Taking over from a game that was originally released on Saturn in 1997then reappeared on DS in a new edition, Soul Hackers 2 arrives with the intention of satisfying both the neophyte and the player already present in the first episode. It is therefore with a story that offers new bases and introduces new characters that we will go on an adventure, visiting dungeon after dungeon. And if we can easily find some interesting points, we must admit that, overall, Atlus’ title has some flaws that could lose some of its audience.
May technology save the world
Soul Hackers 2 propels the player into a futuristic world, with a slight cyberpunk inspiration. The universe presented highlights an unequal society where, despite the progress that defines it, disparities still have a significant part. However, here, the vision shared by the work is far from being brutal. There is not this dystopian content that we could expect, or it is very watered down. This is due in particular to a more than colorful appearance. And then, it does not really invite to the discovery, in the sense that we can not say that what is proposed to us by the scenario is very original. That’s where the problem lies. Everything that will be seen and experienced will probably be a set of clichés for the players. This abolishes any surprise effect and leads the game to flirt even a little bit with caricature.
Still, Atlus’ software tells us a story where the end of time is looming. A situation that is particularly due to the evil actions of a corporation of demon summoners called the Ghost Society. Another rival group, Yatagarasu, is opposed to this and is trying to put an end to this dark plan. To this end, it has sent one of our heroes, Arrow, to prevent the catastrophe as an undercover agent. However, he will be defeated and he will die without having had time to accomplish his goal. However, a second chance will be given to him by the only character under our control, Ringo.
This last one, Ringo, is a very particular being. Like her teammate Figue, she is the incarnation of an autonomous virtual entity, the intelligent information base named Aion. It is that, in spite of all the knowledge she has, she cannot act directly. It lacks a little something that disqualifies it, which is found in that imperfection that so well characterizes Man. This is why she gave birth to her two emissaries mentioned above, created in a configuration close to the beings made of flesh and blood. At first, these two are somewhat bewildered by everything that governs human society. Reasoning logically, they cannot understand what surrounds them. However, as time goes by and they spend time with their fellow humans, this incomprehension will dissipate.
And nothing could be more normal. Ringo’s ties to our other protagonists (Arrow, Saizo and Milady) are very special. She will meet them under unusual circumstances. When she was supposed to save them from certain death, she didn’t manage to intervene before their demise. Then she will try a still unknown technique: the hacking of souls, which consists in bringing back to life the deceased. As a result, Ringo will be directly emerged from the feelings, regrets in particular, which cross each of our three victims.
Dungeons full of dangers
With all this little world, we will go on an adventure to investigate to get to the bottom of the story and thus remove the threat. Overall, our journey is summarized in the exploration of labyrinthine dungeons. We go through corridor after corridor, pick up some items, activate teleportation portals to go back on our steps if needed and we face a whole horde of monsters. A path that, while progressing in the game, gives us a slight feeling of boredom, tired of doing things almost similar and especially very flat.
When we enter our investigation places, we always start with a small cinematic, which we will see more than once, but which we can always skip if it is too cumbersome. It shows our heroine sending the demons in her possession to explore the places in search of objects that could be useful to us or to look for the company of new pets that we can make ours under certain conditions. The first one obliges us to have the same level of experience as the creatures we want to covet. The second condition is that you must have the same level of experience as the creature you want to get. Some monsters will ask you to give them half of your HP or money in exchange for their help.
The system, one will appreciate it or not, it depends. However, we would have preferred more in terms of exploration. Here, it’s very minimalist. Everything you pick up, you owe it to your creatures. You don’t pick up anything exactly, you don’t even see the item you want to pick up. In fact, it’s kind of random. We just interact with our demon companions that we sent earlier to scour the place. Generally, they are located at each dead end that makes up the maze that is our dungeon. We visit it running at a constant pace, without the possibility of accelerating our pace, through an environment that has little to offer and that struggles to renew itself. And this is experienced in each dungeon. The fights that punctuate our progress are practically the only consistent element.
Turn-based battles that will bring a certain amount of challenge until, perhaps, disgust
Unsurprisingly, the confrontations against our opponents are turn-based. The demons that we will send to fight and that we will face obviously belong to the universe from which Soul Hackers derives, i.e. Shin Megami Tensei. They often appear, if not all the time, in groups of varying size. So you should not rely too much on what you see on your way, when an enemy appears. At first it seems to be a single enemy, but in reality it is a whole group that is waiting for us when it comes to us.
Thus, the battles that await us have an interesting little feature. By exploiting the weaknesses of each enemy, which we will learn to know throughout the rounds by trying all the attacks at our disposal, we can benefit from a combo system. Basically, when your turn ends and all your characters have completed their assault, your attackers will suffer additional damage of varying degrees. If, for example, your opponent is sensitive to a fire attack and you launch one right away, your demon will come and stand over his head waiting for the end of your group’s offensive to launch an automatic assault. But, in addition to this particularity, it will always be possible to increase your impact in your blows by using items to strengthen you or by taking advantage of the skills that you will acquire as you progress.
And there are several ways to launch hostilities. First of all, equipped with our weapon, a kind of sword known as COMP – a tool that allows us to summon demons – we can launch an attack in real time to weaken our opponents before heading towards him to start the real fight. This is highly recommended, if of course you have the opportunity to do so and if it’s not the other one who assaults you without you having the time to make a single move. If you succeed, your characters will have the opportunity to reduce the life bar of their opponents from the start. The opposite will happen if you fail and the other one succeeds.
The confrontations can be a bit daunting, especially for neophytes, that’s for sure. Sometimes it even feels like there is a certain imbalance. But, we can’t say that they are particularly unfair. You just have to learn to get used to the system, which forces you to act strategically and thriftily, pushing you not to use too many special attacks that consume MP, to protect yourself when you have to… Sometimes, losing will be more than essential to discover the method that will allow you to win. Therefore, patience is logically required. And, this is all the more true for players who want to go straight to the end of the title by simply following the main storyline. They will be quickly disappointed, because it is inconceivable not to take the farming route. This seems quite logical for an RPG. There is a special place to help you in this endeavor. Basically, it’s a place where you can let off steam and bond with your friends, which will lead to the acquisition of new abilities.
So you will be fighting here and in doing so you will gain experience, skills and money. Money that you will obviously need to get some improvements (increase your attack, defense…) or to have the possibility to have in your possession new demons from the fusion. However, for this last point, it is not often necessary to make financial transactions, it is enough to have demons and the necessary experience. In fact, it all depends on the type of transaction you want to, or can, perform. As in Persona 5, there are indeed 3 possibilities, ranging from a simple combination to a more elaborate one;
However, even if you are well prepared, you will often stumble. This pushes us to make manual saves especially when approaching bosses. However, there is always the possibility to switch the difficulty level of the game to “easy”. But, in this case, everything will be simplified to the maximum. There will simply be no more game over, your characters resurrecting all the time to give you as many chances as you need to kill your enemies.
A world that is quite pleasant to explore
A little problem of balance that will probably be accompanied by a slight feeling of bitterness preventing you from immersing yourself in a universe that looks really pleasant. Some may find it a bit flashy, judging that the artistic palette used is a bit too garish for their taste. Nevertheless, this is the real cachet of Atlus’ work. You really like to see what you see and walk around where you walk around. And, the views on the landscapes are just as interesting as the colors used.
The world then appears totally in adequacy with the characters, who benefit from a rather pleasant chara-design, giving some of them a kind of welcome eccentric aura. However, it is very uneven. Not everything is up to scratch. If the outside world is at least neat, it is certainly not the case of the dungeons. On the one hand, it’s very empty and on the other hand, all the sceneries that we go through are very similar. The same goes for the arenas used for our fights.
On the other hand, there are also some small slowdown problems, although they are quite slight, but also a great lack of variety in the population that surrounds us and with whom we will often have to deal with, especially in secondary missions, which are very dispensable. They often consist of going to a requested point to collect an object and deposit it with the agent or they consist of confronting some opponents here and there.
We can’t really be excited by what is being proposed. Yes, but…
So far, considering everything that has been said, the desire to go through the game is certainly not there, especially since you will surely regret not being able to wander through the city that welcomes our protagonists. There is only a very limited portion that is open to us. And to move from one area to another, we have no choice but to move the cursor on the map to the place of our choice. Then, there is not really much to do in the environments that we are given to visit.
However, one cannot be completely negative about the game. It’s clearly not amazing, but it’s not catastrophic either. It’s quite classic, even outdated, not very rich in terms of exploration, but there is one point that still manages to arouse interest: its atmosphere.
If the story is not original or deep, it is certainly not unpleasant. Besides, it seems that this is not the goal. No, Soul Hackers 2 does not play this card. It is rather on its characters that it bets. Although they too are a concentration of clichés, they give off a kind of sympathetic aura. And perhaps it is above all conveyed by the Japanese dubbing (that we preferred over the English) very well interpreted and with the musical composition that brings a certain atmosphere of lightness, when of course we don’t go through serious phases related to our main quest.
But we can’t ignore the links that unite each of the individuals that compose our little group and the evolution that takes place in them. Indeed, we take a certain pleasure in seeing them get closer and interact with each other. And even if the dialogues can seem very banal, bringing a certain length to the title, they constitute in a sense a real added value, which allow our heroes to open up, to reveal themselves. Afterwards, if this is not enough to touch you or make you smile, that’s another story. In any case, they will surely be satisfied to read texts in French.