Soul Hackers 2 Review – That Globohomo Style

Soul Hackers 2 accomplished quite a bit – it made me charge my Vita so I could play Persona 3 Portable instead. I kid, I kid (but not really). This is not a disastrous game, but rather the unfortunate consequence of overcorrection. Make a game for everyone, and you make a game for nobody; what you’re left with is a smoothed over Atlus, with all the edges sanded off. Look, Persona 5 Royal may be my favorite game of all-time, but I’m not trying to hold SH2 to those lofty standards. I came into this game on its terms, but its terms simply didn’t offer me a compelling experience.

Oh Victor, there’s plenty of clownery in store.

You play as Ringo, an AI with the ability to Soul Hack, i.e. bring people back to life; after saving 3 Devil Summoners, each from rival factions with their own motives, they all must put aside their differences and work together to stop the villains’ plans. The story takes an interesting premise and does nothing with it, squandering its potential through rote expository dialogue and one-note characters who are never given the space to make an impression. Important character arcs finish in rushed, anticlimactic fashion, and only get expanded upon after the fact through optional backstory content in the Soul Matrix dungeons. The characters reach a location and stand around discussing the next McGuffin quest through inane exposition, which has no attempt to be rendered through naturalistic dialogue; it’s mind-numbingly boring and aggravating. I just don’t care about what’s happening at all, and no amount of Soul Matrix backstory or character hangouts at the bar will make me care about such a rote cast of characters.

The combat is a crime against Shin Megami Tensei. The Press Turn and 1 More systems have been replaced by the Sabbath system, and gone with those systems are any semblance of interesting decision making and depth. As always, you strike weaknesses, but doing so here will “Stack” demons, creating a powerful attack at the end of your party’s turn; this attack has a lengthy (and thankfully skippable) cutscene attached to it, and is the only time you’ll actually see your demons in battle. You can’t do anything to prolong your turn, and critical hits do nothing but extra damage. You may purchase upgrades that improve your demon summoning and Sabbath capabilities somewhat, but it doesn’t do much to alleviate how tedious and slow the process feels. The game flows between braindead easy for regular encounters, and monotonous endurance tests for certain boss battles, neither of which are supported by the game’s banal combat. I believe the simplicity of the combat was meant to appeal to newcomers, but I don’t think new players ever had a problem getting into Persona, which has a much, much richer and deeper combat system. It’s the “Globohomo art style” of SMT combat, no different than the corporate art you see on Google’s homepage; just a homogeneous system that I imagine will fail at its attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This even applies to the art style, which is stylized, but in a generic, messy way that just feels cheap and abrasive on the eyes after a while.

And the dungeons! As Sojiro Sakura would say… “Hoo boy…” The dungeons are just hallways, which on paper isn’t an issue. Persona 3 and 4 had hallways for dungeons, and those games were addictive fun; I’ve spent dozens of hours grinding in 3’s Tartarus, and don’t regret a second. So what makes these dungeons less appealing? For one, their floors are much longer and more spacious, with more downtime between enemies. Two, these hallways aren’t procedurally generated, meaning you don’t get the dopamine rush of finding a staircase early. Three, the combat sucks, so there’s not much fun to be had when you do see an enemy. Four, walking speed is way too slow, and while you do get a faster speed later on, it’s only a temporary use ability. Five, your navigator Figue NEVER shuts the hell up, repeating the same handful of lines ad nauseum (this also applies to your party members’ dialogue during battles, which gets old very quickly, especially with the mediocre English dub). I just walk around these laborious labyrinths, engage with the generic demon item dispensers, and dread contract with enemies, for fear of having to actually play the game for even a second longer.

Best part about the game is getting to cosplay as Best Boy™️.

Demons in SMT have never had the importance of, say, Pokemon, but they feel more like tools here than ever. You equip them to your party members, and only ever see them during the aforementioned Sabbath animation. Your demons will recon dungeons, and essentially act as treasure chests as they find items and other recruitable critters. The demons have flavor text, but unfortunately, there’s only a handful of personality types in the games that are shared among the many demons, so you’ll be seeing a lot of the same text. The demons feel much less like distinct entities than in Persona and other SMT titles, and it’s just lame; it makes me not really care about any of them. Atlus had the gall to cleave demons from the base roster and sell them as premium DLC, when you only ever see them during Sabbath (which you’ll either skip or go mad from the repetition) and as glorified treasure chests in dungeons; what an absolute waste of money. Atlus has been trekking this DLC wasteland for a while, like some sort of greedy Mad Max, except unlike with Mad Max, I’m not having fun. Costumes, soundtracks, series regular demons, an ENTIRE bonus storyline… the amount of day 1 DLC for this game is disgusting, and Atlus should be ashamed of themselves.

You can’t convince me this girl isn’t a TWEWY character.

Wait, did I say at the beginning of this review that this WASN’T a disastrous game? Boo on me for giving the benefit of the doubt. Honestly, I don’t have anything positive to say – well, I guess the music is alright (it was composed by MONACA, the studio behind Nier: Automata‘s soundtrack, but not remotely on that level of mastery). Otherwise, this is a wholly underwhelming product coming from a studio that I used to expect nothing less than consistent quality. This review is coming a month late, because I simply couldn’t bring myself to write this review; I just didn’t want to THINK about this game. This is probably the most disappointing game I’ve ever played, and that’s not an exaggeration in the slightest. I expected nothing from The Caligula Effect 2 or Monark, and while those are highly mediocre games, I’d sooner replay them than Soul Hackers 2, a game I evidently expected too much from. SH2 sacrifices any edge or bite it may have had, for the video game equivalent of gentrification, and all the fun that comes with that (read: not much). If you want a narrative with AI at the forefront, with detailed, nuanced character writing, thrilling storytelling, and exemplary vocal performances, released in the year 2022… go play AI: The Somnium Files – NirvanA Initiative. If you want great turn-based combat from Atlus, go play Persona 3-5. I recommend staying far away from Soul Hackers 2. Barring Persona 6, I’ll be more careful about pre-ordering Atlus games in the future.