alex9234’s Sunday Review
Welcome to another episode of Sunday Review, and today I’m going to review my first Shin Megami Tensei game. This came out when the Internet was just starting to take off in the late 1990s, and at that time, the cyberpunk genre was all the rage in entertainment. Games like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Sin and Punishment (though that was 2000), Mega Man X4, Xenogears, and even certain anime shows like Cowboy Bebop, Silent Mobius, Cyber City OEDO 808, and Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 (probably the best example) had cyberpunk themes. Today, we’re going to look at one game that really stands out from that era, probably even more so than Final Fantasy VII, and this is game that could have helped the Sega Saturn’s chances in the west against the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. This game is Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, which came out on the Sega Saturn in 1997, and eventually came to the 3DS in 2013 as an enhanced port, which will be the version I’ll review. Soul Hackers is also the last Shin Megami Tensei game to ever come out for a Sega console.
Soul Hackers takes place sometime in the 1990s, and is set in the fictional Japanese port town of Amami City. Amami City is a city that is fully connected through a massive electronic network thanks to the Amami-based company Algon Soft, to demonstrate how a “city of tomorrow” could function. Algon Soft’s work in Amami City impresses the Japanese government, and has given permission to Algon Soft to expand their network across the rest of Japan in the near future. The game is also set in Paradigm X, a virtual world created by Algon Soft, where Amami City’s citizens can visit virtual attractions.
Soul Hackers follows the story of an unnamed protagonist, a teenage boy who belongs to an amateur hacking group called the Spookies. While hacking his way into getting a beta invite for Paradigm X, he makes contact with a mysterious being called Kinap. Kinap has the protagonist go on a Vision Quest, where he enters the soul of someone who has recently passed away, a man named Urabe Kouichirou. There, the protagonist learns about the secrets of Paradigm X, as well as a shadow organization called the Phantom Society, which Urabe used to be a part of. The Phantom Society’s main goal is to steal souls through Paradigm X. After learning this, Urabe tries to leave, but the Society murders his family in retaliation, as they told him that once he’s in the Society, there’s no way out. Kinap contacts Urabe, and tells him to steal the Nemissa program, located in the Algon Soft Network Service building. Urabe is successful in taking the program, but he has to delete his Demon Summoning program from his COMP, which leaves him defenseless. Urabe tries to escape, but is cornered by Society members and throws his COMP off the building’s roof, and is then killed. After finishing the Vision Quest, the protagonist gets the COMP, activates it, and it unleashes the Nemissa program, which is actually a demonic entity, and it possesses the body of his friend, Hitomi Tomo. However, Nemissa is an ally, and decides to help the protagonist and the rest of Spookies take down the Phantom Society.
Sega Saturn footage (top)
3DS footage (below)
Soul Hackers’ gameplay is very much like that of previous MegaTen games – it’s a first person dungeon crawler. You navigate dungeons and buildings in first person view, solve puzzles, get items, save at save points, etc. The battle system is turn-based, so you’ll input your commands first, and watch the battle play out afterwards. You can also use items to heal yourself, you can also do demon negotiation to try and get more demons to join you, and you can also summon demons that are already in your possession. However, you have to keep your demons loyal to you, or else they will disobey you and not carry out the attack you want them to. In order to prevent this from happening, you have to buy or obtain certain items, based on their personality (ex: Calm, Wild, Dumb, etc.), to raise their loyalty. Demons cannot survive without Magnetite, or MAG, and you gain more MAG by fighting demons. If you have an active demon in your party, it will decrease your MAG total whenever you move. You can also sell MAG at the Organic Energy Association (or O.E.A.) in Shibahama to gain more funds, which you will need to do, but don’t throw all your MAG away at once. Save a small amount just in case.
You can also fuse demons at the Goumaden, an abandoned cruise ship located in the Shibahama district of Amami City. You can fuse 2 demons, or even 3 demons at once to create a new, more powerful demon. You also get a doll called the Zoma, which is a demon that is always loyal to you, and can be fused with any demon to drastically change his level, stats, and appearance. The Zoma also uses no Mag and you can have it in your party whenever you feel like it.
Sega Saturn footage (top)
3DS footage (below)
The open world of Soul Hackers is similar to that of previous MegaTen games, where you just move the cursor along the grid, and you’ll arrive at the location you want to go to. There are no random enemy encounters when you’re in town. You can buy items, weapons, COMP programs, etc. in town, and you can save at the Spookies’ HQ.
Hitomi Tomo – Age: 18 – Hitomi is the protagonist’s best friend. She is also a member of the Spookies. She is shy and unsure of herself, but she is technically skilled. She accompanies the protagonist until she is possessed by Nemissa.
Nemissa – Nemissa is the main heroine of Soul Hackers. She is a demon that was created by the Phantom Society. After the protagonist unlocks Urabe’s COMP, Nemissa possesses Hitomi’s body, and calls the protagonist her master. She works with the protagonist to take down the Phantom Society.
Spooky – Age: 25 – Spooky, is well, the leader of the Spookies. He commands the team and gives all the members tasks to carry out.
Lunch – Age: 19 – Lunch is another member of the Spookies. He specializes in hacking and modifying hardware.
Six – Age: 17 – Six is the youngest member of the Spookies. He is also a gun maniac, and he collects all sorts of guns, armor and other weapons to put in his collection. However, he has little combat experience and flees from the scene when demons appear. He also doesn’t get along with Yuichi, even though they work together frequently.
Yuichi Haga – Age: 18 – Yuichi is a member of the Spookies. He is one of 2 members of the Spookies (the other being Hitomi) to not have a nickname. He is usually seen working with Six, despite the fact that the two of them don’t really get along. He is very childish and klutzy, though he is friendly.
I had really wanted to explore the 90s Shin Megami Tensei titles for quite some time, and this one was no exception. I got the original Devil Summoner for Saturn, but I can’t play through it because it’s all in Japanese and I can’t negotiate with demons because of it, despite there being a translation guide for the dialogue. So, I checked out this game instead, and after 20 years, it still holds up very well today. The graphics still hold up very well, the gameplay is excellent and challenging, the characters are all great – the best characters IMO are Nemissa and Spooky – and the soundtrack is excellent and holds up very well too. The demon fusion system is also very well done and easy to use, and thanks to the fusion search feature, I was able to fuse demons that I needed later in the game. However, there are issues. Movement is a bit slippery, and HOLY HELL is this a frustratingly difficult game. It is literally Castlevania hard. Difficulty spikes are constant, and the game will constantly cheat and troll you in battles, resulting in cheap deaths out the ass, even if you’re keeping your demons and characters’ levels up to date. Trust me, you will see the Game Over screeen A LOT in this game. But overall, this is a great game, and one of the greatest RPGs from the 5th generation. Games like this would have helped the Saturn a lot in the west, and I think this game could have held it’s own against Final Fantasy VII. Sega of America prevented many RPGs like this from making it to the west, and in the end, the PS1 and N64 left the Saturn in the dust. DAMN YOU BERNIE STOLAR!!!!
My score: 8.75/10