in my last post i gave an overview of the shin megami tensei series, and explained why i chose shin megami tensei: devil summoner: soul hackers, a 3DS re-release of a previously japan-only sega saturn title, as my first SMT title. i had played enough of the first SNES shin megami tensei game and others in the series to feel that soul hackers was pretty classic SMT, but i was also able to recognize its unique aspects.
first off, in terms of standard SMT mechanics, my immediate reaction to demon negotiation was that it was too random. i didn’t see why having the same conversation with the same demon should elicit different responses, and initially the indeterministic nature of these interactions really bothered me. after getting deeper into the games, though, it became clearer that you do still have to follow general approaches to different demons in order to recruit them (e.g. flattery for some, intimidation to others), and that making the system more rigid would make it overly complex and finicky. the mechanism does work well, and picking demons to recruit in order to avoid having to battle them adds a nice strategic element to the usual dungeon crawling grind.
the second aspect of the SMT games that took adjusting to is that you’re always looking to fuse your current demons into stronger ones, so the games are set up for you to not get too attached to the demons you currently have. later games in the series have tried to alleviate this in various ways, such as in SMT IV where your demons actually level up and learn new skills. SMT IV also succeeds in making you more interested in the various demons by showing close-up character portraits of them when you talk to them as opposed to just their full-body battle sprites as in soul hackers. unique to this entry, the game incorporates a loyalty mechanic whereby demons will be more obedient the more your orders match their personality (e.g. wild demons prefer to perform physical attacks). this is somewhat similar to purifying shadow pokemon in pokemon colosseum, and for the most part it does help make you more attached to your current set of demons. however, you’re still changing demons all the time, which detracts a bit from the overall experience, and i certainly didn’t reach the levels of affection for my team that i would in, say, a pokemon game or a more-traditional RPG, even taking the demons’ inherently lower cuddly factor into account.
although demons don’t level up in soul hackers, they can pass skills to their fused demons within certain constraints (which i didn’t bother following since they were too obtuse), and there’s a special demon called the dolly kadmon that you get early on that you can fuse to become stronger but that still keeps its identity. the game encourages you to use the dolly kadmon because, unlike all the other demons, it doesn’t cost any magnetite (one of the game’s two currencies) to summon it or keep it in your party. but since it averages its level with the demons it fuses with it’s always weaker than other demons you could fuse. apparently there are special fusions that will result in that demon becoming super powered, but they require a series of fusions that would require a FAQ to unlock: i certainly never came across them on my own, FAQ-less playthrough. i kind of hate it when games include really obscure “secrets” like that, but it didn’t seem to handicap my playthrough in general.
anyway, in terms of other features unique to this entry, sword fusion enables you to fuse a demon into a sword, and it’s a small but worthwhile feature. there’s also a “pet store” where you can deliver demons with specific attributes (e.g. knows a certain spell) to customers to get rewards, but i didn’t bother with that at all. for this 3DS remake the developers also added a special streetpass demon that evolves with streetpasses (or play coins) which unlocks demons exclusive to the 3DS version. this was another minor bonus that i didn’t really bother with. the game includes a set of in-game “apps” that give small bonuses, such as being able to talk to more types of demons. the only really worthwhile one among them is the one that allows you to save anywhere. again, SMT IV takes this mechanic a step further by allowing you to install many more apps and many more types of apps, and thus makes it much more worthwhile. for the 3DS remake the developers added more configuration options to make the game less old school (including letting you adjust the difficulty at any time), but i didn’t bother with those either since i was trying to keep to the more-classic original sega saturn experience. the game also includes some significant post-game challenges, as well as an extra dungeon specifically created for the 3DS, and a new game plus mode, none of which i bothered with.
in terms of the rest of the game, i enjoyed the cyberpunk story, although the characters (with the exception of your female partner) are all pretty generic. the dungeons tended to be a bit drab, but a decent number (particularly in the virtual reality world) had some twists to keep things interesting. the game is actually the second in a spin-off of the main SMT series (the first was never released outside of japan), and the game features some cameos of people from the first title, but that didn’t affect my experience at all. the game isn’t overwhelmingly difficult, although you can expect that every boss encounter will initially result in failure. this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as often the way to get past it isn’t just to grind (although that never hurts), but rather to take stock of what demons you have available and put together a team that will really attack the boss’s weak points. this entry also incorporates a mechanic where both your team and the enemies are separated into front and back rows. the main difference is that only characters in the front row can execute physical attacks, and many special attacks can only attack a character in the front row. this def. adds to the strategy of battles, although it’s not a terribly unique mechanic for RPGs in general. for the remake the graphics are in glasses-free 3D, although for the most part it’s very much just limited to the text being put on a closer plane than the action, and the cutscenes, which in most games would show off the 3D the most, are disappointingly, but understandably, completely in 2D.
anyway, overall i did enjoy the game although as with the vast majority of RPGs it drags on way longer than it should. fans of old-school RPGs will enjoy the experience, and the game did accomplish my main objective, which was to play an SMT game very close to the first entries, but significantly less primitive. i’m happy to have played it and finally broken into the long-running SMT series, but i’m definitely looking forward to some of the more acclaimed entries.
hack these shin megami tensei: devil summoner: soul hackers links:
– the megami tensei wikia has pretty much everything you’d want to know about the game, including details on all the demons and skills (although beware of spoilers)
– the official site is nicely designed but fairly standard, but it does include a few wallpapers
– good walkthrough at gamefaqs
– info on a game-breaking glitch that occurs early on and how to fix it (not sure, but it seems to occur if you’re starting a new game and save to an old save slot that has the same name)
– interview with the localization team
– glowing review at gameinformer and tips on beating the game
– entry at hardcoregaming101.net
– glowing review at nintendolife.com
– entry at metacritic