Atlus has perfected the JRPG and is now reveling in it. Persona 5 is one of the best games of the 2010s, thanks to its endearing cast of characters and impeccably stylish presentation. Meanwhile, Shin Megami Tensei V was no slouch in 2021 as it provided a dark and hardcore demon-driven RPG experience. After demoing the game at Summer Game Fest Play Days, t’s clear that Atlus has found a clear sci-fi middle ground with Soul Hackers 2.
Souls Hackers 2 is a tried-and-true Atlus JRPG with dungeon crawling, casual friend hangouts and conversations, and polished weakness-driven JRPG combat. It hits many of the same notes as Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V, so it won’t change what you think about the genre. Still, if Persona 5 or Shin Megami Tensei V had won you over to this new era of Atlus JRPGs, then Souls Hackers 2 will give you dozens of more hours of JRPG enjoyment.
My demo of Soul Hackers 2 began in the Hangout, where protagonist Ringo and her party can hang out and heal between dungeon-crawling escapades. Then, I proceeded to go into the futuristic sci-fi city, buy some weapons, gear, and healing items from eccentric shopkeepers, and get a drink with my party members named Arrow.
After Ringo and Arrow got to know each other better by discussing what they liked to drink, they gained Soul Levels to make them stronger. Right off the bat, this was all very reminiscent of Persona with the expectation of the futuristic sci-fi setting. The UI in and out of battles takes a cue from Persona 5 by trying to look very stylish, though Soul Hackers 2 leans more into a digitized style than Persona 5’s luscious anime-style menus.
I didn’t spend enough time with this part of the game or the small character moments within it to get a feeling of whether or not its narrative will come together as well as Persona 5. Still, that game got me to fall in love with an eccentric cast of high-school cliche characters, so Soul Hackers 2 has the potential to do the same with a cast that leans into sci-fi stereotypes.
Overall, the story and presentation of Soul Hackers 2 will remind you of Persona 5. As that 2017 game’s unique style is what drew in many people, it’s wise for Atlus to hit these same notes with Soul Hackers 2. Still, there are some hardcore RPG hooks for the Shin Megami Tensei fans out there.
After seeing the social and character aspects of Soul Hackers 2 in action, I delved into a dungeon and encountered Atlus’ trademark JRPG gameplay. I was in familiar territory with its turn-based combat, where players use demons they fused together or recruited in dungeons to attack enemies with elemental attacks, some of which can be an enemy’s weakness.
If you like battles in Shin Megami Tensei V, there aren’t many reasons you’d hate Soul Hackers 2’s combat. In fact, it’s a bit more approachable. You’ll barter with demons to get them on your side in Soul Hackers 2, but from my demo, it seemed like all of these encounters were simple yes-or-no requests for slight debuffs. Once you’re in combat and discover an enemy’s weakness, the game also makes it easy to take that enemy down with a menu option that automatically uses the most effective attack.
Abilities that exploit an enemy’s weakness will also stack into a powerful attack that damages every foe in the opposing party at the end of each turn. If Shin Megami Tensei V got a little too hardcore for you, Soul Hackers 2 has the same systems but makes them much more digestible.
Ultimately, by splitting the difference between Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V, it looks like Soul Hackers 2 will be a hardcore JRPG experience with a more casual and approachable feel than most games in the genre. Atlus is at the top of its JRPG game right now, and Soul Hackers 2 looks like a melting pot of what works best in its JRPGs.
While being so similar to both Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V does make Soul Hackers 2 run the risk of not being distinct in its own way, the sci-fi setting and any elements that return from the 1997 original should give it a unique flair and make it a greatest hits Atlus JRPG. Even from my brief Summer Game Fest demo, I can tell that Soul Hackers 2 will please players who are tired of playing Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V for the millionth time.
Soul Hackers 2 will be released for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on August 26.
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