Soul Hackers 2 sees players trying to save the world with help from demons that the player can summon, but the futuristic turn-based role-playing game rarely rises above the sum of its parts. Despite technically being the latest entry in the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise from Atlus, Soul Hackers 2 is distinct from both the mainline Shin Megami Tensei titles as well as the Persona spinoffs. It shares certain similarities like the aforementioned summoning of demons and the like, but notably has much more of a sci-fi tinge with a premise about technology and humanity and the way the two intersect. Unfortunately, however, this intriguing premise isn't enough to elevate Soul Hackers 2 beyond simply fine.
The game starts off with players in the shoes of Ringo, a personified agent of Aion, which itself is essentially a giant, sentient, digital conglomerate. She and Figue, a similar agent, are tasked with stopping the end of the world despite the fact that Aion traditionally does not get involved in the affairs of humans. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the two of them must get their newly created hands dirty in order to set things right.
Only, things don't go so well, and suddenly Ringo finds herself having to use "soul hacking" in order to bring back three different people – Devil Summoners, all – associated with her quest. Arrow, Milady, and Saizo were different kinds of Devil Summoners before they died with different ideas about the fate of the world, and while the soul hacking binds them to Ringo, it doesn't exactly change their perspectives.
In terms of actual gameplay, this narrative conceit allows Ringo to explore the memories of those three characters through Aion's Soul Matrix, which is basically just a digital dungeon which unlocks skills for both Ringo and each individual character as the player delves deeper. The closer the player grows with each character, the higher their Soul Level goes, and the higher their Soul Level, the deeper into the dungeon the party can go.
Unfortunately, the Soul Matrix is an extremely repetitive, lengthy endeavor. It's essentially just turning and twisting in a shift voiding with nothing but the walkways, demons, and stairs down or up. It is an incredibly exhausting experience for somewhere intended for gaining levels and new abilities, making an already potentially dull grind that much duller.
It also doesn't help that the dungeons outside of the Soul Matrix are equally repetitive and boring. The first 10 hours or so of Soul Hackers 2, you can expect lots of wandering around an abandoned subway line before then… wandering around yet another abandoned subway line.
But if you really want to know what's going on with Arrow, Milady, and Saizo (and survive combat later on), the Soul Matrix is an absolute necessity, and the other dungeons are required by the story. Locking the memories and major elements of characterization behind dungeon levels also makes for some strange pacing with certain elements either coming too soon or too late to really have an impact.
Combat, thankfully, is at least interesting. Demons can be summoned and assigned to various characters, offering different abilities and resistances, and weapons – called COMPs – can be upgraded regularly using goods from defeated demons. Fights typically begin with randomly generated mysteries, wandering dungeons and running into the player or with the player running into them, and then it's all turn-based and about who can defeat the other first.
Contrary to many other video games in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, hitting weaknesses during combat does not simply allow for an additional turn. Instead, hitting a weakness with an ability adds to a stack for an attack at the end of the player's turn where various demons that are with the player's party can join together for an all-out attack. This is called Sabbath, and there are even certain abilities that only trigger during Sabbath or otherwise cause some sort of effect to the stack, enemies, and more. It's a relatively simple mechanic to understand that can be complex to master, and it certainly adds intrigue to every fight.
The mystery at the core of Soul Hackers 2 is promising and its combat is solid, but repetitive dungeons combined with serious pacing issues make it tough to actually enjoy. The music and art direction are, as typical for Atlus games, stellar, but behind that style, there, unfortunately, isn't as much substance as one might hope that is worth the time invested.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Soul Hackers 2 is set to release for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and PC on August 26th. A PlayStation 5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.0comments