Soul Hackers 2 | Review – Known ingredients, different flavor

The Atlus-Sega combination represents a panacea for fans of Japanese-based role-playing games, considering how many niche products have reached the West only thanks to it. This time it is the turn of Soul Hacker 2sequel to one of the many spin-off series of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as well as (in) direct sequel to a cult product released twenty-five years ago (and on Sega Saturn, too!).

Soul Hacker 2

Platform: PC, PS4, PS5, XONE, XSX Genre: RPG Release Date: Aug 26, 2022 Developer: Atlus Distributor: SEGA

The curiosity was therefore not only legitimate but also natural, given that the original title brought mature content to the stage and a peculiar union between cyberpunk and spiritism, elements that we find intact in this second chapter.

We spent several dozen hours in the company of the PS5 version for you (you can find it on Amazon): you just have to continue reading our review to find out if and how much we liked the game.

The end is the beginning is the end

Halfway between the cyberpunk trend that had also characterized the progenitor and the mysticism typical of Atlus productions, the plot of Soul Hackers 2 revolves around the imminent end of the world – a world not too different from the present one, and therefore to be placed in the near future, in which humanity continues to walk, indifferent and arrogant, the path of the cult of the ego and of the wildest capitalism.

In this context, observed from the point of view of Japan, two entities with female features are sent among humans by Aion, a sentient and omniscient artificial intelligence that has foreseen the coming fatal events.

Purpose of the two heroines is avoid the death of two specific individualsIchiro Onda and Arrow, following which an unstoppable chain of events will unleash that will lead humanity to disappear at the hands of a dark sect of demon summoners, the Phantom Circle, led by Iron Mask, the main villain of the game that fluctuates between a good characterization and a few too many clichés.

Yes, that’s Pazuzu, if you’re wondering.

Without going into too much specifics and spoiling the surprise of a story that does not skimp on some well-thought-out twists, we can say that we were more than satisfied with the writing and, above all, with the characterization of the cast of characters, including, in our opinion , the diabolical Saizo stands out.

It will be for the freedom derived from the adulthood of the protagonists, which allowed to deal with sometimes thorny themes, it will be the usual sense of looming threat that characterizes much of the production of the Japanese software house, but the plot of Soul Hackers 2, despite some speculation of too typical of certain productions from the Rising Sun, it manages to to be followed with interest until the final stageswhen the climax becomes a bit too hasty in our opinion.

We are not on the side of the best Atlus productions, as well as for other aspects of the game, as we will see in the following paragraphs; yet, if compared to the average of today’s productions, the narrative fabric of Soul Hackers 2 manages to emerge.

Thanks also to a good adaptation in Italian, the events involve for most of the duration of the adventure, motivating the player to face another dungeon a little too similar to the previous one in order to know how the relationships between the characters and the clash between the aforementioned Ghost Circle and Yatagarasu, the organization that opposes it and of which some of the members of our group are part.

We almost forgot to point out how, despite the number two in the title, Soul Hackers 2 is perfectly usable by all those (and we assume they are the majority) who they never played the progenitorserving more as a soft reboot of the series than a sequel – an understandable move considering the length of the hiatus between this release and the previous one.

The chara design is Japanese to the core, but we still liked it a lot.

A combat system that never goes out of style

Let’s remove the decayed tooth immediately: the biggest problem of Atlus production is the flatness of the dungeon designeven more evident if you compare the labyrinths with those of the original title and its re-presentation on 3DS a few years ago: the shortcuts, the traps, the boxes that allowed you to advance in one direction only and the secret rooms that abounded in that title remain alone a distant and pale memoryreplaced by flat and monothematic corridors, alternating with some slightly more inspired areas here and there.

From this point of view, much more could have been done, and the exploration of dungeons would have benefited enormously: considering that cities remain places to go only to refresh and stock up on useful items in battle and during any optional missions, it is it is in the dungeons that the vast majority of the gameplay sections take place, which, as such, should have been better orchestrated.

Instead, the burden of saving the shack ends up on the shoulders of the combat system – which, fortunately, does not miss a beat, even in its extreme classicism: if the basics are those known to all, with a combat system one turn pure in which the protagonists are the evocable and meltable demons more than our four characters deployed, the clashes in Soul Hackers 2 offer a little too little new to be counted among the most successful of Atlus’s thirty-year career.

The cornerstones of the combat system are those to which fans of the Japanese developer’s products are accustomed: i recruitable demonswhich can be fused and deployed into battle with their unique skill set, the enemy weaknessesthat mark the progress of the battle and on which to build their victories, and the Tregenda attacksthe only notable addition that Soul Hackers 2 brings as a dowry.

These are group attacks that are activated when, once an enemy weakness is discovered, it is exploited in all possible turns, with the effect of inflicting numerous damage on the enemy group: very useful both for concluding in a short time the easiest clashes as well as for take advantage of the toughest ones, these attacks are to be mastered in the shortest possible time, being one of the keystones to better face the dungeons of Soul Hackers 2.

Like other times, it is difficult to make real criticisms of the combat system set up by Atlus: lovers of semi-real time systems might turn up their noses a bit, yet the balance achieved after three decades of experimentation between customizable equipment, demons to deploy and unique abilities of the party characters is still unassailable, and the main reason for which we advise you to give Soul Hackers 2 a chance is represented by the flow of the battles and their depth, as well as by the excellent level of customization of the game experience.

The advice to fully enjoy it, as usual, and unless you are new to the genre, is to raise the level of difficulty, so as to make some of the boss fights truly memorable, well thought out and challenging without ever being frustrating.

The general impression, having reached the end credits, is that Atlus has, for once, played it safeplundering the (excellent) ideas of his most successful titles of recent years to breathe new life into a franchise that has been dormant for almost a quarter of a century and which, despite this, we hope to see again soon on the screens connected to our consoles, perhaps with some ideas original in addition.

And, mind you, there is nothing wrong with this approach – especially considering the budget available, certainly not transcendental, and the appeal of the brand, limited only to fans of the first hour of the expanded universe of Shin Megami Tensei (or, as this writer, to those who were already playing video games in 1997), so much so that the vote at the bottom of this review is broadly and deservedly positive and that the forty scarce hours expenses in the company of Ringo, Figue and company turned out to be very pleasant.

Except that Atlus, in recent years, has raised the bar considerably, giving us masterpieces of the caliber of Persona 5 Royal and Shin Megami Tensei V, and inevitably increasing the expectations towards him, so much so that an excellent JRPG like Soul Hackers 2 ends. with being perceived as a “minor” title.

But which hairdresser do the protagonists of certain JRPGs go to?!?

Succinct and concise

The game runs on a modified version of the engine Unitwith all that this entails in terms of performance and graphics: the excellent Artistic direction (which includes manga artists of the caliber of Shirow Mina, among others) manages to mask the paucity of the environments that can actually be explored, as much as the skilful use of a palette of bright and acid colors manages to overshadow some faded textures as well as the obsessive recycling of secondary NPC models.

The flatness of the dungeons, on the other hand, which goes hand in hand with their disappointing design that we have already talked about in the previous paragraph, clashes with the abundance of demons available and with the excellent work done on the models of all the main characters, antagonists included.

We did not encounter any problems whatsoever in the PS5 version we tested, neither in terms of performance (complete with a selector for a 60 fps mode) nor in terms of bugs or code dirt problems: the product is relatively low budget, but the attention to detail it is the same as many other more famous Atlus titles.

Exploration is rather limited, but the few neighborhoods present are well rendered.

Let’s also spend a few words on the overall duration, considerably shorter than many congeners as well as many previous Atlus products: whether it is for a precise choice or for lack of further funds, the development team has perfectly adapted the rhythms of the game and the narration to the poor forty of hours needed to complete the game (moreover enjoying about three quarters of the optional contents).

This means that the dialogues between characters are less redundant and slower than in many other JRPGs, which after three or four hours of play, you will have the complete cast of playable characters at your disposal and that, with negligible exceptions, the game is free from filler content and artifacts to extend its duration.

Some purists may find it too short, but we, coming from the Xenoblade Chronicles 3 marathon, had no problems with the more hasty nature of Soul Hackers 2.

Version reviewed: PS5

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