Soul Hackers 2 is coming to Xbox consoles and is the first Atlus game to release on the platform in quite some time. It’s my first game of theirs since Catherine on the 360 and after a bit of a rough start, I grew to enjoy my time with this dungeon-crawling JRPG. The story is solid, the combat is a-ok, and it’s got one hell of a style.
Grinding Your Life Away
I’d rather not get too heavily into the story as it’s best to experience it yourself, so I’ll only get into the basic premise. You are a super powerful AI placed into a human body to try and stop the apocalypse. Along the way, you’ll Soul Hack (go inside people’s consciousness), gain 3 party members, and work your way through a 15-40 hour long story. I say 15-40 because the copy of the game I got came with DLC that broke the progression so fantastically that after trying it out I was able to skip many hours of level grinding. Those hours are spent in various locales around future earth where Summoners are tasked with using Demons they’ve made contracts with to fight off evil (or be pretty damned evil themselves).
It’s an interesting and exhaustive setup that made the story drag severely early on. I felt like I only actually played for about 15 to 20 minutes during the first three hours of the game. There is a lot of world-building to do here and it’s told almost entirely through cutscenes that feature characters talking back and forth with little to no interaction from you. Throughout the game, you’ll have a number for each party member that denotes your closeness to them. Most of your dialogue choices are simply choosing which party member you want this number to go up with. That number will matter once you get to the Soul Matrix, an area where you’ll dungeon crawl your way through their past to unlock passive buffs that make the game’s combat far easier.
The party members were different enough to remain interesting throughout the story but I did have a major issue with the reliance on non-active characters always figuring out problems in the background. It was relied on heavily for most of the story progression, where your character Ringo would have no clue what to do until the other super-powered AI in a human body Figue would say “Oh I figured all that out btw”. It happened a lot and felt cheap after a short while. The writing is solid and the voice acting is well done. My biggest other gripe is that the central mystery didn’t end up hitting that hard, and the humor in the game is very lightly sprinkled throughout and never really funny.
The setup of the game is split between three main areas. There are story areas like your hideout where you only get cutscenes and cannot move around, shopping districts where you can move your character freely, and dungeons where you’ll spend the bulk of your playtime. The UI looks great though it’s not always the easiest to navigate. Even on PC, everything is bound to button presses which ends up making the mouse feel pointless. The movement is floaty with far too much momentum to it as well. Even when you press the interact button and stop controlling your character she’ll keep walking for a few seconds. It never feels great and can become extremely frustrating when the game’s far too prevalent enemy encounters pop up.
With the press of the X button, you can swipe while in the dungeon free-roam mode. This is used to knock down the demons randomly popping up around you as you move. Once knocked down you can either move into them to initiate combat or avoid them completely and they’ll despawn. If you run into them while they’re still up there is a chance they’ll ambush you and get a few attacks off to start the fight. Run into them while they’re down and you gain that chance at an ambush. Combat itself is turned-based and focuses on matching damage types against enemy weaknesses. There ends up being a lot of types of attacks, buffs, debuffs, and heals, and what is available to you is controlled by the demons you have equipped.
The demon system ends up feeling like Pokémon with a limited “gotta collect ‘em all” vibe. Certain demons have certain powers, and you can eventually fuse them into even more powerful versions with unique abilities. The game does a great job of tutorializing how your gear, demons, and upgrades all work in concert together to give you the edge in combat. It’s a surprisingly deep system that was a lot of fun to engage with and on normal and hard difficulty the game can be quite a challenge. If you’re not on easy make sure to save often as a team wipe means game over and you’re back to the main menu to load your last save.
If you do not have the DLC that gives you a summoner level, demon level, tons of money, and rare items for crafting after each fight then be prepared to grind up your character’s levels. A lot of the game’s length comes from jumping in and out of dungeon runs, and the teleporter system works well alongside the faster loads of an NVME drive to keep the pace up. If you’re not into grinding then you’ll want the kinda scummy feeling DLC, but that grind is something a lot love, and this game definitely has it.
With the re-use of environments and choice of the Unity engine, it’s clear the game wasn’t the biggest budget-wise at Atlus but it still manages to look great thanks to a stellar art style. PC was my main platform and maxed out at 1440p I got two to three hundred fps so it was shocking to try the Xbox version and see a 30fps quality mode alongside an ok looking but obviously lower setting 60fps performance one. This game should look far better on console than it does when compared to PC and even though it’s a turn-based JRPG the free-roam segments feel terrible in the quality mode on Series X.
The portraits look great and I loved the character and enemy designs. The more static backgrounds for shops or story areas are well done, but the dungeons themselves are ugly and extremely repetitive. You’ll spend a lot of time in the Soul Matrix and it is a bland hub carried by its great music. I wish the main part of the game outside of the cutscenes looked better, but at least the battle animations and effects look good.
As stated before the voice acting is well done for the English dub, though there are no other subtitle options that I could see as a choice on either PC or console. Hopefully they’re at least tied to the region your machine is set to but I’m not sure. The music is great and if you have the appropriate DLC you’ll get some Persona-inspired outfits and battle music you can turn on as well. It’s a great synthy-jazz mix that knows when to go hard and when to relax. What isn’t always great are the voice quips during dungeons. You’ll hear Figue yell “look out” or variations of it about 15,000 times during your playthrough.
I didn’t run into any major bugs outside of an infuriating inability for the game to start on my main monitor on PC. Every time it would choose either my left or right monitor for the display despite it saying it was on the main monitor in the settings. The only way to fix it was to change the display away from and then back to my main one. Other than that things ran well, I had no crashes, and it was an all-around pleasant experience on PC. One thing to note is that the default speed for text is far too slow and you’ll want to bump that up to fast otherwise you’re left waiting for 2-5 seconds with auto mode turned on.
Soul Hackers 2 is a solid game. It’s not the most impressive technically and you can see the budget constraints, but it tells a fascinating story with a style few can match. If you’re a fan of Dungeon Crawling JRPGs then you should check this one out.
|Reviewed on||PC (lead platform), Xbox Series X|
|Release Date||August 26th, 2022|
|Available on||Xbox, Playstation, PC|
|Rated||M for Mature|