This week’s GameLuster Comparison dives deep into the recent output of developer Atlus, contrasting the recently released Soul Hackers 2 to Shin Megami Tensei V and Persona 5 – specifically, the Persona 5 Royal remastered version. While each of these games do have their similarities – all three involve using demons in combat – they ultimately present a distinct gaming experience with a unique story to experience. All three are definitely fun games that are worth sinking your time into, and “all of the above” is certainly a valid response to the question asked in this article’s title. But let’s take a deeper look at what makes each of these Atlus titles special and how they are both similar and different to one another.
First things first – all three of these games are part of a series, and none of them is the first entry in their respective franchise. Do these games stand alone? Can you play them without having experienced the titles that came before, or do you need to dedicate several hours to several months of time catching yourself up on previous entries before you can truly enjoy these games?
Good news – all three games are essentially stand-alone and can be played without experiencing the previous games in the series. All three feature a completely new set of characters distinct from prior installments, and are connected to previous titles primarily by themes and gameplay elements. Some small references to previous games may exist – particularly in Persona 5 – but all work as a starting point in their respective series.
However, if you do wish to play prior games, the original Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers and Shin Megami Tensei IV are both available for the Nintendo 3DS, Persona 3 and Persona 4 are available on or currently being ported to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch. Earlier Persona and Shin Megami Tensei titles may be more difficult to acquire, but are generally still available.
Story and Lore
All three games feature a central story about a person or group of people granted special demon-based combat powers and forced to address an overarching threat to the world. Additionally, they all use modern-day Japan as a setting, emphasizing the crowded urban metropolis of 21st century Tokyo. However, the games also tell three very different stories exploring unique themes and characters
Persona 5 follows the adventures of the Phantom Thieves, a group of ordinary high schoolers responsible for “stealing the hearts” of corrupt people by defeating “Palaces” representing the inner worlds of their targets. Led by the mysterious yet charismatic Joker, the Phantom Thieves each possess the power of Persona, the ability to call forth a representation of themselves in the form of a famous “picaresque hero” from literature. The game balances Joker’s ordinary life at school and budding friendships and romances with his ongoing quest to find out who is behind the emerging Palaces and corrupted hearts.
While the protagonists of Shin Megami Tensei V may start the game as ordinary high school students, they do not stay that way for long. Shortly after the game begins, the protagonist fuses with a demon to become a powerful being called a “Nahobino.” Splitting his time between Tokyo and the underworld realm of Da’at, the Nahobino becomes swept up in an epic, centuries-long battle between angels and demons, some of whom want to install the protagonist as a new god. The choices the player makes will ultimately result in one of multiple endings following different paths including Law, Chaos, and Neutrality.
While all three games take place in an alternate version of our world, Soul Hackers 2 embraces a reality that greatly diverged from our own when some humans gained the Devil Summoner ability. When the war between two factions of Devil Summoners – the Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society – is predicted to result in the destruction of humankind, the supernatural being Aion creates two agents, Ringo and Figue, who are sent to Earth to save mankind. Their unique Soul Hacking ability allows them to bring back recently deceased souls, allowing them to protect the Devil Summoners who will be key to saving humanity.
The gameplay of all three titles centers around the summoning and use of demons in combat, with many of these demons – such as Atlus mascot Jack Frost – appearing in multiple games. In addition, all three games are officially categorized as being within the role-playing game genre, with a mix of primary story and adventure, side quests and secondary plots, and character interaction. In battle, each party member and demon will have different abilities, elemental affinities and weaknesses, and success in combat is based around both creating a balanced party and acquiring high level gear and demons.
As the most recently released title of the three, Soul Hackers 2 utilizes elements from both of the previous games, especially when it comes to combat. Like Persona 5, the playable party consists mostly of humans (plus the humanoid-but-actually-data-beings Ringo and Figue) and utilizes both melee and ranged weapons along with a variety of elements including fire, ice, and lightning. However, it also borrows from Shin Megami Tensei V in that each character is able to switch between equipping different demons, allowing for a wide variety of party configurations, while in Persona 5 only Joker could swap Personas with every other party member remaining locked to a single one.
All three games allow players to fuse demons together to create more powerful demons with higher stats and stronger attacks. However, Soul Hackers 2 does lack one element that the other two games possess: demon negotiation. In Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V, the protagonist can start a dialogue with various demons and, if they select the right responses, the demon may decide to join their party and lend them their strength. Soul Hackers 2 instead adds a new mechanic called Demon Recon, in which protagonist Ringo can send out her existing demons to scout a dungeon for potential allies. These allies may ask Ringo for items, money, or even some of her HP in exchange for joining, but no extensive negotiation is required.
Soul Hackers 2 can also be seen as its own “demon fusion” of Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei V in its emphasis on both social elements and dungeon crawling. Ringo can bond with her party members in order to raise their Soul Level – a function that was absent in the more combat- and exploration-focused Shin Megami Tensei V – but Soul Hackers 2 lacks a social system as extensive and elaborate as Persona 5’s tarot-based Confidants. Its Soul Matrix system, which manifests as optional dungeons based on the psyches of characters Ringo has Soul Hacked with, is more similar to Persona 5’s optional dungeon Mementos than it is the Confidant system. Soul Hackers 2 does offer one unique element in the form of “friendship levels” for demons, who will gift the player with rare items if leveled sufficiently. This incentivizes fusing and raising a large variety of demons – similar to what is needed to create a balanced party in Shin Megami Tensei V.
Another similarity to Shin Megami Tensei V is that Soul Hackers 2 allows for greater exploration with real-world based dungeons and lets players interact with demons in the larger world much like Shin Megami Tensei V, unlike Persona 5 which kept combat and demon interaction limited to the Palaces. It also features combat and item gathering-based side quests that are drawn much more from Shin Megami Tensei games than those in the Persona sub-series. In general, players who only enjoyed the social elements of Persona 5 or only enjoyed the dungeon crawling and combat of Shin Megami Tensei V may find themselves disappointed, but those hoping for a healthy mix of those will likely be satisfied with what Soul Hackers 2 offers.
None of these games are exactly lightweight commitments in terms of how long they take to beat, but Soul Hackers 2 noticeably slims down its runtime compared to previous Atlus titles. The main plot of Soul Hackers 2 takes approximately 30 hours to complete, although choosing to complete every side quest and Soul Matrix dungeon or perform extensive level-grinding could lead to the game taking closer to 50 hours instead. Players who may be daunted by the lengths of the other two games or not quite have the time to commit to a massively long game currently would likely find Soul Hackers 2 a great place to start.
Shin Megami Tensei V’s length falls somewhere in the middle, with an average play-through generally reported as taking around 50 hours to complete. However, because of the game’s multiple endings and many side quest chains, seeing all four endings generally requires around 70 hours instead. Some players going for fully completionist runs have reported spending as many as 100 hours on the game. Because of the multiple endings, Shin Megami Tensei V is ultimately a great choice for completing many different playthroughs over a period of months or even years. Its length is a “happy medium” between the shorter Soul Hackers 2 and the longer Persona 5.
Finally, Persona 5 is generally considered to be on the extreme long end when it comes to JRPGs. A single run of the original game can clock in at around 90-100 hours, with Persona 5 Royal’s new content adding another 10-20 hours for an approximately 110-120 hours of gameplay. Players who want to max out every Confidant, complete every task in the bonus Mementos dungeon, and fill out the Persona Compendium in its entirety can easily spend 200 hours or more on this game. While Persona 5 is definitely worth taking the time to play, it is recommended for players who have the time available and are willing to commit to a long, story-heavy game.
We conclude this GameLuster Comparison by briefly discussing the platforms on which each game is available. Soul Hackers 2 is available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S as well as PC. Despite interest from fans, a Nintendo Switch version is not currently available. Shin Megami Tensei V is essentially the exact opposite – it is currently limited to the Nintendo Switch, and it is unknown if it will be released for other consoles in the future. Finally, Persona 5’s original version is limited to the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, while Persona 5 Royal can be found on the Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Players interested in these games should also note that Soul Hackers 2 and Shin Megami Tensei V do not currently have any spinoffs or side games. Persona 5 has released the musou-style spinoff Persona 5 Strikers, the dancing-focused Persona 5 Dancing in Moonlight, and Persona Q2 New Cinema Labyrinth, a crossover with earlier Persona titles. All three of these titles take place after Persona 5, and you are not required to play them to experience Persona 5 – though they are great games if you fall in love with the characters and want to see more of their adventures!
All three games – Soul Hackers 2, Persona 5, and Shin Megami Tensei V – are unique, story- and combat-rich JRPGs based around the demon summoning and battling system frequently seen in Atlus games. If you are a fan of the genre, all three games are worth experiencing. If you’re a newbie to JRPGs, Atlus’ works are a good place to start, and any of these games could serve as an entrance point into this mysterious world of demons and summoners.
However, if you’re having trouble deciding, here is a quick overview of each game:
Persona 5 offers a rich, lengthy story that requires a significant time commitment. It has the most elaborate social and character interaction system.
Shin Megami Tensei V is a medium-length game with minimal social elements and a greater focus on combat, quests, and traditional dungeon crawling.
Soul Hackers 2 is a shorter game that works to balance combat and social elements while still adding elements of its own such as the Soul Matrix system.
My pick would be Persona 5 Royal, but with three great JRPGs worth sinking your teeth into – let us know which one (or all of the above) you choose! Was Soul Hackers 2 your first entry into the world of Atlus, or are you a diehard fan who eagerly awaits each new Shin Megami Tensei game? Or do you prefer Persona 5’s Confidant system and jazz-inspired musical score? What do you think about the similarities and differences between these three games – is there anything you would add to this GameLuster Comparison? Comment below and let us know. Happy demon summoning and adventuring to all!