That’s So Demon: A Review Of Soul Hackers

BANNER ACTIONIn the first few hours of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers (which, thank you very much, I will only refer to as Soul Hackers from here out), I was reasonably certain the game wanted me to hate it. And I obliged.

There didn’t feel like there was any direction behind what I was doing, and I felt like I was being poorly introduced to characters I wasn’t sure I should care about. My problem, though, turned out to be one of ignorance, and I nearly gave up on a complicated but rewarding game.

Soul Hackers was first released in Japan in 1997 for the Sega Saturn, though it was picked up later for the original Sony PlayStation. This version for the Nintendo 3DS is the first time the game is appearing in English, but… it’s still a game from 1997. There are updates to the game, such as new demons and voice acting, but the graphics haven’t exactly aged well. Moving through corridors happens one screen at a time, and the character animations are usually just limited to shaking.

The game is best described as a role-playing game, replete with an overworld map system, leveling, and turn-based combat, but Soul Hackers takes place in a modern city. Characters communicate with cell phones, and instead of stairs in dungeons you’re taking elevators between floors of a planetarium

When I first started the game, I didn’t know where I was going. When you’re given an objective or told to “check out” a new location, there’s no giant flashing arrow or bullseye on the map. Similarly, the characters take time to get to know. When first introduced to each one, the game provides you with a description of who they are and what their personality is like, but from there, conversations with them happen as if you’ve known them for years. That’s fine, and to a certain degree it helps with immersion, but as a new player it can leave you confused.

Yes, Soul Hackers takes a bit to get up to speed, and it’s easy to get lost. But the key is simply patience. Take time to explore the city, and take time to absorb what the characters are saying. And nonce you start to feel comfortable in the game, you start to learn that there’s a lot more going on with the gameplay. A lot more.

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Enemy encounters are random in the game, but when you do encounter an enemy (rather, a demon) you have the opportunity to talk to it. While some of these conversations are amusing (some demons are quite preoccupied with their hair, for example), this isn’t just an attempt at humour. These conversations can be very useful, because sometimes, not only will the enemy basically say, “I’ve got no beef with you” and leave, but it will sometimes offer you money or its services.

If you’ve never played a Shin Megami Tensei game, having demons join your party may seem strange, but it is essential. They’re not only useful in fights, but you can fuse the demons together to create more powerful demons, which adds a substantial strategy element to the game. There are tools within this updated 3DS version to help you match demons, but whether or not your new demon will be effective in a pivotal battle is sometimes a bit of trial and error.

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Like most strategy games, you’re punished for being lackadaisical in your method. Demons appearing later in the game are brutal, unless you come to battle with the right fusions. It can be frustrating at times, especially when continued attempts at fusion fail miserably, and saving your game can only happen at certain locations, so the persistence of failure can sometimes mean a great deal of lost progress.

“The turn-based combat- where most role-playing games live or die – is simply classic in execution.”

But in the same regard, success can be extremely gratifying. So gratifying that, despite the tone I may be inadvertently setting, I always remained eager to fight. While the game doesn’t scream “cutting edge,” on the whole it holds up very well, and the turn-based combat – where most role-playing games live or die – is simply classic in execution. So many modern games try to “spice up” the beloved turn-based combat system, but by giving you a six-person party, a computer to analyze the demons, ample time to strategize, and the aforementioned fusions, Soul Hackers keeps things rich and challenging.

One of those business insider conversations I’d love to have heard was the meeting when it was decided when to release Soul Hackers. The game stands to gain a great deal from the momentum of Fire Emblem: Awakening and its critical praise. While Fire Emblem: Awakening is more of a traditional strategy role-playing experience, there’s no denying that Soul Hackers is at least in the same vein. Getting the stars aligned correctly to fuse demons takes no small degree of forethought, and failure doesn’t seem to be an option.

To put it bluntly, I had to toil over these strategies far more than I ever did with Fire Emblem: Awakening.

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Soul Hackers is complicated, but it’s also the perfect game at the perfect time. Most people will not consider it a strategy game, but I certainly do, and it’s creeping into the limelight as everyone remembers how good strategy games can be. It’s that strategy element that combines with more traditional role-playing aspects (levelling, upgrades, shops, etc.) to ensure that players will spend nearly as much time tinkering as they do fighting.

Whether or not that’s your thing isn’t mine to decide, but in my estimation Soul Hackers absolutely nails every component that’s essential to a role-playing game. It’s without question that this game is still bringing something to the table over fifteen years after its first release.

Pixels or Death gives Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers a 4 out of 5.