Soul Hackers comes out today and Atlus was kind of enough to send a free copy my way as thanks for being such a long-time fan (and writing the first walkthrough for the game way back when). I’ve only been able to play a few hours on the 3DS version so far but between that and my experience with the Saturn version of the game, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the game’s quality.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first – this is a mostly straight port of a game that first came out in Japan in 1997. And though the art designs are quality, the actual tech running the graphics aren’t. The 2D art ain’t bad (though of limited animation) but the 3D exploration & the animated cutscenes are pretty laughable. The story can also be laughable at times but in a charming sort of “This is what people in the 90s thought the future might be like” sort of way.
However, the gameplay in Soul Hackers is gloriously sophisticated in an old-school way. 6 party slots (2 for your human characters, 4 for your summoned demons). Lots of fun equipment to mess around with. Software add-ons for your gun-computer (yes, this is a thing) that you can install for various bonuses. Monster negotiation (complete with little smiley faces to indicate which monsters might be swayed over to your side with the right persuasion techniques). An ally AI & alignment system. Demon-infused sword crafting. Spirit Quests where you take control of new characters for special mini-scenarios. And so on and so on.
Besides the obvious change of “THE GAME IS FINALLY IN ENGLISH WOOHOOO!” most of the changes in the 3DS version are quality of life improvements. There are some basic 3D effects. Load times have been dropped to basically nil. Combat is super-fast even on the default setting. The bottom screen of the 3DS is used to show off typical useful information like maps & enemy stats. Additional options have been added to the game to let players customize their experience and make the game easier (or harder) than it originally was. A streetpass feature has been added that lets you trade in streetpass coins for new allies. One improvement that was a bit of a welcome surprise is the voice acting – it’s both of high quality & there’s more of it than I expected.
Now that it’s in English, I think Soul Hackers has overthrown Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne as my favorite Atlus game that isn’t Persona 4 Golden. Yes, the visuals are dated but if you can look past that, you’ll find a game that’s at the pinnacle of the 32-bit RPG era. Highly recommended.