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Soul Hackers 2 doesn’t have much ‘soul’ so far

Soul Hackers 2 cuts straight to the stakes, and then drops them. Despite the end of the world and two “deaths” in the first hour and a half of the game, I didn’t even feel a drop of adrenaline in my blood.

Aion, the supercomputer version of God, predicts an upcoming apocalypse related to Demon Summoner turf wars. It creates two humanoid agents, Ringo and Figue, to prevent the deaths of two people who trigger the end of the world: genius scientist Ichiro Onda and Demon Summoner Arrow. You play as Ringo, the more outgoing and snarky of the two agents. Unfortunately, she and Figue arrive too late to save their targets. Ringo finds Arrow already dead, bleeding out on the pavement. Figue reports an equally grim situation on her end with Onda. Ringo “soul hacks” Arrow to bring him back to life, thus the name of this game.

However, dire circumstances and innovative gameplay can only do so much without a hook.

The Shin Megami Tensei formula

Ringo soul hacking Arrow

Soul Hackers 2 recycles the combat system used in Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games, so that part is still seamless as ever. In fact, it riffs on some of these features, which freshens the game for me as someone who’s already used to SMT and its spinoffs. It’s also more accessible to beginners as the devs said they intended in an interview with Digital Trends.  

Turn-based combat and elemental affinities still play a major role in the title — like the original game. Negotiating with and fusing demons works similarly to past titles with some tweaks. For example, all demons level up with you regardless of if you have them equipped or not. The demons can also scout dungeons for you, appearing at checkpoints with demon recruits, items, and healing. They even give you gifts after learning their full moveset. There’s always some progression to keep the player invested and leveling up lower-level demons is as easy as ever.

Dungeon crawling works similarly to how it does in other SMT spinoffs, too: Smack the monster with your weapon and then either attack or run away from them. They spawn out of nowhere instead of appearing as stable figures in hallways, though, which keeps you on your toes. I got stuck in one of the first dungeons because it seemed like I was locked out when I actually had enough Soul Level with a character, though it’s too early to tell if it’s just a fluke on my part or if unclear instructions will be a recurring theme in Soul Hackers 2.

The character development (or lack of)

Ringo stands with Soul Hackers 2 party.

Each party member has a “Soul Level” with Ringo, representing their relationship with her. There are a few ways to raise the levels, like replying to prompts with responses that cater more toward particular characters’ personalities. You can also raise them with “Hangout Events,” where Ringo drinks with her comrades at the local bar. I’ve only had one Hangout Event each with the characters, but none of them have been memorable. All the first hangouts are surface-level interactions where Ringo tries to get a read on each of her new allies.

Overall, I’m not impressed with the story so far. Soul Hackers 2 has an interesting premise but doesn’t pace it well enough for me to feel the stakes. The shock value of finding a dead body wears off when it happens too often in the first few hours of the game.

The Soul Hackers team consists of Ringo, Arrow, Milady, and Saizo. We meet all of them within the first few hours in a similar fashion. I appreciate how all of them have their own unique motivations to join, which makes them distinct characters in my head. Still, I felt like their introductions could’ve been improved had we dived into their inner dungeons and witnessed their memories in more detail.

Soul Hackers 2 somewhat fulfills that with “Soul Matrices,” which are dungeons manifested from each party member’s mind. It’s also where the majority of the dungeon crawling takes place so far. However, the characters’ actual introductory moments just involve Ringo passing through their memories as quickly as she entered.

Ringo dialogue

The first villains are gimmicky. I cringed through the first boss battle and fast-forwarded through the dialogue, and the cutscenes I watched afterward gave me bad Disney villain vibes. I’m getting the impression that this title is supposed to be goofier than SMT and Persona, but still, it would be nice to see a little more depth in a world that critiques our declining society.

Soul Hackers 2 emphasizes character relationships with Soul Levels and Soul Matrices. Ringo and her party members are also all connected through their souls. So why am I not feeling any “soul” so far? I’m happy to see the Soul Hackers IP revived in a stylistic, modern JRPG with slick gameplay. I just hope the story impresses me soon.

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