The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Shin Megami Tensei has made a name for itself catering to
the mature and hardcore RPG crowd. Statistics, elemental weaknesses, and demon
fusion keep battles intensely strategic alongside complex stories and memorable
characters. Soul Hackers helped create this legacy in 1997 for the Sega Saturn,
but it never made its way to North America. Now with an enhanced 3DS version,
admission is finally open to the futuristic tale about technology going awry. The
wait was worth it. Soul Hackers is an addictive journey with a gripping
storyline and contemplative combat.
The story about a soul-stealing virtual city is intriguing
and full of twists, and the futuristic backdrop also works well. The idea of
exploring a cyberpunk city is not new to RPGs, but the atmosphere immersed me
from the get-go, with inhabitants dressed in flashy, high-tech gear and
computerized beats blaring through the city.
Even with a great setting, where Soul Hackers makes it
biggest impression is with its cast. One character has two disparate
personalities in her body, and the well-written banter between them adds
levity. The mature tale also touches on dark themes, but it stands out by
focusing on the importance of family and its hardships. For instance, it has
some great interactions with an angsty character and his father struggling to
communicate and understand one another. It also handles loss in a compelling
way, and watching these multi-dimensional characters confront tough issues is a
Soul Hackers hooked me with its demon recruitment, which
adds layers to its traditional combat. You lure demons to your side by choosing
the correct dialogue responses or giving them items. Additionally, demon fusion
provides plenty of opportunities for more powerful combatants. You can even
fuse demons for higher damage-dealing swords. Not much strays in battle from
the classic SMT/Persona formula. The party consists of two regular characters
and four slots for demons; the four demons allow for party customization,
letting you take on skills your main characters lack, or buff up on valuable
powers like healing. Experimenting with different party combinations is fun,
and kept me power-hungry for better demons.
Demon personalities also play a role in strategy; those with
kind personalities prefer to heal, while wild types fancy attacking. If you
select the opposite, sometimes they won't follow your orders and use the turn
to their preference. This can be infuriating, but the unpredictability forces
you to adjust your strategy around their potential insubordination.
Soul Hackers isn't for the faint of heart; boss battles are
harrowing and demon selection can make-or-break battles. For instance, one boss
with a weakness to magic blocks it after two turns. That means you have to
capitalize on those first turns to stand a chance. Still, the bigger battles
gave me an adrenaline rush, causing me to think and study my party before each
turn. I can't say many turn-based systems have caused me to consider the
consequence of misusing a turn like Soul Hackers.
Dungeon design wasn't at its high point in 1997, and this is
clear in Soul Hackers. Dungeons are bland and the places you visit, mostly
factories and warehouses, aren't that exciting. However, a few make an
impression, like the art museum where you jump into paintings and the haunted
house with story narration. To its credit, even with all the required
backtracking, the grind doesn't wear on you because of the option to talk your
way out of combat. It helps not being forced to fight every battle, as does the
reasonable encounter rate.
Soul Hackers isn't an easy fight, but it's worth
every moment that it beats you down. It became my addiction; I was completely
enamored with besting bosses, recruiting demons, and finding out where the
storyline would go next. I still can't believe that a game that came out in
1997 feels so fresh and exciting over 15 years later.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.