungeon maps were uninspiring which says a lot considering the real-world locations that each dungeon is based on. While running through an abandoned subway, apartment complex, and shipping district may sound like examples of a cool background to fight demons, it’s as it says — Abandoned. It also doesn’t help that the same music plays for each dungeon with the exception of a handful. I couldn’t tell you the difference between the Hope Towers and the Subway Lines even though the former had a neat mechanic that allowed the player to control Mimi in a tight air vent.
It was one of the few instances where the game broke its monotony save for the final dungeon with its own mechanic. If every dungeon had a unique feature that separated it from each other, I wouldn’t have been so quick to want to skip as many of the floors as I could. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed the battle mechanic for Soul Hackers 2. I thought the Stack mechanic was great at rewarding players for playing the bare minimum requirement of a Shin Megami Tensei title.
Attacking enemy weaknesses adds a demon to a Stack that unleashes the Sabbath attack at the end of the party’s turn. During the late game, there are many combinations of skills, equipment, and player abilities to raise the stakes from one demon to upwards of six. Numbers are fun when it fills the screen and you see your rivals explode in gleeful delight.
While the overworld, navigating, and gameplay may be flawed, it’s more than this that makes up a “Game Of The Year.” Not everyone is going to have the same title, but it has to include something that resonates with you. There are only four playable characters (five, if you include Figue as a navigator), but each character is its own individual person rather than a mere caricature. The story, characters, world-building, and music were some of the best I’ve played in 2022.
EARLY TO MID-GAME SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT
Soul Hackers 2 centers around Ringo and Figue, two agents of “Aion,” a supercomputer that governs the fate of humankind behind the scenes. They are tasked with preventing the end of the world as humanity knows it and are given several leads to people close to solving this case. All three, Arrow, Milady, and Saizo, wound up dead but through the usage of Soul Hacking, Ringo saves them as they prove vital to her quest.
As each Summoner has its own reasons for teaming up, the unlikely quartet of experienced demon summoners band together. What I appreciate the most about Soul Hackers 2 is that it’s unapologetically a “Mature” game. Most Shin Megami Tensei games centered around a cast of high school students, with the Persona spin-offs taking a microscopic look at school life. While I am a huge Persona fan, as an adult gamer I enjoy playing a game and saying “Yeah, that’s me.”
While there is a bar and the party occasionally reflects over a few beers, there are adult themes, including loss, love, self-worth, and becoming goal-oriented. Milady early on appears as a character who would be antagonistic toward the player. Her supposed lover betrays Milady and she wants her revenge. In the meanwhile, many red herrings are given to the player including the gang she’s a part of, the Phantom Society, wanting to “turn to the Great One” for support.
Later on, it’s revealed by Milady herself that the person she wishes to kill was the person who killed her lover and took on his identity. Whether or not the player knew this information wasn’t relevant to Milady. She was a revenge seeker who would put her life on the line if only to take revenge based on her scorn, but opening up to comrades allows her to let go of that hatred in her heart.
Arrow, of the three, is one who always lived her life “day by day” as an agent of Yatagarasu. While he would end up being the most important character of the three as he would hold a covenant, he lived his life in ignorant bliss. It was only when he realized he was spending his whole life trying to be like his mentors did Arrow begin to think about what would be best for him.
While each summoner becomes one for their own reason, none exemplifies this point more than Saizo. Milady and Arrow are both members of rival gangs who each want the same thing but with different methods. Saizo is a freelance who is used to working both sides to scrap by while also planning a future with his girlfriend. Relationships are shown in Soul Hackers 2 as a dynamic that is solved only through understanding each other and this is the gist of the relationship between Saizo and Ash. On a larger scale, Ringo and Figue.
MAJOR ENDING SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
Soul Hackers 2’s ending is the main reason why I am giving this GOTY, as it closes the book the same way the game opened. There are two variations of this ending, both having the same resolutions yet with different outcomes. After the final boss fight, Figue’s body falls gently to the ground in front of Ringo. Ringo is then presented with two options, provided certain conditions were met. Unlocking the second option remains a subject of debate among the community because it was assumed that you had to answer the questions given to you leading up to the final boss “correctly.”
To test this, I answered the questions as honestly as I could, with a mixture of “yes” and “no.” For every “no,” or “Moonlight Key” in your possession, an additional mini-boss is summoned that Ringo needs to deal with. By far, this seems to be the only interaction with the questions offered. It should be noted that I cleared everyone’s Soul Matrix 4F and saw everyone’s final cutscene. I’m not sure if that’s also a part of the requirement, but it’s safe to assume it’s a possibility.
In the normal ending, Figue and Aion disappear after the fighting ends and the group is seen having one last meal together. Ringo is unresponsive, staring at a book labeled “Figue’s Recipies.” As Milady, Arrow, and Saizo tries to hold a conversation before saying their goodbyes, Ringo noticeably winces every time someone mentions they’re leaving. After the final person, Arrow, leaves, Ringo walks up to the inactive Mimi doll and determines that it’s best for her to get going as well.
From this point on, Ringo states that she was never able to get in touch with Figue or Aion, assuming that the latter completely disintegrated. Enough time had passed to the point where she resonated with the humans over simply being a “Super AI.” While she’s adapted well in the world to not be considered as such, she’s still far from being a human due to her data structure. Not belonging to either Aion or Humankind, all Ringo can do is sit tight until she’s able to either find a purpose in life or regain contract.
The one detail that prevents this ending from being an absolute downer is that Ringo states she has one thing to live for — The children at the orphanage. Sure, the adventures may be over, everyone’s back to their normal lives, and Ringo is left holding the bag. There’s still the future and the children at the orphanage are the ones who will determine the fate of the world. Before I talk about my thoughts on the ending, I’ll talk about the second ending as there are some key changes.
Reaching out to Figue after the final boss fight, Milady exclaims that Ringo could Soul Hack and get through to Figue, saving her. As “Soul Hacking” is revealed to be a reconstruction of a soul, applying this to a string of zeros and ones is vastly different than that of a human. Fortunately, Figue was able to live life as close to a human as possible, making the hacking process as successful as that of the previous ones. This act is enough to put a strain on Aion yet with one final mental push, Ringo was able to bring Figue back to life.
The cutscene that follows plays similarly to the first ending except Figue is alive and well, which means that Ringo is far more sociable. Arrow points out that Ringo’s new vulnerable personality is the result of becoming in sync with her emotions. Everything she had done was to get through to Figue and understand her. She’s the closest person she felt a connection with because Figue is the only person just like Ringo. The reason why Ringo was unresponsive, a stark contrast to her extroverted personality, was because her only connection to her real self was gone.
Eventually, everyone part ways but this time around the parting isn’t as bittersweet. Figue states that everyone’s departure is akin to loss for Ringo, as this time it’s a lot more permanent than before. The trio has access to their demons again, each of them has their own life to live, and life goes on. In the end, Figue and Ringo were able to restore Aion and it’s been decided that they would go on to be human ambassadors for the supercomputer. This time, they will determine together what’s best for humanity as they become more human.
Depending on how you view things as “glass half full half empty,” this can also be a bittersweet ending. The real cause for “humanity’s downfall” is, naturally, humankind itself. Despite everything, nothing was solved and the final boss was actually everyone’s misunderstanding on how to fix things. The final “trials” given to Ringo by Aion were Aion’s last stand in wondering what’s the “best” course of action. Neither Ringo, who has been basing her decision based on experience nor Figue, who based her decision on emotions, have a clear understanding of this.
Whether or not they figure humans out is left to interpretation, but with the greater threat of the covenants eliminated, the status quo is reserved. Demons, Summoners, and regular humans continue to co-exist with the looming threat of players working behind the scenes to shift the balance. One major example is the appearance of Azazel, one of the head contractors of Phantom Society. As a very powerful devil, he looks at the situation with amusement. Knowing that the balance is unset, he reveals his plans to cause chaos and strike while the iron is hot. Another representative for Yatagarasu wants to do the same, yet upon defeat, both parties decide to let Ringo handle the situation.
This is a rare resolution where no one gets killed. Both parties see an opportunity and fail to cinch it. It’s best to live to fight another day and that’s the idea. Once the situation is under control, both parties continue to fight. Having a giant municipal tower, which reached the sea floor depths to the weird eldritch abominations, suddenly disappear is perfect. No one except those who know bothers to bring it up again, reminding me of both endings to Persona 5 Royal.
Soul Hackers 2’s ending opens up for a generous sequel hook with several ideas coming to mind. Ringo and Figue could be tasked by Aion to take on a threat targetting humanity, which may involve higher demons to the status of gods. While talks of “The Great One” and cultists exist, an actual “godly” figure never made its way in Soul Hackers 2. Maybe that can be a focus for the future as we now know the world that Atlus painted for the player.
Despite having polarizing reviews to this day, Soul Hackers 2 is an example of a title that doesn’t necessarily need to be extravagant or win high marks to be a great game. It succeeds at being a thoughtful “adult-oriented” RPG with a familiar environment and understandable scenarios. Each controversial topic is handled with care as each person reacts differently in-game to events surrounding them. It’s one of those games where if you play it through, you’ll miss out on a lot. Like Yakuza, most of its charm relies upon things that happen outside of the main story.
I can sing the praises of Keiichi Okabe's work whether it's Ridge Racer, Nier, or other projects like Soul Hackers 2. The dubbing cast also knocked it out of the park with their vocal delivery. When things get heavy, the voice actors made sure certain emotions were felt. Erica Lindbeck for example did a phenomenal job as Milady, a woman whose slow descent towards unraveling her emotions infuses her with a passion that Lindbeck excelled in. Everyone successfully brought their characters to life and although the main plot was short, I felt connected to each one.
As Soul Hackers 2 is always on sale these days, it’s not a bad option to pick this one up when you can. I recommend the Deluxe edition as the “bonus exp and money” helps the early game grind tremendously. The exclusive DLC missions focusing on Nana are also really good. While they don’t offer much to the main story, it’s a nice side story that correlates to the main plot and its characters. The year 2022 has been an amazing year for gaming and with many new additions to long-time franchises, 2023 will be an even bigger year. Thank you to all of our readers for being with us from the top to the bottom! Happy New Year from 1 Up Infinite!
Soul Hackers 2 is now available on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and