Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers review

  • Mature story
  • Retro vision of the future
  • Collecting demons on the go
  • Gameplay stuck in the past
  • Dated graphics far too drab
  • Old CGI cutscenes now very cheesy

Timing is everything--and the localized remake of a game that was praised in the past may fall flat when judged by current-day standards. That’s the biggest issue for the overly punctuated JRPG Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. Compared to games from the PlayStation/Saturn era, it’s plenty advanced, but much of the game is outdated when set next to current 3DS role-playing titles.

Originally created for the Sega Saturn in 1997, Soul Hackers is one of the earlier entries in the SMT franchise, but exhibits many of the strengths the series is known for today. It has a deep monster collecting and fusion system which is complemented by a well-balanced turn-based combat that rewards taking every turn seriously. And it has the type of mature storyline fans come to expect from SMT, one with a dark tone and realistic characters that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

"This now-retro premonition will charm players..."

There’s also a certain appeal to experiencing Soul Hackers’ dated vision of the future. The game imagined an early 2000s where corporations controlled entire cities, the internet is explored like a first-person MMO, and hackers form cyberpunk clubs in the interest of social justice. The corporation and the hackers now control tech that summons demons, and are battling for control of both the real and digital worlds. This now-retro premonition will charm players with fresh eyes as well as old-timers who remember when this future seemed possible.

But that retro feel isn’t all charm; most of the visuals here are simply dated. The character designs hold up, but the first-person dungeons are incredibly drab hallways painted in greys and blues. And while we admire that the CGI cutscenes from the original version are left intact, the once-impressive computer graphics have aged terribly, looking laughably poor at times.

"...these changes can’t fix the flaws at the core of the game."

The difficulty and overly complex systems have aged badly as well. Soul Hackers--like many RPGs of that era--throws new systems at you continually, often without adequate explanation. Concepts like battling, exploring dungeons, capturing demons, and the two types of currency fly by fast, and you end up familiarizing yourself with those and other gameplay systems through mundane trial and error.

Soul Hackers does include some updates that soften these rough edges. You can turn down the default difficulty, make the dungeon controls less tank-like, and simplify the demon capturing system--but these changes can’t fix the flaws at the core of the game. The most welcome addition was a log that reminds you where you left off with your last save, but Soul Hackers’ problems are rooted in the game’s original design, so any optional adjustments merely scratch the surface of the fundamental issues.

"Soul Hackers does include some updates that soften these rough edges..."

Back in 1997 Soul Hackers was well reviewed in Japan, and if you can put yourself in a throwback mindset, it’s a fun romp through a lost Saturn classic. But when played outside a vacuum, it’s just too dated for its own good, and the clever writing, interesting sci-fi setting, and SMT’s addictive demon-collecting aren’t enough to overcome that. Time has moved past this style of game, and if you don’t miss JRPGs like this one, you’ll end up wishing this vision of the future stayed in the ’90s.

More Info

Release date: Apr 16 2013 - 3DS (US)
Available Platforms: 3DS, Saturn, PS1
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Atlus
Developed by: Atlus
Franchise: Shin Megami Tensei
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence


  • vayu-purana - November 30, 2013 2:05 a.m.

    all the "bad" things is what I loved about the game lol...... it just felt like the review only likes modern graphics and mechanics and doesn't like older games which is what this game is from the late 90s, so really what do you expect honestly? This game is an enhanced port of the PS1 version with added features exclusive to this 3DS version, and aside from mild touched up visuals to fit on the 3DS screen that's it, its like playing a bit graphic game and hating that it's not in CGI 3D
  • skinz987 - April 18, 2013 7:16 p.m.

    Been playing the game for the past couple days and have been enjoying it. Definetly fun though. Better than the Persona 1/2 remakes. Not digging it as much as Strange Journey though.
  • NG14916 - April 17, 2013 7:32 p.m.

    This game is better than he's making it out to be. The graphics and gameplay are dated, but not by that much. The graphics seem fine to me. The 3D effect is pretty good and the character designs are great. The areas are pretty bland, but are higher-res than Strange Journey's. The only bad point is the CG cutscenes, which are all very short anyways. The battle system is similar to other SMT games and it's not that dated. At least there's still the Fusion Search and Demon Compendium systems. If you've played an SMT game before, you shouldn't be confused. The MAG currency might be a bit confusing at first, but there are explanations in the shopkeeper dialogues if you talk to them and it becomes pretty clear over time. Just keep in mind that summoning demons, using healing spots, and walking uses MAG and that battling gains MAG. You get money by selling items and MAG. The story seems pretty great so far. If you're familiar with the SMT series and keep in mind that this is a port of a game from the 90s then you won't be disappointed. It seem that the author of this article wasn't very informed. This game is significantly better than Persona 2 in the gameplay department, so it's definitely not the low point of the recent remakes.
  • shawksta - April 16, 2013 5:16 p.m.

    Hey Atlus I get your excited that SMT is getting a Cross-over with Fire Emblem but SMT games need to be much more to show they still got it against Persona
  • Cyberninja - April 16, 2013 2:48 p.m.

    Still picking it up.
  • winner2 - April 16, 2013 9:16 a.m.

    I think Henry's the most disappointed out of all of us lol
  • taokaka - April 16, 2013 7:44 a.m.

    I was expecting this to just be a relatively niche game like a few SMT titles, not bad just niche however I'm not actually all that surprised of the negative review. I was intrigued by EO4 another game of the same genre but nothing about this seemed to leap out at me. Glad to know I'm not missing out on much due to atlas refusing to take money from us dirty Australian convicts.
  • OmegaDestroyer - April 16, 2013 6:52 a.m.

    Onwards Aoshima!
  • GR_HenryGilbert - April 16, 2013 7:12 a.m.

    Thank you for getting that

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