Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers

I have only recently purchased a 3DS XL as, in the past few months, the system has made huge strides to fulfill the promise made by its predecessor of being the system for new JRPGs. The DS was undoubtedly the best system for them since the original Playstation and, before that, the SNES. The thing all these systems have in common is that they all had a wide range of quality JRPGs – from the big name Final Fantasy to lesser known titles like Vandal Hearts and Suikoden. Shin Megami Tensei is one of the lesser known series to feature games on all these systems and has garnered a huge amount of popularity in the West due to the outlandish success of Persona 4.

Soul Hackers is a first-person, turn-based JRPG and one of a handful of Shin Megami Tensei (from herein, Megaten) never to have secured an English release. After Persona 2: Innocent Sin was released in English for the PSP, it is definitely one of the more interesting titles to be localised. For its first ever outing in English, it has been given a sympathetic update quite unlike any game I can think of and, true-to-form, Atlus USA have pampered it with as much care, respect, and veneration as possible without compromising the integrity and retro sensibilities of the original Sega Saturn release in 1997.

As the user-named protagonist you are a resident of Amami, a city at the forefront of a pioneering government-level redevelopment initiative to introduce high speed internet, super-fast computers in every home, and access to Paradigm-X, a virtual city connecting all residents together. With Beta access given to a select few, you, a young member of the Hacker community Spookies, along with your friend Hitomi, seek to acquire a Beta Key from AlgonSoft’s database, the company behind the development of the intranet and Paradigm-X.

Things start to go shonkey very quickly as you find a new friend Nemissa, an entity that borrows Hitomi’s body, and you acquire a GUMP (portmanteau of Gun and COMP) that grants you Summoner status, allowing you to summon and control demons to do your bidding. With a GUN-COMPUTER and a girl all you need is a posse which comes in the form of the afore-mentioned Spookies. Headed by the classic 90’s private-dick-looking hacker alias Spooky, along with Lunch, Yu-Ichi and Six, you all come together to explore the nefarious goings on surrounding Paradigm-X and AlgonSoft’s involvement in it. While they are involved and are impacted by the events in different ways, the Spookies do not join your active party, causing a bit of a disconnect between you and them.

In order to stand a chance when exploring and battling Demons you need to use your GUMP to communicate with and befriend Demons. As always this can be incredibly compelling and crafting a custom team is made easier by stocking numerous reserve demons and switching them out either in-battle or in the Overworld. Unlike almost all Megaten games, though, your demons don’t level up with you, making them viable team mates for a very short period. Also the Parent or Inherited skill system when fusing demons plays a much more minimal role than usual making your team often feel a little improvised.

Using the Talk action in Battle in order to recruit enemies is based on your current level and the higher level you are the more chance the Demon will join you. There’s no real formula to successful negotiations and results vary but this process of Talk and Negotiation is key to building a team of demons and fusing two or more Demons to create stronger ones. When talks go south it isn’t uncommon for the battle to become fatal very quickly so it’s a feature to be used wisely. That said, it isn’t uncommon for any battle to lead to a Game Over quickly due to the Weakness system synonymous with the series. One wrong move can, and often will, result in death but to mitigate the threat there is a Save feature available when not in battle which should be used liberally.

The weakness system and general difficulty are designed to ensure you stay focused at all times and the Magnetite feature, a kind of Mana Currency, ensures you can’t just load your team up with highest-level demons or even keep your active team at six members. As you explore, every step costs you Magnetite, the amount of which depends on the individual Demons that comprise your active team, so, in order to accrue Magnetite (exchangeable for currency to buy items/weapons, etc.) it behooves you to keep an eye on your team and manage your risks. This is the best part of Soul Hackers as it changes how you approach fights dramatically and gives Grinding more of a meta-game.

And Grinding is something you will be doing a lot of, much to the delight of series’ stalwarts. The difficulty jump between Bosses gets pretty huge, especially towards the mid-part of the game. You will need to Grind for a good few hours in some cases, whilst also building a more complex team of Demons. The Auto feature comes in to play here as it’s more robust than usual. You have the choice to default all actions of your team to either Melee/Go (Let the demon decide) or Repeat, which repeats the last used actions. If you do this well the Auto feature reduces battle time significantly and allows you to gain levels quicker.

The retro-anime style, graphics and music will serve as a genuinely retro experience for anyone into that kind of thing but the excellent localisation and fully-voiced dialogue bring it right up to date. It exists in a weird middle-ground of old and new and, due to the changes all being for the better and the original assets being sympathetically restored, it makes it feel right. The localisation of the demon dialogue is brilliantly twisted and the voice-acting is typical Atlus quality – that is to say brilliant.







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