When you want to talk about prolific Japanese Role Playing game series there are several that can be discussed, but by far the winner in sheer number alone is Shin Megami Tensei (Mega-Ten). The problem with this has always been that most of those games are never really seen outside of Japan. Over the last several years this has stopped being the case in many instances, to the point that Atlus is even going through their back catalog and releasing, before now, Japan exclusive titles. This is how a game that came out 15 years ago, on the Sega Saturn has managed to occasionally make me wonder if the 3DS has been glued to my hand.
Most plots in the series fall into one of two categories; nonsensical, overly-complex, and vaguely lacking explanation and the later Persona titles. While the writers involved seemed to have gotten better at both of them, leaning heavier talent on the latter, Soul Hacker does not seem to the lessons that they have learned since its initial release. Unlike current Mega-Ten games the information dump that takes place in the first hour or two isn’t really that enjoyable as the game throws strange concepts around without every really explaining what is happening. A large chunk of the story involves the main, speechless, character reliving the last adventures of other summoners—although it isn’t really explained what is going on until sometime after the first experience. The first time this happened I simply thought that this was something currently happening, and I was done playing as the other guy for a while.
Odd writing issues aside there isn’t really a ton to dislike, for the devote JRPG fan. When the game finally does take its hands off the player and allow them to roam free is exactly the moment that the game starts to feel like it has something to say. For all the back and forth between two characters it really is the time spent exploring a dungeon, or going on rescue missions, that helps build the affinity with them instead of being told that they are import people in the life of the main character. It the pacing and feel of the game are something that take a little to find their feet, but after the first couple of wobbly steps it seems to take off running with little to no effort.
The graphics haven’t really been upgraded from what one would consider state of the art 15 years ago. This has the odd sensation of making this a game that would have been completely comfortable on the DS instead of its more powerful bigger brother. The 3DS manages to handle the pixels rather well, which considering is most of the graphics helps out in leaps and bounds, but the problem becomes the moment that the game tries to become fancy and force some kind of CGI, unskippable cut scene down the players throat. The illusion that was carefully crafted with well-drawn pixels is shattered and gives more of the impression that, oh yeah, this is kind of an old game.
The problem isn’t that Soul Hackers hasn’t aged well, besides some oddly shaped bruises this is a pretty shiny JRPG, the problem is that it seems to be too beholden to the fact that it is. The bottom map on the touch screen is a nice addition for a game that takes place mostly in first person, if they had managed to continue slight and system specific tweaks like that this game would seem to be more of a re-mastering instead of a polished port. Granted, some of these gripes are less than small, please don’t take that to mean that this isn’t a wonderful game. If you have this system and are a fan, in any way, of the Mega-Ten series you owe it to yourself to purchase this. Even those who own a 3DS should probably do some research on it before writing it off, it will be worth your time.