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Devil Summoner

Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers

Apr 16 // Chris Carter
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers (3DS)Developer: AtlusPublisher: AtlusReleased: April 16, 2013MSRP: $39.99 Soul Hackers deals with two major themes that are usually present in SMT titles: technology, and the occult -- but with a decidedly larger focus on the former. Through its cyberpunk veneer, the game weaves its tale through a young group of hackers who call themselves "The Spookies", who range from 17-25 years old. You'll trek through the highly advanced Amami City and even visit the new virtual frontier -- the digital city Paradigm X -- to discover the dark side of Amami, its inhabitants, and an ancient, powerful evil. There's just one major problem that happens very early into the game: your best friend Hitomi, and fellow Spookie member sorta kinda gets possessed by a demon named Nemissa -- the wild and sexual polar opposite of the reserved, shy Hitomi. You'll also embark upon a number of "vision quests" of sorts that involve a mysterious being named Redman, who takes the shape of a wolf. Yep, this game gets kind of out there sometimes, and it's all the better for it. While the narrative is interesting, it can dip into familiar fare, especially if you're playing it for the first time 16 years later, since the allure of Amami City fades a bit when you realize you have a supercomputer in your pocket. What really makes Soul Hackers shine are the timeless characters and their interactions. Even Hitomi and Nemissa alone will be enough to carry the game, as their clashing personalities both grow over the course of the game in an endearing way. Likewise, the rest of The Spookies are just as entertaining to hang out with. Presentation wise Soul Hackers really makes an effort to differentiate itself from other games. The soundtrack isn't one of the best in the genre, but it suits the mood of the game perfectly and I have no complaints. The cast is fully voice acted, and well acted at that, as not one actor in particular does a bad job. Soul Hackers has also aged very well visually (although it clearly does look like an old game), and the 3D effect adds a nice depth to the menus and hacking sequences. You'll get to and fro using a reductive map, that features your character as a pawn/arrow of sorts. It's crude, but it's effective and it makes getting to new areas incredibly easy. The core of the game however will take place by way of first-person exploration -- dungeon crawler style, like some of the prior Megami Tensei games or the western Wizardry franchise. The draw distance could stand to be enhanced for the first-person sequences, but the addition of a dual screen allows for the helpful display of the automap on the bottom screen so you should never get lost. To compliment the old school dungeon crawling atmosphere, combat is decidedly old as well, taking place entirely within menus. You'll be choosing from all the typical options, like physical combat, magic, and items, as well as issuing direct battle tactics to all party members or letting the AI do the work. Your party will consist of the player character (PC) and Hitomi/Nemissa, with four demons taking up the other battle slots. Speaking of demons, since the occult theme is paramount here, you're going to be dealing with more than just Nemissa. In addition to encountering demons in most of your battles throughout the game, you can also train them, fuse them, collect them as party members, and even converse with them in battle. My first taste of the latter mechanic happened when I unassumingly choose the "Talk" option before attacking an enemy, to which he replied, "Dude! Fighting demons is so lame. I should join you instead" -- at which point I got a brand new, free party member. After he joined my party, I chatted it up with another demon of the same type, only to have him join me after responding "dude, you know my best friend? Awesome!" Another demon talked to me about listening to music on CDs, then tried to hit me up for money, only to call me "cheap" after fishing out $100. I had a lot of fun just talking to the demonic cast in general, not even counting my overall enjoyment with combat. While you will eventually reach your limit with these conversations, they add a goofy element to the game that I really enjoyed. Initially, pretty much every conversation you have is based on a number of variables, and the fact that it kept me guessing as to how these demons would respond really adds to the game as a whole. But it's not all fun and games, as the demon system is pretty damn intricate and will take a bit of time to master. For instance, the lunar cycle affects special powers for some demons, forcing you to always be aware of the time of day. Every single demon also varies in terms of personalities and affiliations (lawful, neutral, chaos), which change in-combat behavior. Demons can refuse your orders (like Pokemon if you don't have the correct badge), leave you, or cause general mayhem. Dumb demons will often forget what they're doing, and the more savvy demons will only stay with you because they're forced to, vehemently denying their loyalty if you use moves that they hate or aren't accustomed to. Demon use costs a resource called Magnetite, which you can trade for at a special marketplace, which further complicates things. They also can't gain levels, so you will want to fuse them or replace them as you progress throughout the game. It keeps things fresh and interesting, and brings home the idea that you aren't supposed to get attached to demons. Having said that though, Soul Hackers is one of the most accessible MegaTen games I've played. There's a lot of depth here, but if you have a background in RPGs in general, you should be fine. Plus, you could always use your COMP to not only hack the automap function, but change the difficulty of the game and have your demons ignore affiliations if you're finding yourself dying more than you'd like (you can make it more difficult as well). You can also utilize it to save anywhere if you want to circumvent one of the older aspects of the game. Now, it does have some antiquated mechanics that will grind on people who aren't used to them. For one, you cannot save anywhere through normal gameplay, which can be a major issue if you're going on a 30 minute dungeon run only to be on the receiving end of an errant critical hit, die, and get a complete game over screen -- no continues allowed. [embed]250799:47946:0[/embed] On that note, if your main party member dies, it's lights out and back to the title screen. It doesn't bother me personally as I tend to save quite a bit and the game accommodates for three file slots, but losing a ton of progress can be an issue when save points are few and far between in some areas. So what's new with the 3DS version exactly? Well there's 30 extra demons -- some of which are alternate versions of ones found in the original, alongside of brand new ones. The 3DS also has improved load times, a new opening, and the ability to repurchase old demons you've fused before, to aid the collection process. There's also new content featuring two incarnations of Devil Summoner star Raidou Kuzunoha, which will no doubt please hardcore fans (although I don't want to ruin it here). Street Pass functionality is featured, allowing you to earn Play Coins to exchange for currency to buy and summon demons (mostly the demons new to the 3DS version), as well as interact with, and evolve the adorable Nemechi, who has his own menu option. Keep in mind that Play Coins you spend will be wasted if you don't save the game afterwards (or die in the process). Soul Hackers is not a full-on remake, and more of a re-release. But you know what? Considering how well the game holds up even today, that's ok. Soul Hackers may have a number of antiquated principles and mechanics, but none of them are unprecedented or that difficult to deal with. So long as you're willing to put up with a bit of age, you'll be diving into one of the most accessible and enjoyable Shin Megami Tensei games in the series.
Soul Hackers review photo
Cyberpunk, demons, what's not to like?
I'm what you call an intrepid Shin Megami Tensei player. Although I've been playing JRPGs my whole life, the MegaTen series for the most part has eluded me -- you could call it my white whale. So over the past five years, I'...


Devil Summoner PSA: PS2 games on Amazon, anime streaming

For my SMT people
Apr 08
// Dale North
Good morning to my fellow Shin Megami Tensei fans. It's a wonderful time to be alive, isn't it? We're playing through Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers right now for review, and Shin Megami Tensei IV was announced for North Americ...

Deep demon hacking in Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers

Apr 04 // Dale North
[embed]250799:47946:0[/embed] You'll be hacking demons more than anything else, of course. You'll do what you always do in a Shin Megami Tensei game -- talk to demons -- but the cyberpunk setting has you doing so in a more hack-y way, for the lack of a better word. I mean, it doesn't get more cyberpunk than a gun (called GUMP) that unfolds to also add computing and demon summoning/communicaton functions.  From what I saw, this 3DS port strikes an interesting balance between old and new. It's funny to think that the 3DS has more graphical horsepower than the Sega Saturn did, but it shows in the port. It's a case of new on top of old, but in the best way. From the cutscenes and art to the menus and actual gameplay, Soul Hackers gives off this really cool vibe of jumping into something old, but also something polished up and new. The presentation isn't quite up to what we saw with the most recent Atlus 3DS title, Etrian Odyssey IV, but that's not to say that it doesn't look nice. Map navigation will remind fellow SMT fans of the first couple of Persona games in that you're moving a little pawn around a satellite-style view of Amami City as well as the greater world. Actual dungeon exploration looks sharp and clean, but with slightly less frills than EOIV. Again, the look fits with the vibe, so it's fine. It's no surprise that Soul Hackers is a first-person dungeon crawler with a demon summoning mechanic. This kind of dungeon exploration while fighting random battles and collecting demons along the way is likely something you've done before as an SMT fan, but there are a few changes to the system that make this game more challenging and interesting.  Demon negotiation is worth the trouble as you get to add them to your party to help you fight and explore, but it's a bit more work than usual in Soul Hackers. The basics are the same -- meet, greet (or beat), to add to your collection -- giving players a kind of demonic Pokemon vibe. Atlus says there are over 300 demons in Soul Hackers to collect, with over 30 being new additions over the original title. As with past series games, demon alignment is a key factor. You'll encounter Chaotic, Lawful, and Netural demons, and you'll have to be mindful of their alignment to get the best out of them. For example, chaotic demons might not listen to you, or lawful demons might not want to break the rules when you need them to. Demons also have their own characteristics that affect everything from negotiations to battle. A sly demon might argue with you as you try to talk it into coming into your party, while a dumb demon might do useless things in battle. If that wasn't enough to keep you busy, you'll also have to watch the lunar cycle, as it affects demon behavior. Atlus explained that some have special powers that unlock with certain timings of the lunar cycle. For example, one high-level demon is pretty weak during most moon phases, but with the full moon it becomes a killer.  Finally, demon use will cost you. Demons summoned cost one of the game's two currencies. Yen is used for standard purchases, but Magnetite is demon-only currency. You will pay to summon demons into your party, with each having their own cost, based on level. You'll also pay an upkeep cost, with each step costing you more of your money. But before you get too worried about finances, know that Magnetite is earned through regular play, and it seems that you'll have more than enough to work with. You can also trade Yen for Magnetite if you run out. All of these factors affect battles. For example, new strategies are required to best manage Magnetite. You could fight with low-cost, low-level demons and save some cash, and then pay for the big boys in key battles as a strategy. Atlus pointed out that party composition matters more than ever in Soul Hackers. I was told that there are times that you'll want to stack your team like you would in an MMO, with a tank, healer, DPS and more. But on top of all of this, you'll also have to be mindful of alignments, lunar cycles, personalities and more. Phew! I only had a chance to play through a few battles, but they were all satisfying enough that I'm already looking forward to release. I fought some low level beasts, which should have been easy, but I already had to contend with some of the above listed technicalities. One demon of a different alignment didn't want to fight when I told him to (it said "I don't wanna!") via a direct command. Soul Hackers lets you send out these direct commands during fights, but depending on characteristics, alignment, lunar cycles and more, those commands may not work out for you. There's also the option to let the demons decide for themselves how to proceed, but these factors still matter. As an example, a "dumb" demon might waste a turn by healing a party member that didn't need it. Soul Hackers also has some StreetPass functionality to play with. 3DS Game Coins can be used towards an in-game currency which can be used to acquire new demons. Your helper in these affairs, the cute little guy named Nemechi, can also be evolved using coins, which each of his levels bringing about new demon summoning opportunities. Atlus also briefly mentioned another StreetPass function that will let you interact and perhaps trade with other Soul Hackers owners. Both of these are welcome features! We hope to get started on a full review soon, but here's what you need to know now. First off, Soul Hackers is a fine looking port, given the care that Shin Megami Tensei fans would expect from Atlus. They have made good use of the 3DS's graphical capabilities as well as its dual screens and touch functionality -- quite an upgrade. And if you haven't tried to plug through an translation of the Japanese original, you also need to know that this game is going to be a delight for SMT fans. Soul Hackers is spilling over with depth. And demons. We don't have that much of a wait until the April 16 release date. Check back for our review in a week or so.
Soul Hackers photo
Demon system is delightfully technical
I got a short bit of time with 3DS RPG Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers last week, giving us the first taste of Atlus' port of this decade-and-a-half old Japanese Sega Saturn title, coming to North America for the first time late...

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