‘Soul Hackers 2’ preview: oceans of depth

This stylish JRPG will be familiar to Atlus fans, but the company says it also wants to appeal to newcomers with this entry

Fans of Atlus’ time-honoured formula of RPG dungeon crawler/social simulator/menu-em-up Shin Megami Tensei series will feel at home with the garish, immaculately clean world of cyberpunk-themed Soul Hackers 2. However, Atlus says that this newest title, which is a sequel in the Devil Summoner series — itself an off-shoot of the Shin Megami Tensei series — is catered towards newcomers, accessibility, and character customization. The team tells NME that players do not need to be familiar with the plot of the first title — originally released in 1999 for the Sega Saturn and then remade for the 3DS in 2012 — or the somewhat convoluted lineage of the SMT titles to jump right in. In practice, that may be a little ambitious.

Almost immediately after starting the demo, I was guided by the team into the many menus of Soul Hackers 2. This is where players sus out which demons to fuse and which weapons to purchase or modify, and I could already see a litany of options, combinations, stats, elemental qualities, and more available. As somebody who has played the first title, some of the Persona games, and other JRPG’s, I was very much gelling and understanding what the systems were asking of me and suggesting, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the title that connects with folks intimidated by these titles. Having said that, I had a blast.

Soul Hackers 2. Credit: Atlus.
Soul Hackers 2. Credit: Atlus.

We were able to peruse a moodily-lit shopping centre, though we barely had enough time in our play setting to speak to NPCs. It seems like the game’s social settings will combine light exploration and chatting with main hubs for buying weapons and fusing demons that are largely controlled in menu systems.

The game’s main map of Tokyo is one large menu, and it’s exciting to ponder how each part of city-life will be depicted, as the series usually does an amazing job with style and sense of place. We went to a bar in the demo and grabbed a drink with a party ally — you’re able to create bonds with allies if you play conversations right, and these bonds will provide material benefits in terms of stats. Atlus representatives emphasized to me that this would be a more adult entry in the franchise, as opposed to the Persona series’ limitations in playing as high school students. We were told that the main character would go through the narrative more like a private investigator, with conversations focused on character and plot development, rather than, say, romance.

Soul Hackers 2. Credit: Atlus.
Soul Hackers 2. Credit: Atlus.

After schmoozing with a party ally at a bar, I went to a dungeon, which was set on the lines of a subway system. While running around in third-person, you’re able to see enemy encounters ahead of you and get a surprise hit in if you’d like to have an advantage once reaching a battle screen. You can also run past and avoid enemy encounters completely. I also negotiated with a demon I found in the subway to add them to my party. The battles are turn-based, with a focus on discovering enemies’ weaknesses through trial-and-error attack, while balancing your party’s abilities and customizing your demon allies. One new addition to battles is that by exploiting elemental enemy weaknesses you can ‘stack’ end-of-turn frenzies onto all of the enemies, unleashing all of your demon allies at once.

I only spent a brief time playing Soul Hackers 2, but it already felt like it had the depth and polish of a JPRG players could easily devote their time to it. I was told the game would be somewhere in the 50-hour range, and even in the short time I had with it, I was overwhelmed. It’s setting out to be a hard-boiled sci-fi detective version of Pokémon, with the robust demon fusing system the series is known for. Typically, I reach a breaking point with the SMT games, which can get somewhat obscure and difficult, so I’d love to play one that I was compelled to finish. One thing is guaranteed: the decadently jazzy, groovy soundtrack will be an absolute bop.

Soul Hackers 2 launches on August 25 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC. 

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