Publisher(s) – Atlus
Lead Artist – Kazuma Kaneko
PEGI – 12
Originally released for both the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation, Soul Hackers, for the longest time, never saw a release outside of Japan, (with Sony Computer Entertainment America rejecting a proposed overseas port), until it was eventually released in 2013 in both that region and Europe for the 3DS. After playing this game, whilst I would agree with the notion that there are far worse games out there, I’d say it was no surprise that Sony of America would reject a proposed port at first, since Final Fantasy VIII was out at the time, and it would most definitely have been lost in the crossfire. I think based on the fact that the same thing happened to Breath of Fire IV during the release of Final Fantasy IX, and people consider Breath of Fire IV to now be a lost relic, it could have easily happened to Soul Hackers back then.
Graphics – 7/10
For the time at least, the graphics were fairly advanced, using many cutting edge and clever visual techniques used in many of it’s main competitors, such as Final Fantasy; techniques like using hand-drawn still as backgrounds and FMVs to move the story forward. They made the game look pretty realistic. But conceptually, however, there’s much to suggest that Final Fantasy VII was a major influence, since by that time, that series also deviated away from the typical RPG settings fan of the series were used to in favour of a more cyber-punk setting.
Gameplay – 4.5/10
Since this game seemed to incorporate a more tedious form of exploration than many other RPGs around at the time, and there seemed to be less combating involved, I found it quite hard to get into; especially towards the beginning. This imbalance of combat and exploration also makes me sceptical of the rest of the series, since most other Megami Tensei games play out very similarly to one another.
Controls – 9/10
A first-person RPG, which whilst somewhat unique, made the control scheme a little bit fiddly at time. It reminded me of another RPG I once played called Orcs & Elves, in which movement was unnecessarily complicated. Otherwise, however, there are no other issues. The turn-based RG formula had been long since perfected, and if they had managed to mess that aspect of it up, there would be considerably bigger problems than there ended up being in this title.
Lifespan – 8.5/10
As the strongest point of this game, it lasts a pretty decent amount of time, taking up to 30 to 40 hours to finish. Whilst this may still be below the standard of many other turn-based RPGs being released at the time, it’s still a longer time than what most video games last. The biggest problem, however, is the danger of the lifespan most probably outlasting the boorish gameplay.
Storyline – 6/10
The story follows a group of characters who dwell within a virtual reality city created by a sinister corporation, who resolve to end their tyranny as well as a group of cyber terrorist hackers called spookies (led by a man named Masahiro Sakurai, named after the developer of both the Kirby and Super Smash Bros series). The story is fairly well conceived, but it can get a little bit confusing at times. It’s hard to follow to begin with, since events move at such a pace that not much time is given for players to think about whats going on. But after that, it does become much easier to follow. It’s also interesting to think of what other stories influenced this games, such as Ghost in the Shell for example.
Originality – 6/10
Whilst it may be considerably unique from the rest of the Megami Tensei saga, with the settings and conceptual design being drastically different from any other entry in the series, there’s not much present to differentiate it from most other turn-based RPGs; even for the time. The game’s play doesn’t stand out particularly well, and it is easy to see how many other players had been so put off by the fact that it is a first-person RPG, since the controls are indeed unnecessarily harder to get to grips with than the like of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
To summarize, Soul Hackers is not the most enjoyable game to play, but does provide a relatively long experience and a well thought out story. Unfortunately, half-decent visuals and a good narrative aren’t enough for me to label this a classic, as many other people believe it is; there needs to be engrossing gameplay above all else, and I didn’t find any of that in this title.