Soul Hackers 2 – Zero Punctuation

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Well, go on then, Yahtz, compare Soul Hackers 2 to Persona 5. Since Persona 5 is the only anime JRPG that hasn’t made you want to vomit lace doilies into its grotesquely oversized eye sockets, and Soul Hackers 2 also happens to be an anime JRPG. That’s also published by Atlus. And also prominently features hanging out with party members to increase your friendship level with them alongside the requisite dungeon crawling. And that’s also a spinoff from the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. And that also has turn based combat based around fighting the exact same roster of demons that every SMT game has as well as recruiting them to use their power and merging them into new demons. And also because it prominently features dungeons based on the internal psyches of some of the characters and specifically subway tunnels for some reason. And also because you can literally dress up the main characters as characters from Persona 5 – Christ you’re predictable sometimes. Seriously though, Atlus, what is it with you and this one specific ladder of monsters that starts with Pixie and ends with Satan? Fucking hell, at least Pokemon hacks out a few new fuckers now and again when plushie sales are down.

Is it just that after you worked out the roster the first time and drew all the little pictures and wrote up the spreadsheet for who can be merged into whom you all just threw up your hands and said “fucked if we’re ever doing that again?” I sympathise, I feel the same way about raising a child from birth to eighteen months. Anyway, Soul Hackers is the usual Shin Megami Tensei spinoff but now it’s cyberpunk and the whole Sea of Souls concept is replaced by the internet. Ah, I gotcha, Soul Hackers. So the usual roster of demons are, like, digital manifestations of human memory now? No, they’re still demons. They’re just there for no particular reason. But the internet is alive now and has turned itself into anime girls. Well, that’s about the only thing that does make sense. In a grim techno future, the internet has become a self-aware hyperintelligence that foresees the end of the world, and manifests itself as two anime girls in booty shorts in order to prevent it. One of the girls, Ringo, is the player character, which surprised me, I thought that was gonna be the pretty anime sword boy in the intro sequence, ‘cos he had all the generic anime protagonist qualifications: zero personality besides a fondness for styling product.

But no, Ringo takes the lead and almost immediately forms a four man party with three humans named John, Paul and George. Has someone done that joke? Someone must have done that joke. Ringo brings back three dead people who are somehow necessary for the salvation of the world and that’s your party for the whole game. No swapping party members out because unlike Persona – let’s get this comparison party started woo – where only the lead dude can change personas and everyone else gets a fixed one, now all the party members can chop and change personas as they want. So there’s no point in having more party members, they’re basically just four poorly dressed weapon slots. With some minor and rather unnecessary differences like Milady can’t equip the thing that enhances ice attacks because, I dunno, she had a traumatic encounter with a 7-11 slurpee machine. Yes, generic prickly tsundere party member is named Milady. “Oh I suppose you’re going to compare Soul Hackers 2 to Persona 5 just because half the characters are named in reference to famous works of pulp 19th century French literature, Yahtz, as well.” Yes I will, fuck it. I might also say that one of the many things I liked about Persona 5 was that the protagonist knew how to fucking walk properly.

In Soul Hackers, you push the stick and Ringo slowly accelerates to a run, you release the stick and she’s got the stopping distance of a frontloaded pickup truck on a rainy hillside. Sometimes I’d press the talk button just as Ringo got close enough to an NPC and she’d keep right on going and the conversation ends up being shouted over a ten foot distance. But as for where this falls on the scale where one end is Persona full of energy and personality and fun characters and on the other end is Shin Megami Tensei scowling in disdain as it looks up from its bible Soul Hackers 2 has some of that Persona spark but the characters don’t feel as fleshed out. Which is odd, because you spend a good chunk of the game pissing about inside their heads. This is the game’s equivalent of Persona 5’s Mementos, the multi-level side dungeon thing you’re allowed to explore more of the further you are in the story, except now there’s three of them and it’s tied to the friendship mechanics. John, Paul and George all have a representative dungeon you explore to unlock their full memories and backstory. In which case, I can only assume all three spent the majority of their lives doing crosswords in a planetarium going by the unchanging visual theme all three dungeons share.

Just to skip to the end, what killed my interest in Soul Hackers 2 was that it’s a little bit closer to the end of the spectrum that prefers repetitive dungeon grinding to waifu seduction. Even leaving aside the incredibly samey memory dungeons. I got through a tedious subway tunnels dungeon as part of the main story and was then grandly informed that the next story dungeon would be taking us to another set of subway tunnels with a slightly different name. What didn’t help is that Soul Hackers 2 shares the Persona Strikers issue in that absent Persona’s time limit mechanic there’s no reason not to leave the dungeon every time you find a warp point, go home, have a sandwich and a poo then come straight back with full health and stamina, but that means slogging through, like, four loading screens when it’d’ve been much more expedient to just add sandwich and poo facilities to the warp points. Also, I like trying to collect all the demons when I’m in a dungeon. It’s the best way to be fully equipped going forward and it’s a nice contemplative task, like doing the hoovering.

And in other SMT games this is pretty straightforward. You meet demons in battle, you try to recruit them by asking nicely or giving them cash, to the absolute disbelief of the Pokemon trainer just offscreen. You don’t do that in Soul Hackers. Instead, you hope to randomly run into one of your demon mates in the dungeon and hope they randomly want to give you a new demon instead of a sweet wrapper or some bogeys they found and then you hope they randomly give you one you haven’t got yet. That’s too much randomness for me. I end up jogging back and forth across a fully explored dungeon hoping demon pickups will appear, which I guess could be more annoying if it wasn’t easy to avoid fighting by bitchslapping the random encounters and telling them I’m not in the mood, but there was nothing wrong with the established “recruit demons during battle” method and this feels like being different for difference’s sake, like they’re trying to avoid being accused of copying their homework. Soul Hackers 2, then: boring, don’t recommend. Hope that summary saved you some time because that’s a courtesy the game won’t extend. I wish Atlus would stop fannying about and announce Persona 6. “Hey we’re announcing something soon!” “Is it Persona 6, Atlus?” “Could be! Better watch and find out!” Then they just announce they’re rereleasing the Persona 4 colouring book or something. Fuck you, Atlus, you keep doing this. If I wanted tease and denial action I’d squat over an automated lawn sprinkler.

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