Archived Story

Joystick: JRPG brings demons on the US

Published 1:05pm Thursday, April 18, 2013

“Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers”

4 out of 5 stars

For 3DS

•Style: JRPG

•Rating: M for Mature

• Fun, yet foreign game about demons and world domination

• Lots to do, little direction from the game

You’re wandering through a mall in a town you’ve never been in before. You try to enjoy the walk to your car, but you can’t remember where you parked. Suddenly, everyone around you is speaking in a foreign language, and you can’t understand what’s going on.

Your senses are deprived. It’s a little spooky and unnerving, but you have the general idea that if you keep walking to the other side of the building, you’ll eventually find what you need.

This sums up the experience of playing “Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers.”

The latest in a long line of weirdly entertaining and engrossing Japanese role-playing games, “Soul Hackers” is one of a few older SMT titles to never get a North American release. Now that it’s out on the Nintendo 3DS, you can take advantage of the opportunity to meet friends, charm demons, defeat bad guys and save the world.

SMT titles aren’t the most user-friendly games, and this one is no exception. The game involves a group of hackers in a futuristic city undergoing a community-wide development plan centered around widespread online access and upgrades. Not all is as it appears, however, as demons are slowly making their way to your town, and it’s up to you and your ragtag group of techno-wizards to save the day.

This game is deep, however. You can get distracted for hours by sidequests and mini-games with no apparent use, such as the various quizzes and locations you can visit inside Paradigm X, the virtual reality manifestation of social media sites like Facebook.

Your battles get much more involved, however. As summoners, you have the ability to charm and train demons, which you can then fuse together to create more powerful monstrosities to fight with you. Think Pokemon, only far more gothic and humorous.

I’ve always found the SMT series to be detached from the player experience, from its art design to its mapping and battle system. In battles, your demons may or may not obey your commands depending on how loyal they are to you. It feels like the game struggles against you in the oddest ways.

Each SMT title, “Soul Hackers” included, feels methodical, stretched out in bite-sized missions. Action fans may not appreciate “Soul Hackers,” but calculating minds who like to slow pacing will feel right at home.

Despite its accessibility issues, “Soul Hackers” is incredibly fun to play, and the localization team at Atlus did a great job sneaking in random pop culture references from movies like “Clerks” and “Men in Black.” The battles are intense, and charming demons in the heat of a fight is often rewarding. “Soul Hackers” even incorporates the 3DS Streetpass system well, as a digital pet will reward you with more powerful demons the more you interact with other 3DS users and earn PlayCoins.

“Soul Hackers” may seem odd, but it’s a solid game. The intriguing plot, the fun and fleshed-out characters, and the mystique around the SMT universe adds a lot of foreign flavor to a great game. You may not always know where you’re going with “Soul Hackers,” but if you keep walking, sooner or later you’re going to reach your destination, and you’ll be glad for it.

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