The group of bounty hunters gathers in their favorite bar once more. For the first time, protagonist Ringo pays attention to the lush cherry blossom decoration over the rooftop. Her friends say the real ones are even more beautiful and laugh at the idea of a bunch of Devil Summoners having a picnic and watching the flowers. The friendly mockery leads to a funny yet endearing message: “I think we oughta show Ringo the fun side of being human, don’t you?” Sadly, Soul Hackers 2 doesn’t seem to agree with the sentiment.
Soul Hackers 2 is the sequel to 1997’s Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, an RPG spun from the Shin Megami Tensei series. 25 years later, after games like Persona 5 put the SMT universe in the spotlight, the landscape couldn’t be more different.
Set in the 21st century, two clans of Devil Summoners fight for an ancient power. As a result, Aion, a highly developed artificial intelligence far closer to reality than I’m comfortable with, predicts that doomsday is forthcoming. The only ones capable of preventing it are Ringo and Figue, two personifications of Aion in the flesh. Both can hack people’s souls to bring them back to life and give them a second chance while serving as key pieces to prevent doom.
The premise is interesting, and although the villains don’t carry enough weight to stand out, I was invested in the story. Naturally, the pasts of the three characters joining Ringo on her quest intertwine with the larger narrative. There are glimpses about the meaning of mortality around Ringo’s gift, as well as how the soul-hacked choose to act when allowed to settle a long-standing score or recover a bond with a partner. But the most interesting plot points feel rushed without enough room to create meaningful stakes or emotional tolls. As a result, the few moments that stand out feel unearned.
Gameplaywise, Soul Hackers 2 doesn’t offer an incentive to stray off the main path and spend more time in its otherwise interesting world. Side quests are unremarkable and based around revisiting areas that aren’t interesting to explore. The combat is more on par with Persona 5 than Shin Megami Tensei V, offering many upgrades and skills to tailor your experience. Only that it’s far more streamlined, lacking the enticing press-turn mechanic from the mainline games that add turns when you exploit an enemy’s weakness. Instead, doing so adds a stack to the Sabbath, which acts as an all-out-attack at the end of your turn. It makes for a pretty spectacle as the arena is slowly engulfed in a colorful aura the more attacks you can stack. But it also makes for unnecessarily long encounters without much risk. Enemies can’t exploit your party’s weaknesses, either, so you can always just heal up afterward.
Throughout the 30 hours it took to hit credits, I kept trying to latch onto the elements that work. Soul Hackers 2’s saving grace lies in its main characters, each with a distinct personality that often clashes with the rest. Witnessing the group’s growth by putting their differences aside and opening themselves up to camaraderie was a joy. I loved their conversations about freelancing as Devil Summoners as much as the tough chats about the people they lost over a meal or a drink. But there’s not a seat on the table for the player to take it all in.
During that night at the bar, the group wondered if they’d still be alive by the time the flowers bloomed again. And I know that they will because I put in the effort to make that happen. I just wish I was rewarded with a bit more humanity and meaning to my struggles by seeing them create that memory for themselves.