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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers

Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is rooted in the same basic lore as the popular Persona series, though newcomers to the MegaTen franchise may be in for a shock when they pop in Soul Hackers. Though Atlus has given Soul Hackers a few upgrades, it still retains the same mechanical underpinnings of its 1997 release. The throwback mechanics have a classic charm, but for some "classic charm" may translate to "outdated."

Soul Hackers is not remake, but rather an enhanced port. Visuals arenít much different than they were on the Saturn. There are a few nips and tucks, as well as 3D support (which is forgettable), but much of what youíll see is right out of the 90ís. Visuals are flat, with just enough detail to tell a wall from a door, but even then you may find yourself wandering hallways in search of some unseen element. I can accept NPCs not showing up on the map as part of the gameís charm. At the same time, the choppy movement and clunky UI are best left in the 90ís.

The soundtrack is, like the visuals, a complete throwback. Unlike the visuals, however, time has been much kinder. It works well with the cyberpunk theme. Soul Hackers, at times, resembles a visual novel more than an RPG, so the addition of fully-voiced characters is one of the gameís more welcome enhancements.


Gameplay:

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a fun look back at 90ís Internet culture. Everywhere you look there are echoes of cyberpunk novels and movies like Hackers. This is combined with the series more familiar occult and spiritual roots. Even in cyberspace, youíll run into spirits and demons who both help and hinder your adventure.

You are an elite hacker in Amami City, one of the most wired cities in the world thanks to the shadowy tech company that practically runs the city. The corporation is gearing up the beta for its latest product, Paradigm X, an online world promising to connect the city like never before. After gaining entry into the closed beta, you are greeted by a literal "Ghost in the Machine," that reveals the final memories of a man attempting to escape a building full of demons. Coincidentally, the leader of your hacker group comes across a demon-summoning computer that belonged to the man in your vision Ė dropping you into a mystery involving the corporation and Paradigm X.

Most of your time in Soul Hackers is spent roaming 1st person dungeons in search of clues and enemies. Dungeons are blocky hallways and not very interesting, especially for the amount of time you spend in them. Other than walls, nothing else appears in the screen. Anytime you come across something of interest, youíre prompted with a text window indicting youíve found something interesting. Sometimes it is just an NPC; other times it is a clue.

The system is archaic and a missed opportunity to help update the game for a wider, more modern audience. Youíll spend a lot of time wandering through dungeons hoping for some sort of prompt. There are no visual clues to help guide the way. This becomes a bigger problem deeper in the game when you also have to solve puzzles and navigate trickier dungeon layouts. You do get an onscreen map, which does help.

I also wasnít a fan of the actual movement, which is mapped just to the D-pad. Movement is clunky, especially when you need to turn around. Iím sure this is a legacy issue, but again, it is missed opportunity.

The wealth of systems that make up Soul Hackers guarantee you always have something to do, though on occasion the game does feel a bit bloated. Some portions go on for way longer that they reasonably should, repeating the same dull set of actions for hours without any sort of break in gameplay. The longer you spend grinding away at these same tasks, the more Soul Hackers begins to show its age.


Difficulty:

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers places a lot on the backs of players. New mechanics are always accompanied by a brief tutorial of some sort, but the tutorials never go beyond a surface-level explanation. I enjoyed figuring things out, but Soul Hackers seems to demand near-instantaneous mastery of mechanics. Even with additions like difficulty levels and a number of helpful assists, Soul Hackers is a tough game to get into Ė at least initially.

If youíre able to stick with Soul Hackers through the early bumps and scrapes, gameplay does balance out. As with nearly every RPG, you have to spend just as much time digging through menus and planning your party as you do exploring the world. Surprise attacks are common and failure is guaranteed if you arenít prepared. This is especially true of some bosses, who may cause you to spike your 3DS in frustration.

New to the 3DS version is a special in-game store that lets you purchase rare demons using currency earned via StreetPass. Alternately, you can use 3DS Play Coins. A few rare demons in your party doesnít mean instant success, but encounters are much more manageable as you learn the gameís finer points.


Game Mechanics:

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers doesnít want for mechanical depth. There is a lot going on at any given time and part of the fun is attempting to align the gameís myriad of mechanics. Many of the same gameplay elements found in more recent entries Ė recruiting demons, fusion, and loyalty, for example Ė are present, though in slightly older form. At any given time, youíre charged with managing multiple resources and keeping various modifiers (such as moon phases) in check.

Conversations are one of the gameís more interesting, and important, aspects. After encountering an enemy, you can choose to converse with it. If your response jives with their personality, you might be able to bypass the battle or even earn their allegiance. At the same time, a wrong answer can lead to a fight. Learning to successfully negotiate is important; it is the only way to build your party and earn some resources, especially money. Once a demon is in your party, there isnít a guarantee it will stick around. If a demon doesnít approve of your actions (including how it is used in combat), it may disobey your commands or quit.

Alternately, battles are the only way to earn experience, unlocking the ability to negotiate with higher-level demons, and earn Magnetite, which is required for summoning and maintaining demons. A large party can quickly drain your Magnetite stocks, forcing you to decide between a large, powerful party, or a smaller, weaker one.

Party management is easier once you delve into the Demon Fusion system. Up to three demons in you cadre can be fused together, creating new demons. Fused demons are usually more powerful and will sometimes carry over its "parentís" skills. Eventually you earn the ability to fuse demons with your weapons, earning new player skills. The systems offer a lot of customization, though mastery requires both patience and experimentation.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a fun throwback, though in order of fully appreciate everything it has to offer, youíll need patience and the ability to overlook some of its "older" quirks.

**Note: Soul Hackers is available both as a physical release and as a download on the 3DS eShop.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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