Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
"We are Samurai......We are Keyboard Cowboys"
Referred to for the rest of this review as Soul Hackers, originally launching in the late 90's on the Sega Saturn Soul Hackers was the latest in the Devil Summoner series & follow up to the original Devil Summoner. Later released on the Playstation & finally hit our shores in 2013 as a 3DS title.
This is a spin off series from Shin Megami Tensei in the vein of Devil Survivor, Persona, Digital Devil Saga & Devil Children. As all good spin off's do this has similar elements to the main series but with it's own personal spin on things, returning demons, dark storyline & SMT's signature difficulty await players in this title.
Set in the streets of Amani City you are a member of the Hacker group known only as "The Spookies". Your first act of cyber crime is to get yourself put into a beta for the online digital world Paragim X, this causes a huge chain of events including corrupt companies, sinister demons and all the usual cyber punk clichés.
You have two worlds to explore in this game, Amani City & Paragim X, for fans of Cyber Punk ala Blade Runner, Shadow Run & Fifth Element the setting alone should interest you. It was a fresh setting for SMT & one I personally enjoyed, A dark futuristic city awaits you in the real world to explore. Paragim X is an online hub & a central aspect for the game, without spoiling anything you'll visit this place several times & it offers more surreal surroundings compared to Amani City. Unlike Amani City which is a world map you will be exploring Paragim X in first person mode. Paragim X features several NPCs to talk to, many areas to explore, a bank & a snazzy casino where even if you aren't a gambler you will want to be making a few visits to!.
The story is a little bit of a slower burner I must admit, this is a 90's RPG & as such is at a lower speed than some of the newer RPG titles (Hey we can't all go Ys speed can we!). It doesn't really kick in till around the 6/7 hour mark and then has a few pacing issues throughout, early SMT wasn't exactly the pinnacle of story telling and was more focused on Dungeon Crawling. Unfortunately Soul Hackers never quite sets it's own identity in this aspect & often feels like the confused cousin from the future who has some good ideas but has written them backwards on the bathroom mirror.
Another thing I feel the need to point out is that people coming from Persona 3 & 4 will almost instantly feel a dislike towards to lack of character building & interaction. Despite being part of a team "The Spookies" only seem to crop up every now & again and for the most part are unforgettable and useless. You spend most of your time battling demons alongside female counterpart Nemissa. Nemissa is a demon spirit who has taken control of your childhood friend Hitomi, conflicting personalties leading to awkward scenarios & a general feeling that she knows more than she lets on should help drive the story till the Devil Summoner arc kicks in.
Dungeon crawling in this title is in the vein of classic SMT, a first person perspective. This wasn't really an issue when the game originally launched but since it's been done so much better (Etrian Odyssey) & to a point hinders the game. Bland areas & questionable maps await young Devil Summoners, these once again pick up especially the more "out there" maps in Paragim X.
Battling is also done in an FPS view, you don't see your party just portraits of them & a few attack animations ala scratch across the screen or a gun shot.
Your party will usually consist of MC (main character) Nemissa, Front Demon & any support you choose, like previous SMT you pick up demons through Negotiation. What this means is instead of just battling you have to talk to demons & get them to join you through often confusing and questionable conversation.
You will pick it up eventually and it will become second nature but for newcomers it can seem daunting not knowing what to say or offer to a demon willing to join your party, or infact if the demon is even recruit-able.
Summoning demons makes your party stronger but at a price, MAG. MAG is a second currency you pick up during battles and from chests, it constantly depletes in regards to which demons you have summoned. Every demon has a price (Cue Million Dollar Man) not only when you first summon them but also as you explore the world with them ready to go. The key is managing your MAG so you have the best party available but not running on fumes, this is because some stores only accept MAG currency!. Fortunately it's bountiful in battles and there is a way of exchanging money to MAG & visa versa.
Demons in this have various natures, unlike Pokemon where it just affects how they grow this affects how they act. Some demons will listen to you regardless, others only accept certain commands & some will just leave you in the dark and refuse to listen one bit, during my recent playthrough I lost ALOT of MAG due to a demon constantly using "Self Destruct" which while effective wasn't needed and cost me a fair bit to revive him. The key is always having a back up plan, learning the behaviour of the demons & fusing up problem children into stronger more receptive tools of destruction.
With this releasing on the 3DS ATLUS saw fit to include a few extras to help sweeten the pot & possibly apologise for us getting the game significantly later than any other region. The first notable thing is the 3D in the cutscenes, not brilliant but a nice little extra, I should point out these cutscenes are PSX era so don't expect wonders from them. A nifty anime intro with some brilliant animation when you turn the game on. The ability to "hack" the game, this means you can make the game easier, turn saving anywhere on, instantly unlock maps & generally tailor the game to suit you!. Finally they added new Demons, a street pass distraction where you can use coins to evolve a demon which further unlocks more to summon & a couple of Post Game dungeons.
So the key question after all of this is, Is this game actually any good?. To answer truthfully and honestly, it's better than average. It's one of the weaker releases from SMT & suffers an identity crisis early on & never quite redeems it's self. It's heavily dated & thus feels dated and clunky, the difficulty is a turn off for most & alot of people playing it will becoming from Persona and may not quite be expecting this type of game. For die hard RPG fans & enthusiasts of SMT I would recommend this title, on the 3DS in the PAL region you only have this & Overclocked which is an amazing title. If you like darker games with high difficulty & a Cyber Punk setting this one is for you, just don't expect Persona 3 FES levels of mainstream brilliance.
Who Should Buy This?
- Old School RPG fans
- SMT Enthusiasts
- People looking for a challenge
- Fans of Cyber punk
Who Should Avoid?
- People looking for the next Persona
- People looking for a modern RPG
- Those who lack patience
- Someone who doesn't deal well with Insta Death/high difficulty