A group of bounty hunters gather again at their favorite bar. The protagonist Ringo first notices the lush cherry blossom decorations on the roof. Her friends say real people are prettier, and laugh at the idea of a group of demon summoners having a picnic and looking at flowers. The friendly taunt led to a funny but endearing message: “I think we should show Ringo the funny side of being human, don’t we?” Sadly, Soulhacker 2 doesn’t seem to share that sentiment.
Soul Hackers 2 is the sequel to 1997’s Demon Summoner: Soul Hackers, an RPG spin-off from the Shin Megami Tensei series. 25 years later, after games like Persona 5 put the SMT world in the spotlight, things are very different.
Set in the 21st century, two demon summoner clans fight for ancient power. As a result, the highly developed AI is closer to reality than I have accepted Aion predicts the end of the world. The only ones who can stop it are Ringo and Figg, two incarnations of Aion. Both can hack people’s souls to bring them back to life and give them a second chance while serving as a key part of preventing doom.
The premise is interesting, and while the villains don’t have enough weight to stand out, I’m still invested in the story. Naturally, three characters join Ringo’s past as intertwined with the larger story. Around Ringo’s gift, a glimpse into the meaning of death and how soul blackened people choose to act when allowed to resolve long-standing problems or restore a relationship with a partner. But the funniest plot points feel rushed, with little room to create meaningful stakes or emotional losses. As a result, those few standout moments felt unearned.
In terms of gameplay, Soul Hackers 2 doesn’t offer the incentive to stray from the main path and spend more time in its otherwise fun world. Side quests are unobtrusive and based on revisiting uninteresting areas. Combat is closer to Shin Megami Tensei V than Persona 5, offering many upgrades and skills to customize your experience. It’s just that it’s leaner and lacks the tantalizing press-to-turn mechanic of the mainline game, which adds turns when you exploit an enemy’s weakness. Instead, doing so adds a stack to Sabbath, which acts as an all-out attack at the end of your turn. You can stack more attacks as the arena is slowly engulfed by colorful halos, which makes it a pretty spectacle. But it also leads to unnecessarily prolonged encounters without much risk. Enemies also can’t exploit your team’s weaknesses, so you can always recover afterward.
During the 30 hours of getting the credits, I’ve been trying to catch the elements that work. The saving grace of Soul Hackers 2 is its main characters, each with a distinct personality that often clashes with the others. It is a joy to witness the growth of a team by putting aside differences and opening up and embracing camaraderie. I love their talk about freelancers as demon summoners and the tough talk about people they lose over a meal or a drink. But there isn’t a single seat at the table for players to concentrate on.
At the bar that night, the group wondered if they were still alive when the flowers bloomed again. I know they will because I try to do it. I just hope to gain more humanity and meaning to my struggles by seeing them create memories for themselves.