Go Deeper Into The Shin Megami Tensei Rabbit Hole With Soul Hackers
Persona 5 is on the horizon, and it's one of the many MegaTen games you should play. But there are also tons of other installments worth your time as well, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Soul Hackers is one of them. It borrows many of the same elements from previous MegaTen games to craft a decidedly different experience, complete with demon summoning, virtual reality, and conspiracies.
This enhanced port of the original Sega Saturn release from 1997 exhibits an abundance of charm and personality. But just like the previous DS release, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, it may be too niche to catch on with an audience beyond hardcore devotees. With that said, it features the same masterful blend of mature dialogue, drama, and character development MegaTen fans are familiar with, and it offers a rousing role-playing adventure for those willing to take the plunge.
A dated version of the early 2000s is the landscape on which Soul Hackers has been painted, which allows for a simultaneously futuristic and retro aesthetic. Corporations are in complete control of cities, citizens are able to explore the internet by way of MMO-like constructs, and teenage hacker groups (such as the Spookies, which the main character is a member of) hold scary amounts of power. What's more, they're able to summon and control demons and have no qualms about battling for supremacy over the citizens.
Despite being billed as a traditional JRPG, Soul Hackers feels like anything but. Exploration is relegated to a relatively closed off map dotted with predetermined destinations. NPCs are marked as nondescript icons and there's little reason or ability to travel off the beaten path. Dungeons and other structures are traversed via first-person view, with basic 3D-rendered environments and a 2D- map to guide you. Important landmarks such as objectives, stairs, and saving/healing rooms are generally marked on said maps, but enemy encounters are random.
Defending yourself relies on a combination of smart attacks, defense, and spellcasting as well as your ability to command the squad of demons you'll acquire over the course of the game. Skirmishes play out in a very simplified turn-based manner, with a variety of bizarre enemies and monsters popping up around every corner. Enlisting demons to fight on your side is a fulfilling exercise, but there are aspects of the game that aren't so straightforward. Soul Hackers, like many MegaTen adventures, has a tendency to layer on additional mechanics, currency systems, and regulations without first properly explaining them.
Shin Megami Tensei devotees should find plenty to love about Soul Hackers, from its menagerie of demons and decadent weirdness to its classic RPG goodness. It does take a bit of getting used to, so it'll likely really only appeal to the MegaTen faithful, but if you're looking for something a little different, this should fit the bill perfectly.