First Impressions of Soul Hackers 2

I’m currently playing through it via Xbox Gamepass on PC since it’s available and I missed my chance at playing through and completing two other games; I figured I should actually use gamepass to justify the annual subscription since it is a good service that I wasn’t taking advantage of. Unfortunately, I don’t have an Xbox controller and I’ve mainly been using the keyboard, so I’m totally neutral on the control scheme as it’s largely my own fault for not simply getting an Xbox controller for Gamepass. So, I have no opinion there. I still don’t quite know how to feel or what to think of this game as I’ve only spent maybe 7 hours or less so far on the game (mainly due to so much else taking up my personal time — mainly work-related), so this is just my initial impressions. I’ll begin with the negatives, since modern psychology research has shown that we have a more positive perspective on examining other opinions when the last parts are positive information and not negative.

The Cons:

  • I really dislike the Assist button. It may as well be called “the win button” since it does everything for you and you just have to click twice. It just feels so stupid to add and I refuse to use it.
  • I don’t get why all party members are able to change demons. I feel like they could have reworked this pretty easily, such as having a specific “Arcana” or “Elemental Strength / Weakness” being the only types that each party member could switch to, in order to make the characters feel more diversified. While that may seem contradictory, since anyone can be anything and thus diversity is totally at the player’s whims… there’s actually a principle in video games, followed during older gaming generations by many game companies (not just Atlus or exclusively Japanese video game developers), in which they try to place a constraint to create more contrast and diverse use of a gaming system so that players learn and adapt from the challenge. This principle seems to largely be abandoned. As a result, insofar as this game, every character barely feels different outside of physical attacks. It feels like a missed opportunity to try something new, if anything.
  • I don’t understand why this game is called “Soul Hackers 2” when the beginning seemingly has nothing to do with the previous Soul Hackers, the “Soul hacking” is a completely different context and feels more like “Soul Revival” or “Soul Return” with the “Soul Hacking” — in the context of the original Soul Hackers — being more in the context of the dungeon-style social links that this game offers. The extra character quests feel more like “Soul Hacking” than the resurrections in the main story. I don’t understand why they didn’t just call this game “Devil Summoner: Soul Revival” or “Devil Summoner: Soul Return” instead of carrying the unnecessary baggage of being compared to the original Soul Hackers by old-school Soul Hackers fans (of which, I am not among, I did not like the original Soul Hackers, apart from my appreciation for the unique focus on Native American mythology). The game probably would have been received more positively if it was titled as its own Devil Summoner game… since that’s basically what it is and the Devil Summoner subseries is diverse enough already to have another entry anyway.
  • I wish they would have put more focus on the other Devil Summoner clans outside of the Kuzunoha, there’s still the two families of the four that we never learn anything about. It’s kind of ridiculous that they had established four clans connected to devil summoning and only two were ever explored to any degree and the other two have never been mentioned whatsoever. What is Lore? Lol
  • The most salient failing for me is how demon negotiations have clearly become an after-thought. They very much behave and feel like a tacked-on add-on at the last minute with the developers having largely forgotten that a Megami Tensei is suppose to have a compendium with demons. Unfortunately, this is the worst demon negotiation system that I have ever experienced with any Megami Tensei and arguably the worst monster-catching system in terms of the monster-catching genre. You send your demons out to survey an area, you randomly happen upon them in the dungeon, and then you’re asked if you want to pay money or give a particular item or reduce HP / MP to obtain a demon. Oddly enough, it seems like they overcompensated for this failure by trying to push the demons in images of the locales and yet, this kind of personifies the very problem with the new development and writing staff of modern Atlus compared to their forebears. Mythological creatures are no longer perceived as mysterious forces or fulfilling a specific philosophical role or narrative purpose; but rather, are just literal window-dressing. Cheap trinkets no different than the items you buy or the special ores you find to craft new items in a game. They no longer serve a narrative purpose and the modern writers are completely incurious about the mythology behind any of the demons that they use. Arguably, Atlus games no longer feel like Atlus games.
  • The NPCs no longer feel like real people like in Mainline, previous Devil Summoners, and even Persona games. 90 percent of the time, the NPCs are just there to espouse gameplay tips. It’s a massive departure from all previous Megami Tensei games and a serious disappointment for me. I’m guessing modern fans don’t care though.

The Pros:

  • Ringo and the other party members feel like actual people and I quite enjoy Ringo’s personality. I am quite happy that, instead of the silent protagonist model, Atlus decided to just toss out the self-contradiction of having a silent protagonist in favor of a full-fleshed out character with her own personality. The main character, Ringo, feels like a long-overdue breath of fresh air. The choices you make between which party member finds your views favorable also feel quite natural regardless of the choice and don’t feel like they’re forcing Ringo into saying or doing anything “out of character” in the context of her discourse with her party members. I’m quite pleased overall with this decision insofar as what I’ve currently played. I’m hoping there’s no weird narrative dissonance in the future events of this game.
  • The stylish visuals are great. I especially enjoy the opening; I like the contrast of the relaxed, Devil Summoner-style vibe and then showing a spiral of events that feel similar to the Digital Devil Saga openings. I worry that perhaps this shows they’re focused on style over substance, but I’ll withhold judgment until I finish the game as I am quite enjoying the early story so far. I do really like the artistic style of this game though.
  • I really enjoyed the opening with Ringo and her sister. I was genuinely surprised it went into the depth that it did. It might seem silly, but I found the concept of a creation by a higher-power being sent to “rectify” the world for its own interests to be intriguing. I’m hoping there’s more to it than Aion just being a generic, undefined “good” presence as the concept itself is intriguing to me and I really hope it is fully explored in this story.
  • The quick animation of Ringo doing a special attack every time you hit an enemy weakness is something I could do over, and over, and over, and over… and never get bored. 🙂
  • I’m quite enjoying the story so far and after the colossal failure that was SMTV’s story; I’m happy to be wrong about my initial assumptions based on what few commercial advertisements I saw of this game. I’ll reserve judgment until I finish a playthrough to give my full thoughts, the opening material is pretty strong though. The only oddity was that Ringo’s sister told her that nobody can know they’re agents of Aion… only for Ringo to immediately give that piece of information to the first person that she resurrected. The context later heavily implies it was anyone outside the group they were forming, but that was a bit confusing at first. I wouldn’t call it a plot hole though; more just a confusion of terms. Once the context was made clear from the interactions, my thoughts on the story so far are fairly positive. It’s possibly just a translation hiccup.
  • Despite aforementioned shortcomings explained in Cons, I do think the overall atmosphere and setting is fairly good so far. I enjoy the fact that Ringo’s origin, purpose, and behavior really make it feel like a cyberpunk themed Megami Tensei just like it’s predecessor and namesake. Even if it feels tonally different from Soul Hackers 1, the atmosphere so far feels firmly grounded in the appropriate genre and I think they did a good job so far.

Anyway, that’s it for my opinions so far. I’m not sure how they’ll change once I progress and hopefully finish this game before it leaves Gamepass, but I’m neutral overall due to the mixed feelings on the positives and negatives. Ringo being the biggest positive that this game offers thus far. I’m hoping her character gets more fleshed out and developed as the game continues.

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