|Release: April 16, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Shin Megami Tense: Devil Summoner - Soul Hackers was originally released on the Sega Saturn back in 1997. It was regarded, at the time, as another solid entry into the impressive Shin Megami catalogue; a catalogue which includes the best-selling Persona games. Atlus, perhaps riding the wave of success that is Persona 4: Golden, has decided to remake Soul Hackers for the 3DS. Despite being called a remake, I’m sad to say that the new 3DS version plays more like a port.
The first thing that strikes me as retro is the story. Although Soul Hackers is set in the future, it’s a futuristic interpretation nearly two decades old. The story takes place in a city run by a low-resolution computer system called Paradigm X. As part of a small hacking group called the Spookies, you come into the possession of a unique device called a COMP. Only by wielding this device can you recruit and combat the demons that have suddenly appeared in the city. The over the top cyberpunk atmosphere of the game doesn’t feel as cool as it did in the 90’s. If it was made today I might mistake the game as a parody, not meant to be taken seriously.
The archaic game design isn’t confined to the story elements. The presentation of the game also feels old. World map travel consists of aerial images of different sections of the city, connected by a network of roads. You are a blue icon on the screen. Green NPC dots roam around for you to talk to. Once you reach your destination, the view changes to a first-person perspective. This does little to make the game feel less dated. The restrictive first person gameplay suffers from being too retro. It only lets you move in four directions. Also, characters are invisible until you occupy the same space as them. It is way too easy to miss characters or events, making this game a nightmare for completionists.
The combat also feels really old. The turn-based combat screen displays nearly frozen images of the enemies in front of you. Even the demons, whose grotesque features should disturb, don’t have any impact on the player thanks to the small size of the 3DS screen. In fact, the game utilizes too few of the advanced features the 3DS offers. The 3D effect does little more than separate the text box and the character image from the background scene during conversations. It makes me wonder why they bothered. Even some of the stuff they did update, such as the multi-layered coating on cinematic cutscenes, feels half-done. Not every cutscene in the game has multi-layered coating. I can’t think of any excuse for this. It just hints at a lack of commitment from the developers.
The audio falls right in line with the rest of the ported design. The in-game tracks have not been remixed and the score, as a whole, does not feel current. Nor do the sound effects. One addition for the 3DS version is voice acting for most of the dialogue. With the voice acting the developers, once again, show signs of not committing to the project. The script is poorly localized and the voice work suffers from it; the voice actors sound very mundane. The subpar audio is more shocking considering the game comes packed with a CD containing newly arranged versions of some of the theme songs. Why make the songs if they only appear in the opening and not the rest of the game?
Now, if you're the nostalgic type who can look past the ported presentation, the gameplay in Soul Hackers is incredibly deep and challenging. Like most RPGs, you’ll be keeping track of ability points, deciding which abilities to advance when you level up. You’ll also purchase weapons and equipment. The part of the game that has the most depth is demon recruitment. Recruiting the right demons takes hard work and careful planning. It can also, at times, be tedious. An impatient gamer who ignores this section of Soul Hackers deprives themselves of the most rewarding and engaging experience the game has to offer.
Befriending demons and building their trust is no easy task. When engaged in combat, you have the ability to talk to a demon rather than attack it. If the demon is feeling friendly there is a chance it will join your team. If not, it may either let you go or attack depending on the hostility of the creature and the conversation choices you make. Having demons of the same type in your group also helps the recruiting process. In a cool detail, the phase of the moon changes the attitude of the demons (i.e.: when the moon is full demons are extremely tenacious). Should you manage to successfully conscript a demon, they don't fall in line immediately. Instead, they have a trust meter that must be built through appealing to their particular nature. There are six different personalities a demon may display: wild, sly, kind, calm, dumb, and frank. Different personalities interpret your conversation actions differently. This gives even the non-fighting portion of the combat an exciting unpredictability.