Soul Hackers is an interesting take on the SMT series. It truly felt like a totally different game from most of the rest of SMT. However, it has a lot of unfinished ideas.
Soul Hackers is probably one of my favorites from this series in terms of mechanics. It's hard to put into words, but it seems that the programming team might have gotten bored and just started pitching ideas because there's a lot of stuff in here but some of it seems very underused.
Overall, the game seems very similar to Strange Journey, with a tiny bit of Nocturne thrown in. From Strange Journey it keeps the dungeon based exploration and most of the combat system. But the thing that I noticed the most is that the travel between locations seems to flow a lot better as Soul Hackers has a world map that reminds me of Nocturne's world map, at least in style. As opposed to the simple menu interface that Strange Journey had. The world map seems a lot less linear than the menu version.
In terms of actual dungeon design, there were quite a few interesting touches that they included. But unfortunately, I don't think they managed to pull it off as well as they could have. The are museum level, where you could enter paintings, was really cool because they could play around with various effects and they had the chance to throw around some interesting logic puzzles. However, since the museum I have not found any more puzzles that caught my interest as much.
Speaking of the museum, it was located in a sort of "shopping plaza" section. Which to me felt much too small. It consisted of one, maybe two walkways and the associated stores. Given that this plaza is supposed to be the hub for the entire city, I'd expect for it to be much larger than it was. However, I guess keeping it small has an advantage in that a player wouldn't burn much macca (the stuff you use to keep demons summoned in this game) while walking around it.
The integration of macca vs yen as a money system was interesting. You got mostly macca from battles and it could be converted to yen in order to buy equipment and such, but as macca it had more uses. It's more than just money, it keeps your party sustained and if you have none your demons slowly start to lose hp. I think it was actually a nice bit of flavor to add, and farming it isn't that much of an issue because ten or so minutes of grinding can get you a rather sizable amount of macca if you have no demons summoned.
One thing I found particularly interesting about this game is that it seems to pull from a very different list of demons than most SMT games. I don't recall Yaka appearing in any of the other games I've played. It's a very welcome change from the usual set of demons that you see in these games. The main problem that I have is that some demons have movesets that are counter to their associated AI. For example: Silky has very good offensive spells, but hardly ever uses them because her AI focuses on healing spells (which are just as good BTW).
Combat in this game feels a lot easier than most of the SMT series. All demons have an associated AI based on "personality" that dictates what they do when you tell them to "do whatever." The AI is usually pretty good, it knows when something is pointless and will not usually attack into enemies that reflect its damage type or use a massive heal on one target when the entire party is hurting. The little snippets of dialogue that come along with it are a nice touch. The downside is that the battles don't feel as difficult as they do in games such as Nocturne. Even the boss battles are sometimes as simple as just keeping a close eye on the hp of your demons so they don't die. On one hand, this makes the series a lot more accessable. On the other hand, old time fans of the series won't really be as satisfied with the combat in this one. The only time that a boss battle is tough is when it has a gimmick of some sort that makes your win condition unclear.
As an alternative to combat, you can potentially talk to some of the opposing demons and reach some sort of agreement. As is usual with the SMT games. I found some of the dialogue to be rather amusing, but sometimes it doesn't really synch up with the look of the demon it's associated with. For example: A half harpy half snake demon talking like a 7 year old. But all in all, it's a fun alternative to standard combat. Especially when grinding for money.
You will notice that I haven't mentioned plot yet. The reason for that is that it's rather insubstatial compared to what I'm used to from SMT. It is there and by the time I hit level 40 I know who the good and bad guys are. However, there seems to be surprisingly little plot compared to everything else in this game. Sometimes I even forget that there is a plot because everything else seems to overpower it.
However, it's impressive the sheer amount of voice acting that made it into this game. Just about everything outside of combat has voice acting. Including the basic shops and their pointless talk topics. Sometimes it's amusing the accents that they throw in, from the Indian accent on the healing shop to the French accent on the sword fusion NPC.
Being that this is a remake the graphics are still the old PS1 era graphics. Those of you who have seen it before know what I mean. It's not that amazing when compared to the graphics of today, but it translates fairly well to the 3D that the 3DS uses. Most combat consists of still sprites that are moved around to make the attack animations. As a whole, it feels very old-school. Not that old-school is a bad thing.
People still love the old Final Fantasies after all.
|+Demon list is different from most of the series
+Grinding is relatively painless
+Retro feel (if you're into that)
|-Story is strangely insubstantial
-Combat may have been oversimplified
Final Grade: B
Soul Hackers is a good starting point for anyone new to SMT and most who like the series will find it reasonable, but not amazing. It has some interesting ideas but doesn't really expand on them enough.