Soul Hackers 2 Review (PS5) A Great JRPG That Does Its Best With A Limited Budget

Soul Hackers 2 PS5 ReviewSoul Hackers 2 is another spin-off from the great Shin Megami Tensei franchise. The SMT (Shin Megami Tensei) franchise spawned Persona, among many others, including Soul Hackers. The original Soul Hackers released on the Sega Saturn and PlayStation but never made it outside Japan until Atlus decided to remake it on the Nintendo DS. Now, years later, the sci-fi iteration of the franchise finally gets a new addition. Unfortunately, it seems like it got the short end of the stick regarding its budget despite doing the very most it can with such humble production values.

Soul Hackers 2 Review (PS5) A Great JRPG That Does Its Best With A Limited Budget

A Decent Story That Blends The Supernatural With The Scientific

Soul Hackers 2 tells the story of Ringo and Figue, physical constructs created by an advanced A.I. named Aion to save the world. Aion, using its deductive reasoning based on human behaviour, has determined that the world is about to end with the death of two men. Ringo and Figue are sent to save their lives but discover they have already been killed moments before their arrival.

Ringo takes it upon herself to perform a Soul Hack. An ability that allows her to go into the mind of a deceased individual and convince their soul to remain in the body instead of departing. Ringo convinces Arrow, a fellow party member and one of the two men destined to bring about the world’s end to return from the dead.

Soul Hacking sets the premise of a fascinating story that can sometimes be hard to follow and, at other points, completely unbelievable even for an SMT title. That’s not to say it isn’t good however as a number of parts of the story surprised me with some truly emotional dialogue and scenes.

Soul Hackers 2 Doesn’t Care About Its Supporting Cast

The problem with the story is that so many of the secondary characters have almost no screen time. One character that we find out is Arrow’s best friend plays a vital role in the story, but he’s never actually seen until one key moment in the game, yet I’m supposed to care about his connection to Arrow just because Arrow tells me to.

It doesn’t come off well, especially when they try to make it an emotional encounter when I’ve had almost zero exposure to the character; after all I can’t miss you if you’re never around. Elsewhere, your party is where most of your connections happen. You can participate in hangout events to learn about your teammates and grow your bond with them, but the bulk of your party progression takes place in the Axis.

The Axis is a virtual memory bank of your party members where you’ll learn about their past and what lead to your eventual meeting, their overall connection to each other, and useful lore concerning the looming end of the world. Soul Hackers 2 being a JRPG, you would expect some exploration and if you’ve ever played a game in the SMT franchise, exploration is usually a strong and defining aspect of those games. This isn’t the case in Soul Hackers 2 as exploration is sadly the weak link here.

Uninspired Exploration And Dungeon Design Makes It Feel Like A Budget Title

The game’s dungeons are uninspired and bland and the few of them you can explore in the real world feature almost no detail. They’re all just empty and have barely any objects populating them. One location, an office building, has nothing that resembles an office. There are no desks, no furniture, just big empty rooms that betray the relatively low budget that Soul Hackers 2 was developed on.

It’s a shame because the rest of Tokyo is so well designed. The city streets are populated with people, while a parade of neon lights bring the city to life with advertisements and great aesthetics and design.

The other major dungeon and the one you’ll be spending a lot of time in is the Axis. The virtual world of your teammate’s memories may sound cool, but it’s really not as it turns out. Each of the locations in the Axis looks identical for each party member and is completely open with nothing going on in them. I dreaded every time I had to go into it given how samey the level design was. Unfortunately, there are benefits to exploring the Axis, and one that you almost have to consider. The biggest of which is unlocking permanent skills for your party members.

There Are Plenty Of Befits To Exploring Its Just Not That Fun To Actually Do It

The most important of these upgrades come from world skills that allow you to acquire rare material drops or advantages before entering combat, such as providing your party with pre-emptive strikes on enemy encounters for thirty seconds. When you enter a dungeon, you send your demons to look for items and crafting material.

These work like treasure chests and is an easy way to acquire materials to upgrade your characters by collecting crafting materials, currency, and healing items, but most importantly, they allow you to recruit demons that want to join you by demanding various things from you, whether specific items or a sacrifice of your HP or MP.

Your COMP, as it’s called, is used to summon demons and it can be upgraded too. These upgrades come with various skills and abilities allowing you to increase your character’s normal attack damage and your affinity to the various element by enabling you to equip more powerful demons that require a higher affinity to use.

Your COMP can also unlock passive skills that grant rarer item drops and attack abilities that bypass an enemy’s strong affinity and do regular damage instead of negating or outright blocking the attack. As you can tell, there’s a whole heap of progression available in Soul Hackers 2.

Demon Fusion And Recruitment Is A Blast

Demon recruitment is one of the most entertaining parts of Soul Hackers 2. As I mentioned, you can recruit them in dungeons, but you can also go to a summoner and buy demons from him. You can also fuse demons to get new ones.

The more demons you encounter in the world, the more of them you register in the demon bestiary, allowing you to summon them whenever you want for a fee. The more powerful the demon you try to summon or fuse, the more money it costs and the more demons it requires to sacrifice.

Some end-game demons can take up to five or six sacrifices that are fairy pricy and very difficult to find. So you have to decide if that demon is worth the trouble to acquire. It’s also always better to fuse your demons because you can select a variety of abilities for them to start with instead of recruiting them out in the field where they already have specific abilities.

Great Combat Borrows From Persona And Shin Megami Tensei

Combat is a blast in Soul Hackers 2. Taking many design decisions from Persona 5’s combat, Soul Hackers 2 is nonetheless stylish in its own way. The command menu is linked to the face buttons allowing easy access to everything you need to do. Each character equips a demon and uses that demon’s abilities to strike the enemy and search for their weakness. It’s simple stuff, but the clear UI makes it all super satisfying to use.

The game provides seven weaknesses for each enemy and party member. Slashing, Piercing, Fire, Ice, Lighting, Force, and Ruin. Each encounter is a mystery; you must try out different attacks to find the enemy’s weakness, which can be one or multiple of the seven. Enemies will also resist some attacks, while specific attacks can heal others if their resistance is sufficiently powerful.

Each character can also equip any demon they want, but they are better with specific demons depending on their personality. Arrow is a natural ice user so equipping him with demons specializing in ice damage is better then Ringo would be, whose affinity isn’t as high for ice-specific demons and so on and so forth.

Combat Can Get Strategic As You Find The Best Demons To Use Against Your Foes

As you progress, you can unlock stronger affinities to each element, and this is where things start to fall in place with each character’s advantage, as Arrow won’t be able to upgrade his affinity to fire as high as he can with ice. Each time you strike an enemy weakness, you gain a stack. This is indicated with a shadow of your demon appearing in the background of your enemies. The more weaknesses you strike with each character, the higher the stack grows.

After all your party members finish attacking, Ringo summons all the demons from the stack to initiate a group attack on your enemies for a fifth and final attack called the Sabbath. Some demons even provide an extra boost from the Sabbath, such as healing the party or stealing rare, valuable times. Unleashing a devastating Sabbath upon your enemies can prove to be quite the spectacle to say the least.

A Large Demon Bestiary Is Mostly For Visuals Due To So Many Of Them Having The Same Abilities

As much as I enjoyed the combat, it can get tedious and it’s hard to give up a low-level demon for something else when they provide you with all the useful abilities you could need. As you might expect, I stuck to specific demons for a long time even though they were low-level, simply because I got great offensive, defensive, and healing skills – something other demons didn’t provide me.

Many abilities can confuse you just because of their names but what they do is identical. I found about five skills that increased my party’s attack for three turns with different names and in this way, it took away the originality and need to use a different demon.

A Great Soundtrack Is Accompanied By Great Art Direction

Visually the game doesn’t do anything spectacular, but its aesthetic is certainly stylish. The character designs stand out, especially Ringo’s neon yellow jacket that keeps flashing in various places. Demons are once again the standouts, some with updated designs while others are very recognizable. Additionally, the soundtrack is full of great jazz and orchestral mixes. It was weird at first as I thought I would get more techno or electronic music, so it was a present surprise.

Soul Hackers 2 has a lot going for it, but it’s held back by terrible dungeon design that feels like old first-person JRPG titles inspired it and so as a result feels entirely uninspired and somewhat cheap by today’s standards. It’s good that the combat, story, and demon features are so well done that you can still enjoy the game without letting the exploration hold it back.

Soul Hackers 2 releases on August 25, 2022 for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5

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