‘Soul Hackers 2’ is just not Persona. And that is okay.

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Accessible on: PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Collection X|S, Xbox One

Developer: Atlus | Writer: Sega

Beneath embargo: Content material up till you defeat Zenon in addition to main plot spoilers, together with particulars of the deaths of any characters

Followers of Atlus video games who’re coming into “Soul Hackers 2” might must mood their expectations. In worldwide markets, the JRPG developer has turn out to be finest identified for its Persona collection, a much less punishing spinoff of its long-running Shin Megami Tensei collection, and as such all of its different franchises are inevitably in contrast with that prime bar.

The Soul Hackers franchise is yet one more spinoff, however “Soul Hackers 2” lacks the grandiose nature of the most recent mainline entries in Atlus’s flagship franchises. Its smaller scale leads to a extra centered and streamlined expertise. Whereas “Soul Hackers 2” isn’t almost as troublesome because the Shin Megami Tensei collection is understood to be, it nonetheless provides a problem as enemies can hit fairly onerous even on the simplest issue. And there are simply sufficient traces of Persona’s affect, primarily by the social sim points, that followers of the collection and extra informal gamers will love as properly.

You play as Ringo, a digital agent of the supercomputer Aion, who builds her a bodily physique and sends her together with one other agent, Figue, on a journey to cease the apocalypse. Aion’s predictive programming foretells that the deaths of three folks — Saizo, Arrow and Milady — will result in the top of the world, however when Ringo units out to avoid wasting them, she arrives too late. Via her Soul Hack means, which permits her to bind her spirit with others, she’s in a position to successfully deliver them again to life. All three are Satan Summoners, which means they’ll forge contracts with demons and combat alongside them, they usually be part of Ringo to collect the 5 Covenants, types of power that every bear unimaginable energy. The Covenants play an important half within the planet’s impending doom, as whoever obtains all of them can summon the Nice Will, a mysterious and highly effective entity.

What makes Ringo stand out is that she’s a completely voiced character along with her personal character, a departure from the silent protagonists that Persona and Shin Megami Tensei make the most of. Ringo has a playful and sarcastic facet to her, quipping with different characters throughout conversations, which makes her humorous and entertaining. As a supercomputer caught inside a restricted bodily physique, she additionally has an inquisitive nature concerning the human race, and he or she learns how people behave by her conversations along with her companions. It’s by these dialogues that “Soul Hackers 2” channels a part of Persona’s DNA.

Much like Persona’s Social Hyperlinks and Confidant social simulation methods, Ringo can chat up Arrow, Saizo and Milady throughout Hangouts to study extra about them and talk about their pet preferences (canine vs. cats), what sort of alcohol they like and different varied matters. These conversations happen round a cool cyberpunk outside bar with pink cherry blossom petals blowing within the wind and jazz guitar music enjoying within the background. The sport’s soundtrack, composed by MONACA, is excellent — splashes of digital music and eccentric chanting vocals wash over its world, together with riffing electrical guitars for its intense boss battles. It actually helps soak the participant within the sport’s sci-fi setting.

Via Hangouts, gamers can earn Soul Factors towards the three characters. The upper the extent, the deeper Ringo can enterprise into every of their respective Soul Matrix, that are elective dungeons gamers (much like “Persona 5’s” Mementos dungeon) can undergo to unlock further skills for the characters in battle.

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As for dungeon design, those in “Soul Hackers 2” really feel as if “Shin Megami Tensei V” didn’t transition to an open world. The dungeons in “Soul Hackers 2” include very slender corridors, very similar to a standard dungeon-crawling expertise you’d see in one other Atlus franchise, Etrian Odyssey and even older Shin Megami Tensei video games. There’s a map within the backside proper nook that mechanically fills out as you discover the dungeon like a maze.

The primary “Soul Hackers” sport was in a first-person perspective, whereas “Soul Hackers 2” makes use of a third-person digicam. Whereas I respect the try and invoke the identical sense of exploration, the digicam is totally too near Ringo’s bottom, which oftentimes makes it troublesome to see what’s in entrance of her. Fortunately, Atlus confirmed {that a} day one patch will give console gamers the choice to zoom out.

One other challenge is the tasteless decor of the dungeons themselves. Whether or not you’re within the underground subway dungeon or the delivery district, most of the dungeons look very same-y with few distinct background options. These are the exact opposite of “Persona 5′s” elaborately designed Palaces crafted round a selected villain and theme. It wasn’t till the ultimate dungeon in “Soul Hackers 2” that I felt it had an attention-grabbing format and a few precise colour as a substitute of simply darkish tones in every single place.

The battle system makes an attempt just a few modifications from the Press Flip mechanic the Shin Megami Tensei collection is understood for. “Soul Hackers 2” has the Stack system, through which each time you strike an enemy’s elemental weak point, a counter on the high proper of the display will increase. On the finish of your staff’s flip, Ringo summons a Sabbath along with her crew of demons, which is principally identical to Persona’s All-Out-Assault, to deal explosive bonus harm to all enemies. The upper your Stack, the stronger the Sabbath.

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Stacking is an extremely satisfying and enjoyable system that feels such as you’re at a on line casino attempting to — ahem — stack as many chips as you possibly can earlier than going all out with a bang; it’s sufficient of a distinction from the Press Flip method that it feels distinctive. I additionally love the silhouettes of the demons gathering across the enemies when a Stack is initiated, as in the event that they’re getting ready for Ringo’s order to strike. A sickly, haunting inexperienced aura swirls and envelopes all the battlefield — it turns into increasingly opaque because the Stack will increase.

With out Persona’s calendar system or “Shin Megami Tensei V’s” open world, the construction of “Soul Hackers 2” feels confined. It’s additionally a considerably shorter sport (by JRPG requirements, at any price) than different Atlus titles, with my first playthrough ending at 30 hours. There are many facet quests to deal with too that may add to your playtime, they usually present good worldbuilding. For instance, one has you monitoring down a number of rogue Satan Summoners that use their skills for nefarious functions, comparable to murdering different harmless people. Satan Summoners possess unimaginable energy, what if it was misused?

There’s quite a bit to love about “Soul Hackers 2.″ Ringo’s upbeat personality makes her a phenomenal protagonist, along with both the engaging combat and fun characters keeping players absorbed within the minute-to-minute gameplay loop. Sure, “Soul Hackers 2” will likely be unfairly in comparison with Atlus’s crown jewel, Persona, however the sport undoubtedly stands by itself two toes.

George Yang is a contract author protecting video video games and tradition. His work has appeared in Polygon, USGamer, the Hollywood Reporter and extra. You possibly can comply with him on Twitter @yinyangfooey.

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