Soul Hackers 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: Aug. 26, 2022


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Soul Hackers 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 9, 2022 @ 1:20 a.m. PDT

Soul Hackers 2 inherits the essence of Devil Summoner: Soul Hacker, while evolving the game concept with a more defined art style, addictive RPG gameplay and next-level storytelling.

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Soul Hackers 2 is set in a weird retro-future version of Japan, where the '90s cyberpunk aesthetic has remained for many years. This means everything is neon and garish, smartphones don't exist, and the world is a depressing dystopia. You play as Ringo, who's technically part of an omnipotent computer program called Aion. The program's computations have suggested that the world is rapidly heading toward doomsday, and the only hope to prevent it lies within independent agents. Thus Ringo and her fellow program-turned-human Figue are sent to a futuristic version of the Soul Hackers world, where demons exist and humans capture and fight alongside them using COMPs.

Unusually for the franchise, Soul Hackers 2 focuses on a set cast of characters. Ringo is the protagonist. Joining her are Arrow, a demon summoner working for the organization Yatagarasu; Milady, who was formerly part of a doomsday cult until they betrayed her; and Saizo, a mercenary who works for both sides. All three were saved from certain doom by Ringo, and now the unlikely foursome has to discover why the world is about to end and stop it before it does.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Soul Hacker 2's combat is that it is the first SMT spin-off I can think of that doesn't have some variation on the Press Turn Combat System, where you can earn extra attacks by hitting enemy weaknesses or lose them by hitting defenses. Instead, Soul Hacker 2's combat is a lot more in line with what you'd expect from a JRPG combat system. Your team takes a turn attacking, and then the enemy takes a turn attacking.

Even the demon-summoning is unusual and functions more like Persona. Any demon you recruit or fuse joins your party and can be equipped to any of your four characters. This gives them access to the demon's skills and elemental affinity. Unlike Persona, you can't change this freely. A character's demon is theirs for the battle, but you can unlock a skill that allows you to change one of your party's demons per turn. This means you'll need to be more cautious with your builds.

A twist is that there is no traditional Demon Negotiation in the game. Whenever you enter a dungeon, all the demons you have will be sent out on recon. You'll find them scattered throughout the dungeon, where they sort of take the place of healing spots, treasure chests and various other things. They'll give you items, money and health, but most importantly, they can also find demons to join your party. When you talk to one, they'll introduce the demon, and then it will give you a request. Fulfill the request (usually an item), and the demon joins instantly; refuse, and it leaves. It's a far more streamlined version of demon negotiation than any other game in the series.

Each of the four characters has their own specialties. Right off the bat, Ringo and Milady have physical regular attacks, while Arrow and Saizo have guns. Regular attacks are a lot more powerful than usual, so it's important to have access to different elements of attacks. Each character also has their own customized COMP, which allows them to excel at different things. Any character can equip any demon, but some are better than others. For example, Milady is a strong physical attacker with an affinity for fire. That means when she upgrades her COMP, she naturally gets skills that make physical attacks stronger or cost less MP. All characters can equip Mystiques, which boost the powers or reduce the cost of certain elemental attacks, but the power of the Mystiques depends on their affinities.

There's a new mechanic called the Sabbath, which is sort of like an amplified all-out attack. Any time you hit an enemy's weakness, you'll get a stack, and one of your demons appears in a ghostly spiritual form on the field. At the end of your turn, you'll unleash a special attack that hits every enemy on the field, with higher stacks earning more damage. Certain demons have special Sabbath skills, which have a chance of triggering during a Sabbath. Elemental damage is still extremely important but not for the same reasons.

In addition to COMP and demons, each character can explore a Soul Matrix, which is like a Memento or Tartarus-style dungeon, but it's not randomized. Each of the non-Ringo characters has their own, and when you explore it, you can find new enemies and equipment you can't find elsewhere. Advancing in the Soul Matrix reveals more of the character's backstories and histories, and then you can choose from a few different bonuses, which include stat boosts, permanent passive skills, and the ability to earn Sabbath stacks. The dungeons seem straightforward, but I get the feeling they are quickly going to get more complex.

Your progress in the Soul Matrix is determined by your Soul Affinity, which is Ringo's friendship with characters. This might sound like Social Links, but it isn't quite. During cut scenes, your responses raise one of the character's respective friendships. In a rather nice move, you get to see which choice improves which character's friendship and by how much. You can also go to the bar to have casual chats with your friends for extra points, but it isn't anything like a full Social Link.

Soul Hackers 2 is shaping up to be a darn interesting take on the SMT formula. It's a bit more old-school than Persona, but it's not quite as old-school as a traditional Shin Megami Tensei title. The unusual neon-colored aesthetic lends it an interesting style, and the core concept and cast seem interesting. It's neat to see a protagonist who is an actual character rather than an avatar for the player, and the group dynamic looks fun. Hopefully, the full version of Soul Hackers 2, which comes out later this month (August 2022) lives up to our strong first impressions.

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