Title :Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
Platforms :Sega Saturn (1996), Sony PlayStation (import, 1999)
Publisher :Atlus
Game Rating :9.4
Review by :Robert Boyd

In the near future, everyone is hooked up to a massive electronic network. Incredible virtual worlds allow experiences never before thought possible. On the surface, things seem better than ever. But technology can be used for evil as well as good. An organization known as the Phantom Society seeks to steal away the souls of every man, woman, and child through Paradygm X — a new virtual world. Only the Spookies (a group of amateur hackers) stand in their way. 

This is the world of Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, for Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn (Saturn version reviewed here). It's the latest RPG in Atlus' Megami Tensei series. Only one game in the series has been translated into English so far — a gaiden (side story) for the PlayStation called Revelations: Persona. If all of the games in this series are as good as Soul Hackers, it's a shame that we haven't seen more of them. 

Unique is the word that best describes Soul Hackers. Utilizing an equal mixture of advanced technology and the occult, the developers at Atlus have created a truly unique world. Monsters stalk the hallways of major corporate buildings. Your best friend, Hitomi, brings new meaning to the phrase, "multiple personalities," when she becomes possessed by a powerful spirit. People lose their souls in front of their computers. Portable computers summon forth powerful demons. This is not your usual RPG. The story makes good use of the system's FMV capabilities and delivers many memorable moments. 

Gameplay is also very unique and quite deep. Your characters fight the forces of evil with knives, guns, magic — all typical weapons — but they also fight with dialogue. In most battles, negotiations with the enemy can be attempted. If successful, combat can be avoided, items and money can be extorted, and enemy demons can even be persuaded to join your team. Demons can be powerful allies in battle (up to 4 can be summoned at a time) and can be combined to create even more powerful monsters. The Phantom Society is made up of many master devil summoners (hence the title); if you don't build up an army of powerful demons yourself, you don't stand a chance against them. 

Another interesting aspect of the game is the portable computer your character uses. This computer is primarily used for summoning and storing demons, but it can also be upgraded with various add-on modules (26 in total). These modules enable a wide range of useful (and useless) features like automapping, saving in dungeons, enemy detectors, and a clock. Some strategy is required here as only a limited number of modules can be utilized at any one time. 

The graphics are well designed even though they are not spectacular from a technological viewpoint. The music sets the tone nicely and is pretty good, but not great. But Soul Hackers' original and well done story and deep gameplay make up for these minor shortcomings. Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a very good game. It's also pretty long. 

Atlus was planning on translating this game into English, but Sony has denied them a US license. Feel free to contact Sony and complain. Right now, the only way to play the game is by buying the Japanese version from one of the import game companies on the internet. The Saturn version is currently available and a PlayStation version (with Pocketstation support and a demo of Persona 2) is about to be released. The game requires a knowledge of Japanese to truly enjoy (an English guide is available at http://www.gamefaqs.com though), but if you're up to the challenge, Soul Hackers is well worth your time. 

This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 12-Jul-99