If there’s one thing people love, it’s a hero. A hero to take on a grand threat: perhaps even the end of the world. The conqueror of the apocalypse has taken many forms across various media. A life-saving vaccine. A really big drill. Whatever the hell an Evangelion is. Humanity has embraced many different saviours. Now, we welcome the next great hero of mankind: Vtubers.

So begins Soul Hackers 2. Sort of. The end of the world is nigh, so omniscient AI and sentient cyberscape Aion hatches a plan to stop that. To enact this plan, Aion will need humanoid avatars to interact with the real world. Naturally, the super smart artificial intelligence creates a pair of cute anime girls to be its harbingers. And so we are introduced to Figue, a purple haired big-sister type with tights more flashy than Times Square, and Ringo, a green haired badass with a gun—who just so happens to be our player character.

Ringo, the protagonist of Soul Hackers, delivering a line of dialogue.
I could do with one of these…

The duo are immediately vibrant, and not just because of their outfits. Ringo and Figue are brilliantly voiced by Megan Harvey and Erica Mendez, respectively. Harvey brings a delightful, laid-back charm to Ringo, with some well-timed snark for good measure. Mendez’s Figue offers loving care and alarmed concern in equal measure, providing a great foil for Ringo. With our leads established, their mission begins to put a stop to the end of the world.

And what a world it is. The style of Soul Hackers 2 is striking, taking the bright neon of the cyberpunk aesthetic and running with it, leaving the urban dystopia look behind. Enemy design is mostly what we’ve seen before, with the same demons used across the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff entries. The in-dungeon enemies, however, are pixelated red blobs, which tie in nicely with the campy “hacker” look of Soul Hackers 2. Equally energetic are the character sprites which pop up in conversation. Every character has a wonderfully detailed sprite, with dynamically changing expressions based on what’s being said. Emotions are clear even when changing within a single sentence. It’s a small touch, but a good one.

Ringo running through the downtown area.
I’d hang out here. Maybe go shopping for some eye drops with all the bright lights.

Despite the great look to characters and most hub areas, however, the dungeons are sorely lacking in visual variety. Each dungeon has its own distinct look. Yet, not a single dungeon in Soul Hackers 2 is safe from egregious corridor repetition. Almost every new area in a level looks exactly the same as the area that came before it. There are slight differences in layout, but these do little to offset the feelings of deja vu that come from exploration.

This lacklustre design is most apparent in the playable party members’ personal dungeons, the Soul Matrices. Though offering interesting insights into each character’s backstory and conflicts, the Matrices are absolute slogs to get through. The dull blue and silvery areas are repeated far too often, and enemy placement is downright absurd at times. Considering the heights we’ve seen Atlus teams achieve in level design with games like Persona 5, this decidedly plain approach is a little disappointing.

The player party in Soul Hackers 2 charging Iron Mask, the villain.
This looks epic but I’ve seen this warehouse ten times already.

Fortunately, gameplay works well to alleviate the slower pace that comes with repetitive level design. Like most Atlus works, combat in Soul Hackers 2 is turn-based. However, rather than enemies and friends alike being mixed in random order like in Persona, there is instead a Player Turn and an Enemy Turn. Players exhaust all of their party members before enemies get to return fire.

This tit-for-tat approach to combat is fun, and brings some depth to each encounter. Weaknesses can be gauged, enemies can be targeted when appropriate, and every party member can be given a moment to shine. Animations for specific moves do have some flair to them, and demons are wonderfully expressive when levelling up as well. For every dull corridor, there’s a fun fight or two.

A turn-ending Sabbath attack in Soul Hackers 2.
When you see this and hear the title theme, it’s over for you.

Another good addition is Ringo’s Sabbath attacks, which serve the same purpose as All-Out Attacks in Persona 5. Upon hitting an enemy’s weakness, that party member’s demon will float behind the enemy party in silhouette form. Every weakness hit in a Player Turn adds another demon to the group at the back. At the end of the Player Turn, all silhouetted demons will be summoned by Ringo to engage in a Sabbath: a big group attack which does massive damage. Sabbaths are guaranteed every time at least one weakness is hit in a turn, and trigger automatically at the end of the Player Turn.

With that, it’s easy to feel powerful in Soul Hackers 2. During my playthrough, I found combat to be well-balanced, and never felt overly strong or underpowered. The flow is just fine. The same can be said of Ringo and co.’s story. Though a typical end of the world scenario, the narrative takes interesting twists and turns, and does just enough to keep the player engaged throughout its roughly 35 hour length. Where the narrative side of things really shines, though, is with the characters.

The gang eating a meal.
How does everyone look this cool just sharing a meal?

Ringo is joined early on by angsty dogooder Arrow, no-nonsense badass Milady, and the ever jovial Saizo. The entire voice cast of Soul Hackers 2 share good chemistry. In typical Atlus fashion, though, there’s one pair that steals the show: Ringo and Saizo. Voiced by Griffin Puatu, Saizo is immediately a great enabler for Ringo’s own antics. The two are a snarky pair, and it’s wonderful to see them navigate different social situations. Ringo and Saizo will often mediate Arrow and Milady’s constant arguments, only for one of them (usually Saizo) to add fuel to the fire “accidentally.” They also engage in their own banter, which never stops being fun to listen to.

Conversations like these pop up in the social sim side of Soul Hackers 2. Ringo can take her comrades shopping or for a meal at the bar, prompting new conversations. Rather than strictly levelled friendship ranks, party members get Soul Points that go up depending on dialogue choices. Responses explicitly show before choosing who will like them, allowing players to prioritise relationships with party members they like even in group conversations. There’s none of the fun of guessing who might respond well to what you say, but it’s a very convenient system for those attuned to the primal gamer urge to see numbers go up. I didn’t hate it.

Milady taking on Zenon, one of the antagonists of Soul Hackers 2.
Milady is not to be trifled with.

So: there’s great fun to be had in spending time with your party members. The levels are uninspired in design, but the combat is almost engaging enough to overshadow that. Aesthetically, Soul Hackers 2 slaps as hard as its opening track. This may all sound very generic as analysis, but that is exactly what Atlus’s latest adventure inspires: it feels generic. A competent JRPG with loveable characters, but which plays things much too safe elsewhere. I had fun, but I kept waiting for that big “this is the ONE” moment. For all its efforts, this tale couldn’t quite hack it.

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