Where do I start with this crazy game? Serial Experiments Lain was made in 1998 as a companion piece of sorts to the legendary anime of the same title.
The game follows the same basic premise as the show: a disillusioned young girl slowly becomes more engrossed with the internet, and eventually finds it takes over her world entirely, both in the literal and spiritual sense.
What makes the game version different is that it takes place entirely in a virtual world of sorts, where you access datalogs, interviews, and diary entries sprinkled with occasional animated sequences to try and piece together Lain’s story and unravel the mystery of her existence and those she interacts with.
While most of the entries are in chronological order, some are locked out until you access others first, or aren’t visible at all. Some don’t even let you see them until after you reach the ‘end’ of the game(more on this later).
First, I can’t continue any further without giving credit to a massive undertaking: the team responsible for translating the entire game and putting it up as a website. https://laingame.net/
This takes what was thought to be an untranslatable game, due to the massive amount of dialogue-only sequences with no subtitles, and not only making it accessible to a non-Japanese speaking audience, but doing it well. The translation work is spectacular, and even makes it so you can access any of the numerous audio/video sequences on the fly, so mad props to the team for an incredible effort: I can’t stress enough how much they knocked it out of the park.
As for the interface itself, a virtual depiction of Lain is shown moving through the virtual world to navigate the numerous entries, accompanied by colorful expressions, idle animations, and even whimsical pratfalls when the player tries to access an unavailable datalog.
The cutscenes have a visual style all their own, surprisingly by the same studio that did the 1998 anime, albeit with a completely unique look.
The writing is the highlight, as well as the artwork, contributed by two of the most important members of Lain’s team: the writer(Chiaki J. Konaka) and of course, the inimitable artist: Yoshitoshi ABe. The game is also fully voice acted, with Lain’s actress reprising her role. There’s only a handful of other voice actors, but all their work is excellent, especially that provided by Touko.
ABe’s artwork is seen as backdrops for several events in the game, often depicting mundane things like Lain receiving her first computer, accessing email, or even giving her psychiatrist, Touko, some cookies.
Touko is also a crucial part of the game’s narrative. Touko arguably has the most multi-faceted personality in the game. Some entries are her attempts to diagnose Lain’s increasingly unstable state of mind via their psychology sessions, some are her professional observations through personal notes, and others are even her private diary entries. Through these recordings and those of Lain herself, the game allows an intimate view of both an unstable subject’s bouts with mental illness, and how it comes to affect those around them, especially as the worlds of the internet and the real world begin to blur, much like in the show.
It bears warning that Lain PSX deals with very heavy subject matter in addition to its already delicate subject of mental illness. Hallucinations, schizophrenia, unrequited love, parental conflicts, alcoholism, abandonment, abuse, bullying, and even suicide are all fair game for Lain’s narrative, so sensitive viewers need be warned.
That said, if the player has the patient for the game’s sensitive subject matter, it spins a narrative just as engrossing, unique, and often startling as the anime, especially when it goes to darker realms that the anime only touched lightly on. (It’s worth noting that while suicide is also a factor in the story of the series, it happens at the very start of the series, while it doesn’t become an element until much later on in the game.)
Lain is an experiment that takes much patience to experience, and requires just as much thought to fully take on an understanding of the narrative. Also, much like the anime, it’s bound to leave an impact long after the credits roll.
After the final diary from either Lain or Tohko, and Lain is fully ‘integrated’ into the wired, you unlock most of the missing datalogs: little snippets of wisdom(?) and advice from Lain in a virtual form, suggesting that you’ve been using her digital medium to access all the information you’ve been reading thus far.
While these post-game snippets are hardly mandatory, they’re fascinating, and a vaguely Monika-ish epilogue worth glancing at here and there.
Aria here, hope everyone’s having a good holiday season! I haven’t been keeping up with FGO, but if it’s roulette harvesting time, then don’t make yourself sick from all those golden apples ;_;.
We’ve received several “oh no the project’s dead” messages lately, so I hoped to alleviate some concerns with a holiday post. If you’re unaware, we have a progress tracker running at https://kotcrab.com/progress/ccc/ – though admittedly, it’s been rather unmoving lately. I’d like to apologize for the confusion there.
The past several months since we finished the main translation effort has been combing through the massive script and working through troublesome lines, essentially a translation check pass. There were several lines that were marked as “this could use more eyes,” “pun attempt needs workshopping,” or “I think Nasu is trying to shoehorn in a pixiv meme uhhh” kind of thing. Sometimes it takes a room full of us to realize the obscure joke going on.
The main issue with this and the tracker is that these are the worst of the worst lines that need attention and fixing, which barely makes a dent on the tracker. Hopefully once we clear these lines, the tracker will become more accurate. We should be through most of them at this point!
We’ve also been fixing up issues with translation consistency for terms since we’ve had a few different translators on this project, so that’s another one that doesn’t reflect on the tracker.
During one of our “what the hell is this line” voice calls, I sent a screenshot to ItsumoKnight to show how a line looks in-game, who proceeded to die in laughter. I didn’t think much about it until I looked back at the screenshot:
I forgot that the default Kotcrab setup for the editor uses Issei at the school gates since it’s one of the first lines, but I rewired it to Kotomine since it makes the lines x10 more amazing. For reference, this is what Itsumo would see on his side:
Really Hakuno’s blue glasses just improve everything.
There was also a section of prototype dialogue that was untouched that I translated since I finished my current tasks. Not that it’s accessible, but here’s what the line would look like (once again if Kotomine said it for some reason):
And now back to actual dialogue:
Kotomine aside, we have been slower than we could be lately, for that we apologize. Things have been busy the end of this year, but we’d like to kick the momentum up for next year, so stay tuned, and thank you for your patience.
And if Itsumo slacks off, I’ll be sure to drag him over for a CCC editing marathon session followed by mahjong thrashing🔪
I couldn’t have been more excited when Atlus announced, of all things, a sequel to Soul Hackers. Sega had said it was one of their ‘brands’ that they planned to leverage in a meeting, but I sure didn’t think anything would come of it, especially not in form of an avant-garde live action… thing.
Still, there was a good amount to be intrigued by. Another cyberpunk game by modern Atlus? Then… gameplay showed up, and excitement was doused significantly.
The end result looked much less like Soul Hackers and more like #TMS, and anyone familiar with that game knows that’s less cause for excitement and more for worry. Still, I wasn’t about to let that scare me off. I had to try the game on general principle, so I did, day 1 and all. Where do I even start? Soul Hackers 2, right from the jump, surprised me with how many narrative threads it pulls from the classic games, even the Raidou games.
The Phantom Society are introduced as the key antagonists, the Yatagarasu are still running around trying to stop them, and the protagonists are caught in between the two in a fight for the future of the world. The core plot is, by the numbers, everything you’d want from an SH sequel. The introduction is definitely one of the more stylish parts of the game, feeling like a stylistic throwback to classic openings like the all-timer, Digital Devil Saga 2’s Alive.
Sadly, it’s all downhill from here. As the opening shows, the supporting cast are all victims of the Phantom Society’s schemes, and are revived by the protagonist, Ringo, to aid an AI system with saving the world from an apocalyptic scheme. As most reviews state, there’s nothing wrong with the cast. Arrow, Kaizo, and Milady(pronounced more like “Melody”) are all interesting, fully fleshed out characters, with interesting backstories and solid voice acting.
Unfortunately, the protagonist is probably the least interesting one. She has great banter with the cast, and her voice actress has a lot of fun with the role, but there’s never more to her than happy-go-lucky AI helps everyone stop the Phantom Society. Her partner, Figue, definitely gets the lion’s share of a character arc. She also has a much cooler design than Ringo, to the point that I wish she was the main character.
The direction her plot takes is also part of the problem, but we’ll get to that later(involving major spoilers). Let’s get the core negative out of the way: Soul Hackers 2 is super lazy. It feels like it was a low budget game, and it probably was, given how miraculous the game’s existence is. That’s no excuse, though. If they had gone for a smaller scale game instead of something full 3D, they could have made this into something that was more faithful to the original game in depth and variety, and also a more fleshed out game in its own right.
First, let’s look at just a handful of the dungeon variety in Soul Hackers 1:
Off the top of my head, Soul Hackers 1’s dungeons include a warehouse, a port side dock, a hotel, a corporate headquarters, an airport, a supermarket, an art museum, a virtual reality world, and a haunted mansion.
Soul Hackers 2’s dungeons include, in ALL, a virtual reality world, an abandoned building, a portside dock, reskinned subway tunnels, and the final dungeon. That’s literally it.
Soul Hackers 2’s dungeons are a boring slog, and the music is set to match. You only hear three-four tracks repeated ad nauseum, and they get super old, super fast, as opposed to Soul Hackers 1, which had a ton of variety, all of which was fantastic.
As per usual, the protagonist is a Devil Summoner, and has a wide variety of demons are her beck and call… but unlike the previous three games, the demons you accumulate are neither party members nor companions. For all intents and purposes, they’re just Personas, and function accordingly. You can change them on the fly during battle, and each has different weaknesses & skills associated with them. They also occasionally appear on the field to give out items and healing opportunities, but since quests revolve around finding key items, this quickly turns into more of a chore than using them in creative ways a la the Raidou games.
Oh, and demon negotiation? Utterly gone. Now your demons just act as a middleman for random demons and you can decide if you want them or not. If you do, they ask for one thing, then join. No questioning, no bartering, that’s all there is to it.
And good luck if you’re trying to find a specific one, you’d be better off ponying up for the fee to fuse them at the Gouma-Den. Credit given where credit due, Soul Hackers 2 does get a lot of the references right. Just about everyone you’d expect to show up in some capacity is there, right down to Victor and his ever-changing Gouma-Den(no Mary, sorry), and even Madame Ginko.
I can say a lot of things about Soul Hackers 2, but I can’t say it was done by people who didn’t know about the original game and how to pay homage to it. It was just with a lackluster budget and no creative drive to make anything that truly lived up to its legacy. Even the city is well fleshed out, and has some genuinely cool visuals and NPCs.
Don’t expect to get much in the way of exploration, though.
You get three tiny hubs around these shops, and apart from that, the city is just a vague backdrop, which doesn’t get to have much life. I’m not saying it should have been like Kamurocho in Yakuza, but…
Actually, yes, that is what I want. It’s something, but it could have been much, much more. (See also: the dungeons, but again, it’s clearly low budget, so that wasn’t gonna happen.) Which brings us back around to the story. Soul Hackers 2 has a decent rogue’s gallery of villains, and to its credit, they get to have a bigger role in the plot than some of those in SH1(some of whom literally appear only in a single scene!).
(Don’t let this image fool you. You NEVER fight them all at once. Cowards.)
Iron Mask and Ash are the definite highlights. They’re charismatic, memorable, have solid ties to your party(both are literally exes of separate characters), and even manage to be a little threatening. Iron Mask and Ash are not to be taken lightly, and can easily wreck an unprepared team. I can’t mention them without going into an extremely problematic element of Milady and Iron Mask’s backstory, though, so spoilers ahoy.
Iron Mask saved Milady’s life as a child, and so naturally, she winds up looking up to him and idolizing him as her savior. And later on? They become lovers.
If that strikes as you as all kinds of messed up, guess what? You’re right.
Does anyone call this out? Nope, and I doubt Atlus even thought about the ramifications of such a plot twist. It would’ve been nice for Ringo to chime in, but nah, she’s more supportive than anything.
Then… there’s Figue. At the zero hour, after Iron Mask is finally defeated, the weight of killing him becomes too much for her to bear, and she decides to take up his cause for little-to-no good reason.
EVIL FIGUE(ooh, scary) actually has a pretty badass design, but other than that, her inclusion makes no sense, which I guess is as good a cherry on top of Soul Hackers 2’s screwy narrative cake as any. Then the game ends, everyone goes their separate ways, happily ever after.
Soul Hackers 2 is an uneven mess, and I’m being nice. The gameplay is fun, but it lacks the depth and core aspects of the classic SMT games. The characters are cool, but the plot takes them nowhere special. The music and dungeons are generic drek. The classic Devil Summoner games, and even the Raidou games to an extent, felt like the passion of a small, devout team knowing what they wanted to accomplish, and did everything they could to make a fully fleshed out game within limited means. This feels like the exact opposite.
This was a few individuals who were tasked with making a sequel because it was considered to drive potential for brand recognition and profit, so they scraped together whatever they were given, and tried to make the most of it, while throwing classic fans a bone whenever they could, while also trying to keep it approachable for new fans, and creating an end result that isn’t anything special for any demographic.
I’ve owned Dragon Force II for nearly twenty years, and after aeons of struggling on and off with various characters over the past decade or two, I finally finished Bozack’s campaign.
I should precursor this with a known fact: Dragon Force is the greatest SRPG ever made.
It was like nothing else for the Saturn, or any system of the era… or ever, for that matter. Massive armies of 200+ troops ducking it out in real time, with strategies that you can change on the fly, with a wide range of charismatic generals to use them with, all kinds of devastating magics and abilities, and best of all, eight totally unique campaigns with their own troop specializations, stories, and even strategies.
Fandaria Empire has the strongest batch in the entire game, but no faction will ever join you. Tradnor Kingdom has the weakest, but everyone will join you without complaint. Of course, this means Fandaria becomes one of the most battle hardened factions, while Tradnor becomes one of the weakest.
In short, the game has hundreds of hours of replay value, especially if you take on self-imposed challenges such as using only the core generals, not recruiting, using default troops, etc.
So… Dragon Force II was given a tough act to follow. Sadly, even when I first played it, I knew I was dealing with an inferior product.
Dragon Force II uses a drab color palette, lacking the bright Sega Blue Skies aesthetic of the original. It adds in a neat idea of using dual troops, so a general could command, say, a front line of archers with a back line of cavalry. Unfortunately, in execution, this still winds up being frustrating. In the original Dragon Force, when you told your troops to stand by, they stayed put. Not so in DFII. The moment enemies approach, they break formation and start attacking. This is devastating for any ranged troop, as archers and mages are known to be ripped apart in a melee.
Another noteworthy change is on the world map. In the original, whenever an attacking army wasn’t quite finished off or retreated(which was often), you could easily catch them with a swift dispatch of a pursuing army to put them down once and for all(or more likely, recruit them or toss them into the dungeon).
Not so in Dragon Force 2. No matter how quick you dispatch an army, a retreating force will always manage to escape. This means they have an opportunity to get back to a home castle, restock their troops, and maybe even their HP. While this might sound like a welcome challenge on paper(and even makes for a fun challenge route in the original), in practice, it drags out an invasion, and makes the game tedious.
What about the story? Surely that improves on the original in some way?
Nope. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Dragon Force II laughs at the legacy of the original. After all they struggled through, the original Dragon Force all succumbed to ignoble deaths, one after the other, creating a seal to hold back the “Dark Dragon Force”, leaving only the immortal Teiris alive, who comes back to help the modern Dragon Force finish off the forces of evil once and for all.
Well, except there no longer IS a Dragon Force… so they kind of just band together for reasons.
I might sound like I’m being overly harsh on the game, but there is some positives. There are some great new characters, like this goddess in my playthrough:
As shown in her literal towering over the competition, some of the new sprites and generals are great, and have a lot of personality in their design. While the overall aesthetics of DFII pale to the original, some of the sprite work still shines through.
They also do get some neat features, like having aerial specific attacks when enemy troops are attacking from the air, and even getting to take out multiple troops in one hit. Unfortunately, the aforementioned Standby tactic, where you could just have a Mage or Archer literally sit still and lay waste to an enemy general, is rendered useless thanks to their new melee AI mentality.
Another major flaw is the massive presence of Demon Castles, castles manned by the immortal Dark Dragon Force faction, aka the Dark Elves, usually staffed by generic demons with 100 strong demon forces, making a pain to take out at best, dangerous at worst.
One thing that is beyond reproach, though: the fan translation quality. All the generals and dialogue were given a loving amount of polish, most likely because each campaign had its own writer, and ensured that each was given a special amount of TLC. It really shines through, and the team deserve all the praise I can muster.
Purists may balk at some of the slang, but when a game has as much text as Dragon Force II, as Victor Ireland would surely agree, you need to make it fun to read.
So is it worth a playthrough? If you’ve played the original countless times and want a new challenge, sure.
If you’re new to the series? No. GOD NO. Play the original now, thank me later.
As you hopefully know by this point, another team released an official patch for Persona 2: Eternal Punishment’s PSP version yesterday, fully translating the game, all its menus, and the Tatsuya scenario into English.
Myself and the others working on our version were completely blindsided by this, and had no idea it was in the works until it came out, same as everyone else. There was initially a great deal of panic, confusion, and disappointment, especially since one of the team had formerly been helping us out with coding and graphic modifications on our project.
Fortunately, once the smoke cleared, we were reassured that none of our work was used in the final product, which I’ve personally confirmed. The new patch is just modifications to the original Atlus PS1 translation, similarly to what our project had planned, the only key differences being that the graphic formatting and fonts are different, and this version uses honorifics(which I tend to localize or make variations on).
That said, our team was still left demoralized by this sudden announcement, and it’s been decided that without the need or momentum to continue our version, we’ve decided to cancel our in-progress build.
As some of you also sadly know, we’ve been met with no small amount of harassment, insults, and hateful responses. Thankfully, the others on the team haven’t been the public face of the project like I have, so I’ve been largely bearing the brunt of the drama. That said, it personally saddens me to see how the SMT community has degraded into something like this, as someone who’s been playing games and been part of the scene since the mid-90s. Toxicity like this is what contributed to other long-term community members and fan translators like AeonGenesis leaving the SMT scene and avoiding future projects of the like, and now, I can unfortunately understand why.
I hope everyone can take this as an opportunity to leave things in the past and move forward to just enjoy the game and support the series as well as any other fans working on SMT projects without undue harassment or hostility. This is something we do in our spare time, for sheer love of the game, and nothing else. We have never taken donations, and never will. During the course of the Eternal Punishment project, we’ve endured family deaths, a pandemic, and even an ongoing war that personally affected a member of the team.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is near and dear to me. I picked up my copy of Persona 1 in the late 90s, and Persona 2 at a store in Tampa in the early 00s. It remains one of my favorite RPGs ever, and nothing is liable to change that. Going forward, I plan on enjoying the new release of Persona 2’s translation as a fan, and look forward to whatever else Atlus brings in the future. If the renewed interest leads to Atlus releasing an official remake or re-release of the older Persona games, then that’s even better, and I fully plan to support that as well, and hopefully you’ll do the same.
In closing, just remember to do as Maya does.
P.S.: this is in no way affects the progress of ongoing projects. Devil Summoner is still in the translating/editing phases, as is Fate/Extra CCC. As always, we appreciate the support and patience.
Aria here, and you read that right! Mere days after finishing my 2nd playthrough and finishing the voice lines and in-dungeon lines, JS dropped the rest of the CCC main script translations in one fell swoop!
We’ve updated the checkmark on the progress website, but we haven’t finalized a way to track the editing phase yet. Please give us some time to find out how to best present this next leg of work, and we’ll let you know when we have something!
For now though…
Though before rest, we’ve got one important question you can answer in the comments:
Anyone familiar with the Atlus SMT spin-offs known as the Devil Summoner games are probably familiar with their eclectic primary antagonists: the Phantom Society. The game says very little about them apart from giving them a sprinkling of screen time here and there, so without further ado, my attempt at piecing together what little we know… which is actually quite a lot.
Who are the Phantom Society? To try and answer this question, we have the established canon of the four Devil Summoner games to help us out(Devil Summoner, Soul Hackers, Raidou 1 and Raidou 2)… and even the forthcoming Soul Hackers 2, but we’re also going to need, in true Devil Summoner fashion, to do some investigating of our own, as well as a healthy amount of sheer guesswork.
Of course, the Kuzunohas themselves exist as the counter-balance for the Phantom Society’s dark influence, but for purpose of this essay, we’ll be focusing on the background and membership of the Phantom Society.
Expect spoilers for all four of the Devil Summoner games(SMT: DS, Soul Hackers, Raidou 1 & 2), though hopefully that goes without saying.
So what do we know about the Phantom Society?
The concept of the Phantom Society wasn’t literally introduced until the second game, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. This may be the first time they’re mentioned, but SH explicitly informs us that they’ve operated from the shadows for centuries.
Even in the very first game, the primary antagonist, Sid Davis, is a dark summoner working to revive the ancient goddess Inaruna on behalf of “the organization”. Who else could he be referring to but The Phantom Society?
Which leads to another question: how far back does their influence extend? Even as far back as the Taisho era, there’s still the presence of Dark Summoners, namely Rasputin(or a facsimile thereof) and Dahn Tsukigata. While the latter’s connection to the Phantom Society is unlikely, since he strictly works for himself with the goal of freeing his sister from the influence of the Tsukigata clan, it’s unlikely the robot we know as Rasputin(hereafter referred to as Rasputin for convenience’s sake) obtained the power and influence he wields without outside help.
While we discover that he comes from the future(likely that of SMT2’s Tokyo Millennium), for all we know, he was created by the Phantom Society in that era and sent back to ensure their influence remains unaffected by Kuzunoha the XL’s meddling.
There’s also the possibility that Actual Rasputin was himself a Dark Summoner, which would explain why he was so damn hard to kill. Why else would the future use him as a basis for their robot if he didn’t have strong ties to the occult?
So with the potential timelines of influence established(from Taisho 30 in Raidou to Tokyo Millennium from SMT2), let’s break down our list of Phantom Society members.
From Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha, there’s Grigori Rasputin(1) and Dahn Tsukigata(2).
From Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, we have Sid Davis. There’s also a few stray summoners here and there(and idiots like Takashi), though they’re less likely full-on Society members and more “nuisances”.
Lastly, from Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, we have easily the most. Carol J, Urabe Kouichirou(former), Judah Singh, Finnegan, Mayone, Naomi, and their foremost executive(at least in Amami City), Nishi(aka Azazel). Certain demons also have major sway within the Society, such as Shemyaza and Satanael, the latter of whom raises interesting questions about a certain ‘hero’ character… but we’ll touch on that later.
What of the true antagonist of Soul Hackers, Kadokura? Based on his position within Algon Soft, he’s “just” a programmer and being kept out of the loop of the Phantom Society’s activities, much to his annoyance. It seems clear to assume he’s just an outsider, though one could assume that he knows much more than he lets on, especially since he’s the hinge pin figure behind Manitou’s revival. Perhaps Kadokura was simply fed up with being just a bit player, or perhaps being a pawn in a game of demons.
This also brings up another question: are ‘Summoners’ really in control of the Phantom Society, or is it just a front for demons being truly in control? The biggest players(namely Nishi) reveal themselves to be actually demons, so maybe the rank and file just think that they’re running things.
Without further ado, back to the major players of the Phantom Society. We could start with chronological order, but I feel it’s best to start with the release order, since that’s where the lore was formed from.
With that in mind, we’ll start with none other than the series’ first Dark Summoner, and one of the most purely despicable: Sid Davis.
What do we know about Sid Davis? He’s a feared Dark Summoner. Even Kyouji Kuzunoha falls to his abilities, though we don’t quite know how, it’s safe to assume that he either got lucky with a stray spell(presumably Mudo), or he trapped Kyouji in some way.
Kyouji is just one step towards his real goal, though: the revival of the goddess, Inaruma. He needs to perform an elaborate ritual to make this happen, and the main character(& his girlfriend) just happen to be unfortunate enough to be in his way and a requirement, respectively, since Kumiko is revealed to be a direct descendant of the goddess herself.
Sid Davis’ front is that of an unassuming priest, presumably Catholic, since his grimoire is a literal holy bible. Having a Catholic priest is Japan isn’t as strange as one might think, as it’s a very present, if niche, religion within Japan. It’s also appeared in other Devil Summoner games: see the Catholic Church found in both Raidou 1 and 2, which is, ironically, Lucifer’s primary hangout… might wanna beef up that security, or at least invest in some wards.
Is his faith legit, or did he see being Catholic as the easiest way to accumulate knowledge and influence? Based on his devil summoning and ties to dark magic, we can probably assume the latter. Sid is far from being a shining example of a priestly lifestyle.
Then at the end of the game, Sid meets his end at the protagonist’s hands, despite having fulfilled the goals of his “organization” by reviving Inaruma(though she joins Sid real soon).
After the end of Sid Davis, we can presume that the Society went quiet for several decades… until the events of Soul Hackers, somewhere in the mid-21st century, or at least the 20th century’s depiction thereof.
The events of Soul Hackers reveal that the Phantom Society have since moved up in the world, now having direct control of what’s effectively becoming a megacorp: Algon Software. Having started as a simple computer software group(likely the results of Kadokura’s engineering), they’ve grown to basically control everything that goes on in and around Amami City. This is primarily thanks to their innovative VR software and its own self-contained virtual world(“Paradigm X”), which is starting to make them known on the global stage.
While nowadays it might not seem like a big deal with real-world technology like Oculus and PSVR, but back in the late 90s, it felt like the wave of the future, even if it’s only now making real strides towards the public at large.
Of course, their utopian virtual world is little more than a front for the true goals of the Phantom Society: gathering the souls of the hapless users participating in its public beta test, providing the fuel for the revival of another ancient deity. Though unlike the plan to revive the Japanese Inaruma in DS1, this time they’re going for a different nationality: the Native American deity Manitou, a Great Spirit integral to the balance of life(based on mythology and the knowledge provided by Kinap).
Soul Hackers also takes its time developing several major players both in and around the Phantom Society, primarily via vision quests, in which the last moments of key figures are relived from the player’s perspective. First, there’s Urabe, a former member of the group who’s since resigned, and is now trying to steal their new Nemissa software… only to meet his end at the hands of a former co-worker, the vicious Finnegan.
Then we meet Judah, who still actively works for the group, who meets his end during an assignment… and lastly, Naomi, more of a freelancer who takes odd jobs for the Phantom Society, only to wind up being overpowered on the job. By fulfilling Nishi’s contract to set free an ancient deity, she becomes yet another sacrifice lost just to help the Society’s overall goals.
These are only the three we meet through Vision Quests, though; they also have other major players encountered as enemies throughout the game, albeit some only appearing literally in a single scene, like the assassin Mayone. Carol J, another hitman for the group, gets a bit more screentime, but he effectively becomes little more than a stepping stone for the player towards taking on the more major players in the organization.
Although it isn’t explicitly made clear what the Phantom Society mean to achieve with their goal of Manitou’s revival, presumably it’s similar to their goal with Inaruma in DS1: giving their faction the power to widen their influence to a global scale, and having the might of an ancient deity backing them up is a massive step in the right direction. Unfortunately for their faction, Kadokura proves he’s no longer content to side back and let the Society dictate the course of his creation, so he decides to step in and take control himself… merging himself with Manitou in the process.
After defeating both the end result and Manitou himself, the deity expresses gratitude at being set free, and vanishes from Amami City altogether.
Their proposed process also raises another problematic element of how the Society operates: lack of free will. They would have simply bound both Inaruma and Manitou to their ends. Not only is trying to control an ancient deity typically a bad idea, especially when keeping it in check against its will, it also proves they have no hesitation about stepping on the backs of both persons and ancient gods alike to accomplish their goals.
While the Society tasted bitter defeat in SH, even losing most of their top brass, it seems they’re back with a vengeance in Soul Hackers 2, and actively going after summoners themselves, specifically what appears to be the power of their own souls upon demise(referred to as their ‘Covenants’).
Although it remains to be seen just what their goal is this time, it definitely seems like they have a new approach to obtaining it, which is bound to be anything but good for the world at large, even one as technologically advanced as that within modern day society. The most recent trailer states that they could “destroy the world” once obtaining enough Covenants, though one would hope they have less basic aspirations than that. Still, it’s fun to think that for all their wild-day modern aspirations, they got their start from a crazed Dark Summoner-nee-Priest with delusions of grandeur who definitely didn’t skip arm day.
Boy, do I have some opinions about this here SMT game.
Where do I begin?
SMTV is a game of blessings and curses. I’ll start with the good.
The gameplay is top shelf.
Press turn is back, which is nothing surprising, but in addition, Atlus added an absolutely unprecedented insane amount of customization. There’s new physical skills, new magical skills(and a new tier, -barion), skills that let physical builds use their physical stat to inflict magical damage, meter(Magatsuhi) skills that allow for broken abilities to be used for an entire round(namely guaranteed criticals, full restores and revivals for the entire party, auto charge and pierce, etc), and best of all, Essences.
Essences are the biggest game changer since manual skill inheritance. You can get an item that basically contains all of a demon’s inherent skills, which can be freely applied to either the MC or the demons in his team at your leisure. This means you not only get to customize the MC however you like, any demon in the team becomes near endlessly customizable.
Pairing these two factors together, and this is the freshest, most innovative and widely experimental core gameplay has ever been.
Which brings us to the other big game changer… the world itself.
As you’ve likely heard, yes, SMT V is a full “open world” experience.
Sort of. There’s five major hubs in Da’at, which… are kind of different, but not really. One’s a desert, one’s a red desert, one’s a… white desert? You get the gist. Sadly, they’re mostly the same atmosphere with shuffled architecture and a different filter applied.
While repetitive, I give credit given where due: the open world is a joy to explore. The areas are full of massive buildings that you can either access from stairs, adjacent highways, or even stray ledges. There’s lots of nooks and crannies to explore, with little secrets and bonuses that reward exploration, namely the collectible “Miman” creatures that allow the MC to learn new skills and gain new items over time.
The trademark overworld map from 1/2/3/etc is also still present, though only in the “real world” that you only go to like five times.
Then there’s the dungeon. Not dungeons. Dungeon.
SMTV has literally one of note: and it has everything I wanted! Great design and aesthetic, platforming, interesting gimmicks, secrets to look for and explore, and… that’s it.
There is no final dungeon. There’s a massive world leading to it, and then a long tunnel with a few battles.
It’s a crying shame. Look at that architecture. It could have been a massive dungeon full of platforming and verticality. It SHOULD have been. But it’s not, and the game just leads you right to the climatic boss fights.
Then… there’s the story. God, where do I start.
From the get-go, the cover makes it look like there’s going to be all kinds of factions vying for control of Tokyo, since it depicts four demons and the MC.
There’s even a (very marketable) cast of humans! Surely they’re all going to be well fleshed out, have lots of dialogue, and massive impact on the plot, yes?
Nope. They barely factor into the plot at all. After the introduction, hope you liked talking to them! You’ll barely ever see them again.
See this girl here?
This is Sahori. She’s an NPC who goes nuts, and murders a bunch of bullies with her demon partner after making a soul-sacrificial pact for power.
She is far more interesting than any of the major players shown above, and she’s only in the game for all of three scenes. Therein lies SMTV’s major narrative problem.
There are interesting characters here, and their designs are great, courtesy of Masayuki Doi. Sadly, it’s all surface. The duo above, Yakumo and Nuwa, are one of the more interesting narrative threads, and even they barely appear in the story.
SMTV has interesting ideas, in very broad strokes. This is a world in which Lucifer won. The armies of heaven are scattered and listless, and chaos runs rampant, but even Lucifer himself is nowhere to be found. There could be a ton of great stories told in a universe like this. A power struggle between warring factions of angels and demons, internal fighting, a return of the Divine Powers/Polytheist Alliance from IV, and on and on. V does almost nothing with this potential. Even when a group of the lesser deities from Egypt, Greece, Hinduism, and so on show up in the late game, they barely factor into the plot. They’re just bosses to be slain and obstacles to be stepped on. They barely factor into the alignment decisions if they even get to make an impact at all.
You make a choice at the very end, and do some extra quests if you want a “true” final boss. That’s about it. Again, sadly, this reeks of wasted opportunity. V feels rushed. They had a ton of interesting ideas, but the team lacked the time or maybe even the ability to properly utilize them.
I will say that when V’s writing is strong, it excels. The tone of the Chaos ending was particularly enjoyable, raising genuinely philosophical questions about what living in a Chaotic world would really entail, and how successful the goal will actually be. It’s a shame the rest of the game’s narrative couldn’t rise to meet it.
In closing, the music should be made note of. The main composer of SMT IV, Ryota Kozuka, has basically taken over the main line series, which I am totally okay with, as his work for IV was nothing short of incredible.
I had high expectations for V, and… well, for better or for worse, it is a very different type of soundtrack.
Whether by design or by direction, SMT V has a very ambient, ominous score. By and large, it nails the tone, and fits the oppressive open world areas very well.
Sadly, with a few exceptions, none of the boss themes have the bite of, say, Divine Powers from IV: Apocalypse.
They are absolutely solid tracks, but anyone looking for a repeat of IV or its successor’s majesty will be sorely disappointed.
I wish the same could be said of the game itself. SMT IV was clearly the product of Kazuma Kaneko’s original design and ideas, as is clearly credited.
V has no such pedigree to fall back on. On the gameplay front, Atlus deserve lauding for the wonderful flow of combat and exploration, and for all the new innovation added.
However, they still have a long way to go if they’re going to fill the narrative shoes that Kaneko, Okada, and Tadashi left behind. Hopefully with this template in place, they can step their game up for the next go round.
I love FMV games. Been playing them since the ancient times of Night Trap and Sewer Shark and well into the modern FMV renaissance, from high production value gems like Late Shift to no-budget schlock like Press X To Die.
It’s about time Japan threw their hat into the ring.
As has probably been known, this quirky experiment was written by Kazutaka Kodaka, the lunatic behind the Danganronpa games, a weird VN/murder mystery series known for having the characters die in elaborate ways while trying to solve an elaborate mystery.
Death Come True is basically that, except the protagonist is the one doing (most of) the dying.
Makoto Kuraki wakes up in a hotel with no idea of who he is, what he’s doing there, why he keeps dying, or why everyone thinks he’s… a killer!?
Like most FMV games, Death Come True boils down to making choices… and, uh, that’s literally about it.
I finished the game in about two hours, give or take. It’s VERY short, and far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot of replay value. It has a few neat twists and turns, high production values, and good acting, but nothing too shocking. In fact, it’s a little predicable, knowing what the writer’s penchant for certain types of tropes and storytelling swerves.
I still had a fun time with Death Come True, but I would suggest waiting til it hits the $10ish mark for maximum enjoy. It’s nice to see FMV games from Japan, especially with a budget and big names thrown at it, just hopefully next time it’s something a bit meatier.