Welcome to MetaCouncil's official thread for Soul Hackers 2.
In this thread, we can talk about all aspects of the game and its relation to other Shin Megami Tensei games at large. Please mark spoilers accordingly. Post your experiences, screenshots, tracks, fan arts or clips from your favourite vtubers.
I'm not an SMT veteran by any means, but I like the games all the same, especially the soundtrack. This thread is going to be mostly a low-key affair, but if anyone has any questions about the game, ask them here, and hopefully, I can answer them to the best of my ability.
Instead of doing an info dump about the game, I'll do things a bit differently this time and offer my overview on the differences between the 3DS remake of SH1 and SH2, divided by Gameplay, Exploration, Demon Fusion and Aesthetics. and what I like and dislike about it. I won't be comparing it with mainline SMT games or the Persona series (we have the gaming press at large for that). I also will try to keep the thread updated with new info as it happens.
What I like the most about the Soul Hackers series is that they are trying to do their own identity that is somewhat experimental in nature, but neither SMT nor Persona. They borrowed the combat and dungeon crawling aspect from SMT games and a little of the contemporary Japanese setting and social aspects from the Persona series while keeping their own unique aesthetics. At its core, the games remain a dungeon crawler first and foremost. The SMT mechanics of taking advantage of the enemies' weaknesses, demon negotiation and fusion are still present here, although SH2 does things a little differently.
While SH1/SH2 doesn't have the Press Turn system, combat encounter works mostly the same way in both games. In SH2, there is an additional mechanic called Stack. Once any party member strikes any of the enemies' weaknesses, a number will be added to this stack, which can go up to 16. At the end of the party's turn, Ringo can then convert this stack into a Sabbath which is a kind of free, non-elemental attack. Furthermore, by summoning demons with a Tandem Skill, additional properties can be added to the Sabbath, such as status ailment effects. The larger the number of the stack, the stronger the attack will be. The mechanics seem interesting enough since Ringo can earn Commander Skills that influence the Sabbath by increasing Soul Levels of her allies.
Unlike SH1 where the protagonist's party will only have Hitomi/Nemissa as a permanent party member and accompanied by the summoned demons, in SH2 Ringo's party will have up to three permanent party members, but without any demons as party members. Some people really dislike this, but personally, I don't mind this change. To make use of their skill set, the demons can be paired up with Ringo's party members and switched upon depending on the need, although this comes with the cost of a turn. And the loyalty system from the SH1 was a bit of an annoyance anyway so that's one mechanic that I won't miss.
The COMP from the first game made its return in SH2, although with a very limited capacity. This is where I have mixed feelings about it. In SH1, the COMP is basically a wearable weapon/summoning device that you can summon, fuse demons and gain special abilities (*in a limited capacity) with it. I think that it's really cool that you can install software on it. This software will add passive abilities to the COMP, among other things. In SH2, it functions simply as a weapon you can summon demons with. While there's a weapon upgrade/customisation mechanics so that it can gain passive abilities like in SH1's COMP, I feel it somehow has lost its charm. Ringo's COMP in SH2 is special since her COMP is the only unit that can perform Sabbath/Commander Skills with it, while the other party members can only summon one demon at a time with their own respective COMPs.
The positional mechanics from SH1 is another of SH2's omissions that I missed from the first game. The concept of putting your attackers/tanks on the front row while ranged attackers/casters should sit on the back row in order to optimise damage input and output in dungeon crawlers is as old as time by this stage, and I dislike seeing that SH2 doesn't have this mechanic. Another combat mechanic that seems to have been omitted is that the enemies can't exploit Ringo's party's elemental weaknesses. It's a curious decision since I believe this could make the combat encounters more interesting.
Both Soul Hackers games took place in Amami City, although the similarity stops at the city name and some of the locations. While we're not navigating the overworld with a map marker anymore, there are still people to chat with in SH2's many different locations.
Even though both cities act as a hub for the party before delving into various dungeons, SH2 leans a fair bit more into the social aspect when compared with its predecessor. Ringo will develop her relationship with her allies through social interactions in Amami City's various locales. We have the safehouse where Ringo and her allies can rest, eat meals and socialise, andother hang-out locations like bars and restaurants where she can increase her allies' Soul Levels by having personal events. There is also Club Cretaceous where Ringo and her allies can take requests from its proprietor, which I hope won't turn into another collect-a-thon as we progress through the game. Other than that, there are also Realms where Summoners and Demons coexist. We can find shops and other locations here, much like the Shibihama Core in SH1.
Dungeon exploration in SH1 was in first-person perspective mode. Obviously, this has changed in SH2 which utilises a third-person perspective. The random encounters which can't be avoided in SH1 can be skipped entirely in SH2, which is a welcome change in my opinion. Enemies are represented by symbols and can be interacted with. In contrast, the dungeons in SH1 are just empty levels with limited interactivity. Ringo can strike the symbol first to gain the first turn order advantage, and conversely, the enemy symbols will have the same advantage if they caught up to Ringo unaware. The dungeons are predetermined and not randomly generated, although the degree of complexity in SH2 dungeons is noticeably less when compared with SH1, which were grid-based and played into the strength of 3DS' second screen.
Apart from the normal dungeons, there is another subset of dungeons in SH2 called Soul Matrix. This is essentially Ringo's allies' personal dungeons, where they will revisit past events in their lives, leading up to their story in the game proper. This is probably the equivalent of Vision Quests in SH1, where the protagonists shifted into other summoners' point of view throughout the game. From the screenshots that I've seen, the map layouts are slightly more complex when compared to the "normal" dungeon, and I'm keen to see what kind of gimmick they will have in store for us.
While the normal dungeons and VR levels in SH1 are mostly consisted of subdued design, I think this is mostly due to the limitation of the 3DS platform. In SH2, the Soul Matrix dungeons at first glance does look pretty sparse, but I think that the design is varied enough that I probably won't mind the repetition that much. Regardless, I hope that the Vision Quest in Soul Matrix will have some very interesting bosses/demons since the Vision Quests bosses are some of the hardest fights in SH1.
Gouma-den / Demon Fusion
SH2 does things a little differently from SH1 in terms of demon negotiation, capture and fusing. First of all, the moon phase system doesn't exist in SH2. I don't know yet if this is a good thing since the moon phase can make things interesting (apart from fusion influences). There is also some hilarious dialogue in SH1 which can be had if you try talk to demons during full moons. Secondly, since we can't fuse demons with our COMPs anymore, Ringo will need to go back to Gouma-den to fuse her demons. I feel it's going to be a bit of an annoyance to backtrack to a fast travel point, return to Gouma-den to fuse the demons we wanted, and then back to the dungeon again. I do hope that it won't affect the pacing that much. In SH1, we can fuse demons right in the middle of the dungeon (although being grid-based, these dungeons can be complex (read: a chore)) to navigate out of, and it makes sense to give COMPs the ability to fuse demons.
I'm still unsure if there's going to be additional fusion mechanics like the Zoma demon race or Dark demon variant like in SH1, but I didn't recall reading it in any of the reviews, so I can probably assume that this is another aspect that seems to have been omitted from SH2.
Another change that is unique to SH2 is the way demon negotiation works. In SH1, the TALK option during random encounters will initiate a dialogue with the demons. In SH2, whenever Ringo and her party enter a dungeon, she can initiate something called Demon Recon. Essentially, the demons she recruited will be spread out throughout the dungeon. As she progresses through the dungeon, she can talk to them to receive items, cash, healing and the chance to recruit new demons.
According to some of the reviews that I read, the demon recruitment process is simplified since none of the aspects which can influence the recruitment such as Ringo's INT stat, Moon Phase, Demon Personality or RNG will affect the demon's behaviour during reccruitment. As long as the demon is given what they ask for, the recruitment is as good as done. I feel that this system is a good tradeoff since I felt that in SH1 the RNG is a bit all over the place. The encounter rate is a bit high, though, so there were plenty of chances to recruit another if we failed to recruit one.
It remains to be seen if the demon negotiation dialogues are as diverse as they were in SH1. There are some great variations of demon responses in SH1, and I felt that the localisation team has done a wonderful job on it.
The overall SH1 aesthetics reflected the period the Saturn original (which was released in 1997) was made. I especially love the 90s cyberpunk feel; Kaneko's character design, while rather subdued, remain great for the time and I consider Nemissa's design timeless. The other members of Spookies also have unique designs, and I especially love Lunch's "hacker" outfit. In SH2, Shirow Miwa is the character designer. While I haven't read his manga works, I like his design for the anime Kiznaiver and SEGA's 7th-Dragon 2020 PSP exclusive. I've seen some complaints on the web saying that the character design feels "generic". I feel nothing can be farther from the truth. Ringo's neon jacket alone feels distinctive, and Saizo's shark teeth are bold designs.
Most of the SH2 reviews that I've read complained about the monotonous, uniform look of the dungeons. While I don't think these complaints were without merit, the dungeons in SH1 were mostly located in buildings or warehouses, and those locations tend to have uniform look as well. I feel these decisions make sense in the context of the themes: urbanisation, corporate espionage and the flow of information and privacy in modern age. These are reflected in the dungeon designs. There are electronics everywhere, computer consoles, grey office buildings and stacks of rusting containers in warehouses. Granted, that might be just because of the limitation of the 3DS as a platform, but I think that alien architectures and abstract landscapes are better suited to SMT mainline games rather than Soul Hackers.
While the utilitarian nature of the SH1 user interface has its charm, I feel that the portable platform it runs on didn't quite give art style justice. Not limited by the confines of a portable platform, the user interface of SH2 looks slick and colourful. In a stark contrast to SH1, the modern look of SH2 with its sharp lines, triangular shapes, bold typefaces and neon-coloured aesthetics couldn't be more different than SH1. I feel it's a very cyberpunk in the year 20xx-looking design, and while I can understand that these kinds of designs are not everyone's cup of tea, I feel the visual design is very distinctive with its own identity, while not trying to emulate the garish and overblown primary colours aesthetics that the game took its cues from. And much like SH1, the 2D busts of talking characters in dialogue boxes have plenty of expressions and charms. I feel Miwa's artwork truly shines here.
The electronic tracks in SH1 are definitely something I loved. Again, the cyberpunk aesthetics are reflected in it, with great effect. I would love to hear what Monaca has in store for us for SH2, considering their arranged tracks for the Soul Hackers 25th-anniversary music album are sublime. There are 74 tracks in the whole soundtrack which I hope will be available in digital shortly after its physical release in October 2022.
I think that will do for now. There is obviously still a fair bit more things to talk about, but I think I can discuss it later while playing the game myself, so I'll leave you to it with Ringo schoolin' R.S in the way of the beats.
Cover image by Shirow Miwa (@zi38)
Ringo dishing out the L screenshots by fail from The Mako Reactor