The Shin Megami Tensei series didn’t pick up much popularity in the UK during the 90’s, and it wasn’t until the persona series came out that the franchise grew its passionate fan base. This meant that games such as Soul Hackers flew right over people’s heads. But now, thanks to the re-release on the 3DS, players young and old can experience one of the games that defined the franchise.
Soul Hackers was originally released on the Saga Saturn way back in 1997, a time where the internet was still an infant and the concept of mobile computers was fiction. The story follows a nameless hero who is part of the hacker group called the “Spookies”. This world has recently embraced the internet and created a network known as Paradigm X, where the majority of business takes place. When the main character hacks his way into Paradigm X he is greeted by a spirit animal who warns him of incoming demons that will destroy his world. Soon after, the leader of the Spookies hands him a strange gun-PC hybrid. When the main character manages to open the PC, it unleashes a demon called Nemissa who takes over his friend’s body. All of that happens in the first hour. From there out, the story follows political corruption, corporations using demons as slaves, and a whole load of weird themes that only the Shin Megami Tensei would dare to tackle. It’s frightening to see how on the ball this game is, with its scarily realistic depiction of how the internet is turning out, and how secret organizations are using the internet for misdeeds.
Gameplay is similar to the majority of all Shin Megami Tensei titles (minus the Persona series). The player explores dungeons that are normal places warped by demonic creatures. Demons will randomly attack the players party and the game becomes a turn based RPG, with a twist. Before the fight the player has the option to talk to the demons they are fighting, these demons will ask questions, request items, or just want to chat. Depending on how the player responds, the demon will maybe heal the player, give them items, or even join their party. This creates a strange “friend or foe” mechanic in the game, as some of the demons in the player’s party will hate other demons, and therefore will attack without listening to the player. Meanwhile some demons will be friendly with enemies and will convince them to join the player’s party. The amount of variety to the demons and possible party members is staggering, with so many creatures to choose, it feels like a darker version of Pokémon.
Due to the game being released in 1997, the re-rendered cutscenes in the game stick out like a sore thumb. It’s painfully noticeable that animating people was too difficult back then, and so not animated characters can be found in any cutscene. Another strange art choice is the lack of faces for character models. When characters talk their face shows up on the side of the screen, but their in game models are all faceless, its freaky and really only highlights the fact the game is more than a decade old.
Soul Hackers is a fun RPG that should be played by any Shin Megami Tensei fan that’s curious to see how the series was like back in the early days. With an enthralling story, interesting characters and a brilliant battle / party system in place, Soul Hackers is a great RPG that any fan will enjoy.
This review was originally posted on http://www.gamingcapacity.com/