The Shin Megami Tensei releases have followed a long and convoluted path over the years that even the most ardent fan would surely be confused by on occasion. The latest release, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, is actually a remake of a Sega Saturn title that was only released in Japan way back in 1997 (and later ported to the original PlayStation, again only in Japan). Available now exclusively for Nintendo 3DS, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a complicated ride through relationships, battle mechanics and techno horror.
The videogame begins as it means to go on, with a lengthy text-based introduction punctuated only by the occasional need for minimal player interaction. Many videogames are story lead these days, but if reading thousands of lines of dialogue backed by still images isn’t your thing you should write off Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers immediately. Those who are still with us are likely to be fans of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise already, and those gamers will know exactly what to expect.
This isn’t a reboot or a re-imagining of any sort; Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is the original 32-bit release beefed up a little thanks to the added horsepower of the Nintendo 3DS hardware. The animation sequences (though not presented in stereoscopic 3D) look richer here on a more modern console and the polygon character models – while far from pushing the system’s limitations – are clearly superior to that which would have been capable sixteen years ago. Navigation around the world is handled via a very simplified map system in which players conduct their movement in a very abstract manner, while interiors and the virtual construct within the world, Paradigm X, is explored directly through a first-person view. It may sound like a complex series of disparate mechanics, and it is, yet they somehow manage to gel into a reasonably coherent experience.
Combat is also played from a first-person perspective and is initiated at random when entering an area controlled by enemy forces. Acting on a very similar fashion to that of the recent Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, the player selects each of their attacks from a menu system before playing out the turn including the enemy team’s retaliation. Your party builds their abilities and levels-up over time just as you do, though the system is very linear and not at all gripping. Instead the main attraction is intended to be the storyline, so this either rings true with you or, again, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers probably isn’t going to hold much appeal.
While Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is an enjoyable experience it is also a very demanding one. Fans of the Shin Megami Tensei series will no doubt be expecting this, but newcomers may find that the reliance on text based action and the player’s own will to progress the story is too great a barrier. Technically speaking Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is often on the back foot despite its impressive voice acting, and as such it’s surely a product released for an already keen audience and unlikely to attract many new players into the fray.