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Shin Megami: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers Review

Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 04/16/13 | Genre: RPG

In 1997, the Sega Saturn was a hot system in Japan. Sadly, many of the RPG’s released on that platform, and during those times, never found a way to make it outside of the land of the rising sun. As the years have passed, the industry has grown, and niche titles have found a larger audience, companies like Atlus are willing to take a few more risks. Fourteen years after the original title was released on the Sega Saturn, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is finally out in North America.  

In Amami City, they have created a worldwide network of computers, with a fast connection, and are allowing a limited number of people to access a virtual simulation called Paradigm X. This program is based on a “virtual real world” and users access it via desktop computers. As mentioned above, Shin Megami tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers was released in 1997. The world was a much different place back then. Dreams of high-speed internet and computers in our pockets were something out of a science fiction movie. Heck, Google Fiber, now about to enter its second market, is something that wasn’t even seen as possible back then.

The plot and setting of Soul Hackers may seem a bit comical in 2013.  But just stick with me, the game is really quite good. 

Your character, who you get to name, is part of a group called The Spookies. The game begins with you and your best friend, Hitomi, also a member of The Spookes, hacking into a server to get your name added on the Paradigm X beta list. Like the setting, the visuals and presentation of the dialogue is very dated. While time was not spent in updating the visuals, Atlus had to translate the game--since it never was released outside of Japan--and had all of the dialogue fully voiced. This is something the original Saturn version never had.

As players travel from area to area, you can really see how far the genre has come. You move a little icon around a map and try to locate where you need to go. The problem is, there isn’t much hand-holding. The players is left to wander around each of the areas without any specific direction as to where the next area is. Somewhat helpful is the ability to hold down the R button to get a text-overlay of what areas are on the map. Still, I found this to be the biggest annoyance of Soul Hackers. 

Once you get where you should be, Soul Hackers has you navigate each level in First Person. As you walk through the area, it is revealed on the map and a limited number of icons can be left  to recall specific areas. It is here where you also face off against demons in randomized battles. Your party is assembled with up to six units. Three are in the front row and three are in the back row. 

Players can assign orders to each unit, or have the game auto attack. During most missions, auto-attacking seems to work fine. You can also choose to Talk to a demon and try and convince them to join your party. This allows you to build out your party. However, each demon has different moods and won’t join you unless they like how you answer their questions or you give them Money, Items, or Magnetite. Even if you can convince a demon to join you, there is only so much room for them in your inventory. Players can then register a Demon, to purchase them later, or begin Fusing them, in 2’s or 3’s, to create more powerful Demons. As Demons don’t level, this is the only way to get them more powerful.

Each Demon also has a specific Cost Point, or CP, designated to them. For each Demon you have summoned, in your party, you will spend a resource called Magnetite for each step you take with them. The more Demons, or the more powerful they are, the higher the CP cost per step. If you don’t have any Magnetite available, you can’t have Demons summoned. This resource can be farmed at the conclusion of each battle. Excess Magnetite can even be transferred into Money so you can purchase equipment and items.

Atlus has included 30 new Demons in the 3DS version of Soul Hackers, greatly increased the load times of each area, created a brand new opening sequence, and allowed you to repurchase Demons you have Fused into new Demons. There is also utilization of the Street Pass Feature. This allows you to earn Coins to buy new demons.

The best part about Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is the story. This game will quickly remind you that story used to be the main draw of the franchise. I greatly enjoyed the interaction of each of the characters, enemies, and the demons. The addition of the voice acting was a wise choice. Most of the time, these voices are poorly done. Here, Atlus must be applauded at the great care that went into the selection of each voice. They all brought something to the table and made the experience much better.

First-run copies also come with a soundtrack featuring the 1997 tunes of Japanese rock. It is worth trying to hunt down a copy with the soundtrack as I found it to add to the overall experience of the game.

You may think that old graphics and a clunky, dated interface would equal a disappointing experience that should have been left back in 1997. However, this game is fun, the story is great, and seeing what we, as English Speaking gamers missed, is a crime. I am glad to finally have been given the opportunity to play Soul Hackers in my native tongue and praise the folks at Atlus who gave North American gamers a chance to experience the beginning of the the Shin Megami: Devil Summoner series.

Soul Hackers is available as both a cartridge and a digital title via the Nintendo eShop.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 04/18/13
ESRB Details: Rated for Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence. This is a role-playing game in which players assume the role of a young hacker involved with demons in a fantasy metropolis. Players explore dungeons, negotiate with enemies, and engage in turn-based battles with human and demon-like creatures. Players mostly use firearms and magic spells to kill a variety of demons, spirits and other enemies. Damage is sometimes indicated by screen-shaking effects and punching/zapping sounds. Still-frame sequences depict other violent imagery: figures with blood on their faces; characters clutching bloody wounds or standing in pools of blood. During the course of the game, some female demons wear outfits that expose their breasts; others have phallic-shaped heads or torsos. A couple of demons (e.g., “Incubus,” and “Succubus”) have sexual characteristics that are detailed in text (e.g., “It ravishes women while they sleep, impregnating them' and 'They visit sleeping men and tempt them into engaging in sexual congress with them”). The words “sh*t” and “a*shole” appear in dialogue.
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