• Welcome to Talking Time's third iteration! If you would like to register for an account, or have already registered but have not yet been confirmed, please read the following:

    1. The CAPTCHA key's answer is "Percy"
    2. Once you've completed the registration process please email us from the email you used for registration at percyreghelper@gmail.com and include the username you used for registration

    Once you have completed these steps, Moderation Staff will be able to get your account approved.

  • TT staff acknowledge that there is a backlog of new accounts that await confirmation.

    Unfortunately, we are putting new registrations on hold for a short time.

    We do not expect this delay to extend beyond the first of November 2020, and we ask you for your patience in this matter.

    ~TT Moderation Staff

Soul Hackers 2

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)

Official site
Japanese / English
Coming this August on pretty much everything except Switch, just shy of the 25th anniversary of the original's release. Mitsuru Hirata and Eiji Ishida direct and produce (Strange Journey, Radiant Historia, Tokyo Mirage Sessions), Shirow Miwa character designs (7th Dragon), Monaca compose (Nier). The contemporary multimedia cyberpunk of the mid-'90s succeeded by the contemporary neon fashionpunk of 20XX.

I anticipate and have already seen in action the uncomfortable friction in discussing or assessing whatever this game ends up being, fueled by the cultivated long-held cynicism in following the larger SMT franchise for the past long while, yearning for a status quo that's not going to return, and dismissing whatever's going to take its place on an almost reflexive basis. I'm sympathetic to the disregard to an extent in labeling this game as too derivative-seeming, because I think the associated comparisons to things like Digimon Cyber Sleuth or The Caligula Effect aren't misplaced, as those games take knowing and deliberate inspiration from that heritage. The blanket rejection in drawing those parallels however is not something I connect to, because I count them as derivative works that have soundly surpassed their inspirative sources and landed on a far more compelling expression of their partly shared thematics. If Soul Hackers 2 looks more like these recent peers and progeny than its literal predecessor, I sure hope it's taking more from them than mere superficial flair.

The litigation of whether or not the game acts in accordance with the tone and aesthetic of the first game has also overshadowed other talking points that make this project interesting by its own individual merits. There have always been people in the SMT audience who've had a sort of defeatist wishlist of featuring a female protagonist and a more adult playable cast in whatever game the franchise turns up, and Soul Hackers 2 seems primed to deliver on both fronts after a massive lapse of never getting either. Miwa's character designs are one of the parts I'm excited about the most because they to me embody the best the garish and abrasive visuality the game sports while endowing the cast with a kind of pomp not seen since the genuine articles of Kaneko's departed haute couture stylings. The contextualization of who the cast are and in which setting do a lot to root the fashion even at their leggiest and skin-baring as being about the attire first, as opposed to a pretext for semi-nudity. That's my rationalization anyway as it stands, and whether the game lives up to that idealization is something to be seen later. As raw designwork, I'm pretty appreciative of how uniformly hunky the cast are regardless of gender lines; a little K-pop, a little otome, a little visual kei. If the expected intercast socialization turns up here and contains a romantic or sexual element, it will be nice if it occurs between adults.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I sure as heck don't blame 'em for not announcing a Nintendo Switch release. It's already gonna be a challenge to get this game working on the platforms it's already been announced for without having to additionally factor in another less powerful gaming platform. I mean, Atlus usually doesn't release games on this many platforms concurrently.

If one happens it's gonna be later, after Soul Hackers 2 has seen success and Atlus has ironed out the inevitable bugs.
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
I really enjoyed Soul Hackers on the 3DS (I should replay it one of these days), it will be interesting to see what they do with 2, so I'm looking forward to this.
 

Becksworth

Aging Hipster Dragon Dad
I sure as heck don't blame 'em for not announcing a Nintendo Switch release. It's already gonna be a challenge to get this game working on the platforms it's already been announced for without having to additionally factor in another less powerful gaming platform. I mean, Atlus usually doesn't release games on this many platforms concurrently.

If one happens it's gonna be later, after Soul Hackers 2 has seen success and Atlus has ironed out the inevitable bugs.

Having just got done with SMT5, nothing in the trailer really stood out as impossible for the Switch to me, but yeah this seems like a first for Atlus in terms of number of different target platforms. Maybe a Switch version will be released later...
 
The trailer kinda gives me Neo: The World Ends with You vibes. Like, partly just by being a modern sequel to a game firmly rooted in the time it was made, but the images of (especially) the Delamancha cashier and Victor remind me of Neo TWEWY's shopkeepers as well. Also: it looks like the party is all human, but demons are still being used somehow?

Given Atlus' recent track record, this will probably be fun to play at least.
 

Pajaro Pete

(He/Himbo)
anyway in addition to daily demon videos, atlus has released slightly more indepth videos describing the game mechanics. turn on closed captioning for english subtitles.

Summoner's Guide Vol 1

Summoner's Guide Vol 2

the tl;dr: you equip demons like personas, right down to them adjusting a character's stats and resistances. when you hit an enemy weakpoint, it summons a demon, and at the end of the turn ringo can initiate an all out attack with the summoned demon. when you enter a dungeon, ringo ends her demons out to do investigation work, resulting in them finding items or new demons you can recruit (negotiation seems to be entirely out of combat). everyone's comps so far have just been, like, regular weapons and that's kind of lame, especially with the aesthetic being much flashier than previous soul hackers experiences.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
FleIlcO.png

Very happy with this design for Madame Ginko. Aging, if not particularly realistically, then aspirationally and somewhat authentically, reaching her namesake hair colour.
 

Pajaro Pete

(He/Himbo)
You can purchase DLC for the Soul Hackers 2 game, including outfits from your favorite* Atlus games (some outfits may not be be available in your region), new demons (some appearing in 3D for the very first time!), grinding stuff, and a brand new scenario featuring an Atlus Mystery Girl.

More importantly,
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I'm a mark for about half of the DLC demons but the thought of paying extra for Mara and Masakado is dispiriting.
 

R.R. Bigman

Coolest Guy
DLC costumes from SMT IV, yet nothing from V, which came out less than a year ago. Did even Atlus forget about that game?
 

YangusKhan

does the Underpants Dance
(He/Him/His)
Oh riiiight, this is  not coming to Switch right away. Well, dang. That's where all my SMT is now!
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
So is this any good? I'm not sure when I'll be able to buy or play it, but I haven't seen much talk about it in the few circles I run in.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
It's excellent. I'm just saving my breath until I'm done with it, most likely.
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
Ah, good to hear. I was planning on buying it anyway unless it was absolute crap, but I'm glad I have a good game to look forward to.
 

Gaer

chat.exe a cessé de fonctionner
Staff member
Moderator
I saw the hot pants on the first girl and just checked out from the game. I’ll happy hear your impressions about it, Peklo.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
euhF4Xi.jpg

Soul Hackers 2 presents a world that it considers to be gripped by an universal sense of stagnation. It might as well be the game script's favourite word, as it's stated outright from the foundational premise and reaffirmed steadily through townspeople chatter as well as the primary cast practically mugging at the camera, stating their shared views of cultural, economic, industrial and technological stagnation being the cumulative root cause for the hopeless future they are coping with in their individual ways. It's difficult not to see these tangents as lip service paid toward the game's ostensible home genre--whateverpunk--or as the writers simply venting out by now global and universal anxieties and the powerlessness inherent in being unable to meaningfully contribute to or "fix" a societal model that seems to slip through one's fingers at an ever-accelerating rate. They can also ring as deeply ironic, as the preachings of a game that is part of an over thirty-year-old franchised corporate legacy, whose continued existence has been facilitated by endlessly regurgitating and repurposing a massive trove of produced and catalogued art in neverending iteration, and as a game that resurrects a forgotten branch of that sprawling family tree a quarter-century later to rouse the affection or ire of the few who would recognize it.

The thematic trappings and visual semiotics of the larger cyberpunk-or-derivative genre are present in Soul Hackers 2, but its interest or ability to weave meaningful social criticism out of them aren't in emphasis for what its storytelling is about. In that way, it's much as Shin Megami Tensei has always been: wearing the senses-gratifying nowness of surrounding culture around itself for primarily aesthetic purposes while suffusing the whole with the demonic for its own brand of occultpunk misadventure. All throughout the decades of its existence, the games have responded to, and subsequently adopted modern trends and conventions in how to present themselves, even back when its creators projected a self-cultivated brand of irreverent rebellion. Soul Hackers 2 maintains that form, where the original's awed and anticipatorily speculative mid-'90s virtual reality futurism gives way not to the archetypally dystopic visions of near-future common to the genre in the past, nor even the cautiously optimistic sci-fi that arose in response to the doomed gloom of those works, but something more keenly contemporary tapped into the present zeitgeist: that of a disaffected, uncertain future open to possibilities no single person can conceptualize, stuck in a holding pattern and all but ready to plummet over the precipice.

All of those thematics, however spotlit they end up being, are presented, filtered and interpreted through the starring protagonist Ringo, agent of Aion. She and her partner Figue of the biblically hokey mononyms act as the heralds and embodiments of the sum total of humanity's accrued digital noise and accumulated sea of information from which they emerge, for a fish out of water set-up that's as apt as anything that might have been conceived for the game's setting. It almost was not to be, as development accounts have indicated that the straightlaced and unremarkable ally Arrow was the developers' initial pick for the protagonist, as he strongly exudes the kind of self-insertion mutability that most series protagonists are crafted from, meant to cater to the most prevalent presumed audience.

The long-held disgruntlement with that standard in some way echoed back or manifested internally for the creators, and so Ringo was elevated into the role she now inhabits to course correct toward something new. To put it bluntly, the decision may have salvaged the entire writing voice and direction of the game--we cannot know how an Arrow-lead Soul Hackers 2 may have played out, but for the game that exists now, its strong points habitually involve Ringo as a person, in her characterization and performance. She is not silent as self-insert leads often are, but vocally and emotively present in every scene in the game--even wordless segments that play out through body language and facial expressions by her and others present, forgoing bland and stoic witness to events. In the event when she does pipe up, Megan Taylor Harvey puts in an acting performance that should become a star-making role for anyone that manages to vocalize this range of joyful verisimilitude in a singular part. For all that Ringo is presented as an artificial life form coming to grips with a new mode of existence--the classic "A.I. learning about humanity" premise--her default is not stiff and formal naivete that gradually gets filled with humanized expression. Instead, Ringo from the outset exhibits a smug confidence in her own abilities, a playful intrigue toward new interactions with people, and insight that's not absent, simply untrained through practical application. The arc that Ringo undergoes in the game does not titanically rock her foundations and alter her sense of self--her experiences through others simply root her more firmly as who she is from the start, comfortable in the notion that there was no real endpoint to her personal journey, and that's why it was worth embarking on.

The bulk of interactions that define and shade Ringo are supported by the folks that become tangled in her apocalypse-preventing mission in Arrow, Milady and Saizo. All three come from opposing or unaffiliated ranks of the story's scuffling and shadowy organizations, unified by exceptional circumstance and the death-defying feats of Ringo's digital intervention, and so the group does not exhibit much unity rather than dysfunction. Working out that dynamic as it shifts along the way is the game's foremost avenue into its best self as far as writing goes, as the core group are explored thoroughly through a multitude of means, whether it be their dramatics-focused Vision Quests that shed light on their significant personal histories and motivations, the small asides in the friction that manifests as Ringo has to favour one or the other in conversation, or the many hangout events that result through storyline progression, discoveries in the dungeons, or quest completions.

These topics of conversation are enacted as not-quite-friends sharing drinks at a bar and casually shooting the breeze, and through them and practically all the rest of the game's writing it becomes evident that whatever similarities that can be invoked to the ubiquitous Persona model of RPG presentation and writing, the handle on making that type of content compelling, funny or consequential to who these characters even are is much more firmly grasped in this permutation of it. There are no repetitive "as you know" story recaps, no filling for time through sheer profusion of text, but line after line of excellently localized, lively expressions that do all the heavy lifting necessary to endear this cast as the squabbling frenemies that they are, next to the stellar acting performances by all involved. Investment in the game largely relies on endearment to the cast that define so much of it, and through all the little interactions that happen throughout that aim is served to its intent instead of sabotaged through habitual misfire.

As a game of focused scope, the character-driven narrative's other half resides in the dungeons that have defined the series as long and longer than any interpersonal dramatics have. It's a conception that can be difficult to reconcile today when the most popular entries in the series have shifted the pendulum--and fan engagement with it--so far astray from delighting in mazes of virtual graph paper. Soul Hackers 2 winds back the clock in spirit if not in form: for all that Ringo is emphasized as the game's deserved star within dungeons and without, the environments could just as well play from the first-person and be not at all different in practice; the low-angle perspective on navigation already arrives halfway there. The atmospheric texture of being entrapped in the mundane world being beset by the occult--a core appeal of the series as far as I deem it--is rich in the shipping docks, subway tunnels and abandoned buildings that constitute the game's dungeon aesthetic, especially when supported by the streamlined way of demon recruitment that forgoes negotiation (a loss, but an endurable experiment) in favour of sending in your own hordes to scout out and conduct recon in the environment; as someone whose enjoyment of the series rests heavily on how it features its demons, the small joy in having them turn up behind every unsuspecting, dim corner never stopped delighting for its own sake in seeing the mythological exist in symbiosis with the everyday. It's also how the game conditions one to react mechanically too, as in place of traditional treasure containers, the demons so sent out take their functional place and hand you the pre-determined and randomized goodies found along the way, a wonderfully neat and novel rationalization of what's simply a recontextualization of standard genre mechanics, but no less appreciated. This game would be hard-pressed to define as being "about" the demon roster, but it does not neglect them nor allow them to be absent from the proceedings--as 3D visualizations of Kaneko's art, these are the best models the series has ever seen, and a handful of old-new, less typical entries make the jump to this new standard, perhaps to signify the game's spinoff legacy.

In the abstract, the game's dungeon instinct is just so, but where it falters is in the wider picture. The dungeon RPG genre takes a specific mindset to be enamored by to begin with; in my experience it has been the capability to weather and even enjoy gradual, incremental repetition as a point of comfort and reassurance. That sense of existential security is in the genre's best works always met, offset and ultimately complemented by the dastardly inclination for rude and devious traps of navigational incertitude and flummoxing where the joy of understanding, surviving and returning intact from a particularly high hurdle is the game loop that manifests as so singularly addictive and alluring. Soul Hackers 2 has the staid repetition down--even down to there being literally one dungeon track shared across the majority of the storyline locations--but it has little to offset the burgeoning monotony that emerges in existing in its world, where the layout work lacks any kind of sense of disorientation or tricky navigational challenge. The danger of existing in this world of industrial demons is not realized as part of the practical and mechanical execution of the game's makeup, which only serves to endanger the game experience itself. The gradual ramp-up is there, but it's cut short before its time: what is the final dungeon and its ostensible navigational apex feels like a gentle bump in the road instead of the pitfall that it ideally would've registered as.

Why is it still enjoyable to dungeoneer in Soul Hackers 2? The answer lies in the theoretically, but not really optional Soul Matrix mindscapes housing the three party members' repressed psyches and memories. Don't take them for Persona 5-esque palaces of forced and clumsy visualized metaphors for their hosts's conditions, as they as the rest of the game are homogenized in presentation, in this case presenting a literally geometrical digiverse of sharp rectangles and cubes floating about in cyberspace. It's this otherwise standard aesthetic footprint that allows the dungeon design in this branch to grasp onto something denser and navigationally interesting, as the cubistic formation of the environment lends itself to more grid-based topography which ample examples have shown just tends to work better in this kind of dungeon game rather than loosely arranged curves and bends seen elsewhere. Because of the Matrix's status as technically optional (despite housing frankly integral party member power-ups and important characterization) there's also a sense the designers felt more audacious in the arrangement of the spaces, as it's here where the (personally adored) teleporter tiles and mazes come into play; one of the most memorable moments of the game is overlooking a floor and seeing over fifty of them in view. There's an additional presentational advantage in the Soul Matrix, suspended as it is in a digital void on an array of platforms, that allows a single horizontal floorplan to nonetheless exist on multiple degrees of elevation at once, in ways that can be visually scoped in addition to consulting the map along the way, for a navigational dynamic that simply does not arise anywhere else in the game. There is no escape from the game feeling like it's stretched out too thin over itself, but its best aspects and kernels of inspiration are typically found in these more artificial, constructed spaces that gesture toward the labyrinthine excursions of old.

The unease with which the game interacts with its own history and precedent is perhaps most saliently realized in its battle mechanics. Megami Tensei as a whole has a high reputation for its long iterated-on shared fundamentals, but it's not a point altogether separate from the game's self-professed message of creative stagnation. The introduction of Press Turn nearly twenty years past synergized excellently with the already present focus on elemental push and pull the series had leaned on, and it was a fine system to maintain and riff on--to a point. The series has clutched it close for so long that yet another RPG epic tuning the same orchestra for yet another reprise has personally frustrated me to the point that I delight in any divergence from its baseline, even when they don't comparatively work quite as well. Soul Hackers 2 thus avoids it, and if there's any precedent that its Sabbaths signal toward, they are evocative of Strange Journey's Demon Co-Op, just in less restrictive form and thus more integral to the expected patterns of play. It's a great boon for the game that lends it a curious structure where taking advantage of weaknesses piles on the stacks needed to power up a Sabbath follow-up, and initially all four characters can serve these roles just as well. Through the game's gradual customization curve, however, specialization becomes more and more beneficial to lean on, as the characters develop individual passives and niches that allow them to operate best in certain strategic roles, such as favouring a certain element they are the best at utilizing compared to their peers. It's an inverse of many other games where the powercreep of hours of play would lead to initially distinct characters ultimately becoming identically omnicapable at everything--with Soul Hackers 2 the situational play at end-game is much more focused on optimizing niches than at the start, but also never taking away the option to improvise as needed outside of those specializations.

The solid conceptual foundation of the mechanics would be silenced prematurely if it found no voice in the battle design itself, but Soul Hackers 2 positively sings when it comes to the act of meeting demon with demon. There have always been little oddities that bother one about even the most sound entries in the series mechanically: Nocturne is dominated by Fog Breath; the IV duology features a cast of paper mache demons thanks to its omission of a vitality stat; V featured an immense level requirement wall and descended into item-based roteness thanks to its do-all analyze items and party-protecting dampeners, which mostly all encounters were structured around. Nothing about Soul Hackers 2 exhibits these kinds of individual downfalls that unbalance the play experience, and (playing on Hard throughout, including DLC) the game is happy to push back with all it has to make sure you'll reciprocate in turn, without regressing into attritional and protracted endurance play. The ways in which the game poses these battle-based questions are more diverse than usual in part thanks to the game's premise of Devil Summoners squaring up against one another. It leads to confrontations where the boss is in command of a vast array of demons, patching up the ranks with new arrivals as you deal with the others, leading to wildly dynamic and flexible bouts where the strategy to take is trickier to isolate and act upon instead of battles against a single powerful meat wall. These group confrontations are numerous and always serve up some kind of new twist on the mechanics that test your understanding of them in novel ways, and even the more solitary battles exhibit the same sense of puzzle-leaning curveball sensibility to them. Megami Tensei has a typically overstated reputation for its difficulty as the common perception goes, but this game was one of the only ones where I actively engaged in the practice of switching up demons multiple times per battle or used niche skills as a matter of base survival instead of for-the-sake-of-it flourishes, and this is not even a battle engine that severely rewards or punishes one for taking part in the elemental dance of death like Press Turn does. To me, it speaks highly of the dynamism and level of engagement just the base mechanics in interaction with the flow of battle design create, for probably the most enjoyable permutation of demon melee I've experienced in any of the games.

A lot about Soul Hackers 2 was decided at first blush for many of its observers. There was recoiling and potshots taken at the character aesthetic, skepticism as for whether it could live up to or meaningfully resonate with the original, and dismissal founded upon its surface resemblance to other RPGs which also often aren't considered individually for their merits or faults, but simply lumped together as irrelevant because they look "budget", as the catch-all term for artistic disregard goes. The same can be said for more positive dispositions, like my own: I wanted this game to be good--typically I wish that for all games and media--but it wasn't an outlook that brushed aside the misgivings and erased criticality whole cloth. That unease is part and parcel with much of the medium, and more pressingly with Atlus's games and with Megami Tensei--precedent has cultivated and nourished that seed of doubt. What is exceptional to me about Soul Hackers 2 is that for all its limitations, for all the half-baked executions on stellar concepts in it, there is no wider thematic caveat to single out, no fumbling of tone and message in its narrative or presentational extrapolations thereof. It's not a wildly audacious game, but neither is it complacent in the subjects it talks about nor betray what it aims to communicate with those ideas as it does it. It's a game that even when faced with existential desperation and flirts with the Great Man Theory to seek refuge in, it ultimately musters up a kind of deprecating self-awareness that everyone's a bit of a fuck-up and no one has a good answer for problems that are much larger than the individual. Women aren't reduced to victims in it, queer people aren't punchlines, the protagonist isn't a mirror for wish-fulfillment (except maybe her jacket) without whom the people around her don't socially exist, and the cast are all young adults with personal, private lives all of which they value, guard, and occasionally share, with an honest portrayal that sex and sexuality are part of those relationships--outside of the player's context--when relevant. I don't know what kind of takeaway most will get from Soul Hackers 2, but for me it was a maturation of a studio's output in the way these stories are told, with much less bargaining to be made through continued interactions with it. I will happily take part in its world's twilight pizza and beers afterparty.

~~~

I heard some chatter about the game being about 25 to 40 hours before release, which... I can't even imagine what kind of critical path beelining you would have to do to pull that off; my timer at the end with all quests done, the Soul Matrix explored as much as possible on an initial playthrough and the DLC played was 80 hours. I still didn't tire of it even after that long, and might keep up with New Game+ to fight the hardest battles, explore what's left and fuse the rest of the compendium. It's simply a world that I enjoy existing in, which is a great claim for any game.
 
Last edited:
Top