Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Oct 11th 2015 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under Atlus, rpg, sega, saturn, sony, playstation, nintendo, 3ds, turn based

Greetings for another year of RFGeneration's Spooktober Reviews. This year, I'm doing something a little different. I'm finally taking the time to start talking about one of the best series of role playing games that mixes quite perfectly with everybody's favorite cosplay holiday. Shin Megami Tensei is a long running series that is confusing to follow from start to finish, partially because so many games remain exclusive to Japan. Our game today was among the titles of games Western fans never thought they would play outside of a fan translation patch. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, is originally a Saturn release, and later got a port to the Playstation. In 2012, Atlus released an upgraded port for Nintendo's 3DS, and this version was released internationally the following year.

Shin Megami Tensei is filled with almost everything you could ever desire for a Halloween game, outside of real fear. The series lore is filled with demons and elements of the supernatural. Each game and spinoff takes these base elements and tweaks them in some fashion. The Devil Summoner spinoff series started on the Saturn, and Soul Hackers is actually the second game in this spinoff series. The first Devil Summoner remains in that group of Japan exclusives that Atlus has not released overseas anywhere yet.

Soul Hackers has a premise and plot that is extremely close to its title. You play as a member of a small group of hackers, Spookies. Early in the game, your close girl friend, Hitomi, ends up being possessed by the demon Nemissa. The problem is that Nemissa only knows her name, so the story has you working to unravel the mystery of this rather nice demon, and what her purpose is. On top of that, the game plays with the idea of supernatural elements and creatures dealing with the human luxury of the modern technology of 1996, and how they can use it to their advantage.

Soul Hackers has most of the older features of the series. Dungeons are in first person, demons can be talked to and recruited into your party, and cutscenes are static, among other features. Some differences in this game compared to the series is the relationship between Devil Summoners and demons. In order to use their services, demons require a type of currency, Magnetite, for their time; this currency is different from the Yen you use at the stores for your two human characters. One of the stores is an exchange, and since demons have their own currency, its what they'll drop. In order to buy anything at the store, you'll have to turn some of your demon money into people money, but keep enough to pay your demons. You get one free demon that does not cost anything to have in the party. There are six total party slots, with three of those filled at all times; the other three can mostly be left empty when you're actually exploring the dungeons. You will want a full party before you fight the boss though. By the end of the game, I had more money than I could spend, with hundreds of thousands of both types of currency.

After getting through the entire game, I can say that Soul Hackers is a solid role playing game. There's a lot of depth around planning for dungeons, between demon recruitment, fusion between demons, and fusion with weapons. You'll be busy before, in the middle, and after every dungeon. The dungeons are also relatively easy to explore compared to a lot of other first person RPGs in this style. You have a map that stays filled once you explore a tile. On top of the handy map, movement is quite smooth once you learn how to strafe. The actual dungeon design feels twenty years old, so expect plenty of huge, labyrinthine maps.

The biggest problem of the game comes from its own random battles. I can understand a fair challenge, and getting beat down a few times when you try to push a couple floors too deep in a dungeon before you have the levels to back it up. This is a staple feature in the earlier Shin Megami Tensei games, but I never felt like it was as bad as in Soul Hackers. I cannot count the number of times I got randomly ambushed into a random battle, and my party was wiped out before I even got a chance to fight back or run away. Sometimes you're not even ambushed, you pick your attacks thinking you can win, but suddenly find out that these new enemies hit like a semi, and you're dead before the next turn. I feel this is because you get a Game Over not when your entire party is wiped out, but when your main character falls. The reason why I feel its more unfair in this game is because Nemissa can use items. You get a Game Over as soon as your main character falls. He could be the first one to fall from enemy focus attacks, while everybody else is alive and well, Game Over. I feel the Game Over trigger should have been both your main character and Nemissa falling. Save points are your friend, and save points next to healing rooms are the best places to grind in dungeons.

Soul Hackers makes a fine game even when accounting for its age, and it is a great addition to any Atlus fan's library. It also might be the smoothest game to use to transition into the older and even more archaic gameplay styles of the classic Megami Tensei library. I hope that the first Devil Summoner gets the same localization treatment as Soul Hackers, and at least gave the West an official version of another Japan exclusive Saturn game. Japan did get an upgrade to the first Devil Summoner on the Playstation Portable, but of course they did not release it anywhere else. If you're looking for a real Halloween RPG, Soul Hackers is probably one of the weakest in the Shin Megami Tensei umbrella, along with the Persona series. You want real, crushing, dark atmosphere with a story to match? I'd recommend Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, or the Digital Devil Saga series, all for Sony's Playstation 2.

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I've not played any of the SMT/Persona titles, but have always been curious about them.  Kind of makes me wish I'd bought Persona 1 and 2 on PlayStation when they were cheap and freely available, versus the insane amount they go for now Sad

Where in the series would you recommend one start for a relative RPG noob who has no prior experience with the franchise?
@MetalFRO: For ease of use I'd say that Soul Hackers is the best one to get a feel for the classic SMT design. After that, go for Nocturne to see a modernization.

Digital Devil Saga is more of a standard turn based design, and modernized to a degree. It also looks great for a PS2 game, it was based on Nocturne's graphics engine.

Persona 3 is a good place to start to see what all the Persona buzz is about. 4's a better game in my opinion but the first real boss is a noob killer, so its not a good place to start.
I completely missed these games as MetalFRO pointed out.  I feel like I missed out on a really cool franchise.  Maybe someday I can get into it.

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