If you think Atlus new first person RPG dungeon crawler Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers sounds or looks familiar don’t worry you’re not suffering from deja vu, Soul Hackers has been on two other platforms before.
The game first appeared on the Sega Saturn back in 1997 and then re-released on the original PlayStation in 1999, thing is the game was never released in America, that is until now thanks to the 3DS.
Does Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers pack enough improvements to entice gamers whom imported the old versions to purchase this one while attracting new ones, or was the 16 year wait for nothing?
3DS Exclusive Feature
Atlus went the extra mile and added features just for the 3DS.
One new feature is “Hack COMP”, this allows players to change the game’s difficulty or to display a dungeon’s map as if it was already explored.
Nemechi is also an update to the game, this little demon allows players to purchase new demons that can not be captured by playing the game in the normal fashion. Nemechi will also evolve and change, allowing even more demons to become available.
The game makes use of the 3DS StreetPass, players can exchange data to evolve their Nemechi, I couldn’t use this feature because the game wasn’t released yet.
A new exclusive dungeon is also in the game that, once discovered, will pit players against past Devil Summoner characters
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers wastes very little time throwing you into the story, in the very beginning you’re playing the game before you can even enter your character’s name, that part is actually part of the game’s story.
You play as yourself, which is odd seeing as players can’t change their appearance and the main character in the game is actually a boy (people even refer to you as “he” and “him”), you are part of a group of hackers called “The Spookies”.
This group consists of yourself, your childhood friend Hitomi Tono, Masahiro Sakurai AKA “Leader”, Junnosuke Kitagawa AKA “Lunch”, Shingo Sako AKA Six and Yūichi Haga.
The game begins with you and Hitomi hacking a contest server so you can enter the beta version of the virtual city, Paradigm X, A voice from nowhere warns you of things to come and your journey begins.
As fast as you can say “cliche mystery plot”, the game falls into a lot of the cliches that we’ve come to expect, but to be fair the game came out well over a decade ago.
With that said, players will still see the blatant “plot twists”, in fact they’re so in your face that the game quickly throws out the company behind Paradigm X is up to no good.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is set in two different worlds, the real world and a virtual one called ‘Paradigm X’, while the game starts in the real world it wastes no time introducing to Paradigm X and why it’s important to the plot.
Paradigm X is virtual city created by a business called Argon Company, users can access Paradigm X through their computers. The first you enter the virtual city the game tries to explain the world by using a messenger named “Captain Paradigm”.
The virtual city is still in the testing phase, and the only way in is to be selected by lottery, which you do by hacking the contest’s servers.
At first gamers will spend some time in the real world where they can interact with NPCs that nearly always has nothing of interest to say, with the exception of the players family members.
Once you get further in the game more of Paradigm X will open up, unfortunately you will quickly realize that the “city” feels more like a small town, it won’t take long for players to see and do everything with the small realm of Paradigm X.
The game tries to make a big deal about the city by making it a plot device that could have been handled better, right off the bat players will notice the cliched plot to what is otherwise an interesting story.
Interesting Characters, Now Stop Talking
The game has a strong focus on the characters and isn’t afraid to give them the time needed to expand and grow, you quickly gain a sense of life from your friends as they become more involved in the story, every character feels unique and has personalities that easily separates them from being dull plot devices.
I wish I could say that about the voice acting, unlike the Saturn and PlayStaion one of the new improvements in the 3DS version is full voice for characters, the voice acting is hit and miss (mostly miss) I went through the limited option menu to find that there are no options to change the voices to the Japanese version (sorry sub fans).
One character that truly stood out was Nemissa, a demon you release that instantly takes shelter within your friend Hitomi. Nemissa is easily the best voiced character, she makes you wish that the others were as interesting, heck I’d settle for less awkward.
If you have ever played a JRPG with English dub, or even anime for that matter, than I’m sure you know what I mean by awkward. Some of the lines are delivered so badly I couldn’t figure out if it was intentional, you know to capture that old early/late 90′s JRPG feel, but I came to terms that the acting is just down right awful.
This is bit of a conflict for me, for one the game’s graphics are PS1 ugly and I wish Atlus did an update to fit with the 3DS, I know the game is a re-release but that is not an excuse when the game has seen some changes, including in the nice art work.
For goodness sakes even the opening movie looks like it was updated; in fact there are two openings for the game, one made just for the 3DS. There are also new battle animations, so it’s apparent that Atlus actually did some work on the game rather than making it a simple port.
My main problem with the graphics is the point that the game mixes 3D models with 2D models and it looks awful, you get caught up in the world and then it shifts to a 3D modeled movie and quickly shifts back to 2D, it’s very jarring and honestly has no real place in the game.
Also don’t even bother turning on the 3D of your device, like a movie that was converted into 3D Soul Hackers makes no use of the 3DS tech and goes the route of just barely separating a 2D picture from the background.
There isn’t much to say about the game’s sound, the audio works with the 3DS speakers and and comes out clear and crisp, although some of the explosion sounds like you speakers are about to burst (and not in the good way).
Even the so-so voice acting comes out clear and the sound effects aren’t over done to the point of annoyance, Nemissa is the best voiced character in the whole game.
The gameplay is Soul Hackers biggest strength and it’s biggest weakness, yes even bigger than the voices.
Dungeon navigation is clunky, the game tries to do too much with the 3DS control schemes, players must use the D-pad to move but players can only move one step at a time, unless they hold the B button which allows them to “run”.
The big problem with this is that you will bump into walls because you’re trying to turn around and accidentally went to the side, the game tries to make up for this problem by making the shoulder buttons a side step button.
After you get use to the awkward controls dungeons will still pose a problem and it’s not entirely because of the random battles, you’ll become frustrated because of “Magnetites”.
Magnetites represents the energy your demons need to survive, this is where the game’s design flaws comes out of the wood work, if you run out of Magnetites while walking around a dungeon your demons will start to take damage.
The game doesn’t tell you why your demons are dying, the only hint you get is when you meet a man who will sell you Magnetite and all he says is “Remember your demons can’t survive without Magnetite.”, I thought he simply meant I couldn’t summon demons without the stuff, which is true.
See Magnetites plays a huge part in the gameplay, you need it to summon demons (in and/or out of battles) and walk around dungeons, what’s worse is that depending on your team each demon takes a certain amount of energy.
What this means is that one demon alone can eat up a lot of energy and leave you trying to get more, earning Magnetites itself isn’t hard, you can buy some, find it in a chest, win them in battle or have an enemy give them to you.
But when you’re deep in a dungeon and you have no way of healing your team exploring the dungeon becomes a frustrating chore, so the game practically forces you to grind but it also seems to discourage grinding.
I never understood why I would lose Magnetites walking in dungeons but not while I’m walking around the city, you even lose energy while walking around Paradigm X despite the point that there are no demons in the city.
Why am I losing energy for walking to the warehouse entrance, why not wait until I enter the actual “dungeon”?
The game does a horrible job with explaining the mechanics and tutorials pop out of nowhere during conversations after the player is forced to figure certain things out for themselves.
Even more frustrating is the games broken bosses, while I enjoy beating a tough boss Souls Hacker is bent on punishing players who chose not to grind.
One moment I was getting my butt handed to me by an early boss and had to start at my last save, then the next time I annihilate him, without even changing my strategy.
Later bosses become cheap and can destroy players withing a few short turns, even their demons are overpowered to the point that you’ll be happy if you can defeat one of them.
Even if all of the you partners are alive and they have a revival item or spell once the your health reaches zero it will result in an instant game over.
Why is this a thing, if I can still be revived and my team can still fight why not allow me to continue? It’s game design choices like these that keeps Soul Hackers from being a great RPG.
Atlus has done a great job bringing a game nearly two decade old game to the 3DS, it’s too bad they didn’t/couldn’t fix some of the game’s design flaws, the game could have been a great dungeon crawler but instead it falls into the decent range.
The new features and improvements are a nice touch, showing that Atlus was trying to do more than release an updated port, but not everything was improved like it could have been.
If you’re looking for a new game on your 3DS than Soul Hackers will keep you busy.
Old school dungeon crawlers my love taking a trip down memory lane, but for players whom didn’t play the original Japanese version you’ll probably stick with your copy of Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan.