1997 was the year Tony Blair became Prime Minister, the first Harry Potter book was released, Microsoft became the world’s most valued company at $261 billion dollars, we sadly lost Princess Diana, Titanic was shown in cinemas worldwide and it was the year the internet was starting to invade our homes! Also in Japan 1997, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers was released for the Sega Saturn.
Soul Hackers takes place in Anami City, a fictional Japanese location. It’s a city that has recently become cyber and every household has a free PC. This has also opened the gateway to hackers, and you are part of the most notorious hacker group, The Spookies! A beta key lottery for a virtual world called Paradigm X is in effect and allows the lucky winners to buy things online and chat to others on the virtual streets.
You, being the sneaky hacker that you are, have managed to hack your way onto the beta! After having a look around the virtual town and chatting to some other players, you find yourself talking to a strange being in the form of a fox. By talking to him, you witness the last moments of a dying man in a building full of scary demons and shady looking men. It gets weirder. After leaving Paradigm X, you operate a device your leader had brought back for the team to examine. It looks like a gun and computer combined and it belonged to the dying man in your vision.
Of course, you enter his password and unleash a demon. It takes possession of your girlfriend, Hitomi, and is refusing to give her up! The demon is called Nemissa and the two are complete opposites. The madness doesn’t end there. Not only is your girlfriend now possessed by a demon with an attitude, but you are thrown into a demon summoning war between two factions and also discover something more sinister deep within the specialized network that runs Amami City. So its down to you, your possessed girlfriend, a bad ass demon and your crew of hackers to save the day!
I wont beat around the bush, this game is dated. The ugly environments with blocky cinematics are hard on the eyes. You do spend most of your time dungeon crawling and the graphics there aren’t any better, they are just dull and boring, nothing makes them stand out. And you aren’t dungeon crawling for couple minutes at a time, you are slogging through them for quite some time. So expect to see the same used textures over and over again.
Even the map is pretty basic and reminds me of the first Persona PlayStation One games. You can only enter certain buildings at a certain time. NPC’s show up as little green icons whom you can stop and chat to, again, nothing exciting or eye catching, just a dull and harsh environment. You would think the developers would have given the game a visual touch up, but alas, no such luck. This was the perfect chance to give the game a good make over and drag it into the twenty first century.
The anime cutscenes however don’t look so bad for a game from 1997, but they do look dated and look like they have come straight off an anime VHS. It still looks horrid on the Nintendo 3DS. Maybe I’m being a graphics snob, but I still play Mario on the Nintendo 64 or Final Fantasy on my PlayStation One and enjoy them. Those games were out roughly the same time as SMT: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers and yet I can happily play those without any complaints. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown up with them and their graphics? Or maybe I really am a graphics snob!
Controls in the dungeon can become frustrating. Your movement is controlled by the D-Pad and the shoulder buttons move you left and right. Your circle pad does nothing but move the overhead map around on the bottom DS screen. This can become confusing when you wonder why your character isn’t moving at all, then you realise this is an old school game and the developers haven’t updated the controls.
In the dungeons, you will be fighting demon summoners and demons, but do not expect any tutorials on any of the games mechanics! You are thrown straight into battle. There are no tutorials or help offered, it comes down to trial and error. Keep pressing buttons till you know what does what. On the battle screen you are just presented with commands; Fight, Talk, Comp, Escape and Auto. Some of those don’t need an explanation, but what about Talk and Comp?
Talk means instead of going head to head with a demon, you can talk to them. They’ll probably ask you a question, give them a satisfying answer, they go away, give you an item or even join your party! However, they might not wanna talk and attack you anyway. Chatting to demons is a good way to earn cash because enemies don’t always drop money. Once you get the hang of it and knowing what some demons like to hear, you’ll become a smooth demon talker in no time! But remember, chatting to demons wont level you up.
You do need to face some battles with brute strength, so it looks like you’ll be doing plenty of grinding! Soul Hackers has two forms of currency; Yen and Magnetite. Yen is of course used to buy items, weapons, armour, etc and Magnetite is used to summon your demons. However, the demon will drain you of Magnetite every step you take. This is the price you pay if you want to keep the demon in your dungeon party. This makes the gameplay more complicated, so you will be battling ALOT in this game.
Comp means you can control what demons you have, if you want to return them to your comp or keep them in battle. You can only have 6 party members at one time, so choose who you want in battle wisely. You also get to choose where to position your team members, 3 at the front and 3 in the back. Lower HP party members always go in my back row, and tanks in the front. Make sure you keep any healers in the back too.
The ability to use demon fusion still remains, it being one of the main elements of the SMT series. You can fuse two or three demons together to create a more powerful one. Different skills are also carried over into the new demon. In Soul Hackers you can create and re-create a creature called “zoma”. It absorbs all the skills from the previous demon and doesn’t need any Magnetite to be used in battle! Another cool feature that appears later in the game is the ability to fuse a demon with a sword that you or Nemissa can use in battle.
There are some new features that have been included in this port. This version of the game welcomes Nemechi, a cute little virtual pet that uses StreetPass. When Nemechi uses the StreetPass, it collects currency which you can use to purchase stronger demons. This is one thing that has always bugged me about the Nintendo 3DS. However, if you can’t use StreetPass, Play Coins have been added, so you can use these instead to purchase any demons.
This is also the first time the game has been translated into English and voice acting has been included. But having the ability to switch it off is a nice plus. It is great that Altus decided to use voice acting in the game, but after awhile it can become irritating and annoying.
For an RPG, the music really doesn’t stand out for me. It tries to be dramatic and mysterious, but fails. There isn’t a piece of music I’ll hum along to or find on YouTube to repeat over and over. It all just becomes background noise and I have found myself turning the volume down and listening to something on my iPod instead!
What I did like about the game, yes I did like something, is the games two female leads; Hitomi and Nemissa. They really are chalk and cheese. While Hitomi is more reserved, careful and caring, Nemissa is brash, self obsessed and daring! The banter between the two of them is comical, two conflicting personalities in one body does offer up some entertainment.
What I also love about them is that they are ready to go to battle to protect the ones they love and you do see them grow over the course of the game. They learn to work together and do overshadow the other characters in the party.
It sounds awful, but the other characters, all male, seemed cowardly and even lame in comparison to Nemissa, who comments on it and calls them “chicken!”. They don’t even notice when Hitomi is possessed, they just assume she has dyed her hair, but don’t even comment on why her persona has completely changed! Nemissa is not a fan of humans and the fact she has to team up with them shows she is able to adapt and become a team player. She can be comical and bitchy, but also serious when the occasion arises.
I have been reviewing this game for over a week now and have been trying desperately to like it because I do like the SMT game series, especially the Persona universe. But 2013 me really doesn’t rate this game anywhere near a 10. I know the 1997 me would have enjoyed and loved this game if she had the chance to play it, but sadly this sort of port does not work sixteen years later on a 3D handheld games console. Maybe this game will offer some nostalgia and joy to other RPG fans, but unfortunately this is one fan that it failed to impress.
Voice acting has been added.
Demon fusion is still available.
Nice to see the game released in Europe after so long.
Dungeon controls can become frustrating at times.
Dated graphics and boring environments.
No point using the 3D ability.
Feels like Atlus was lazy in importing the game over.