[Post-Mortem] (Devil Summoner) Soul Hackers 2

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.

But they nailed Victor, so… there’s that.

[Devil Summoner & Soul Hackers] So, just who ARE the phantom society, anyway?

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.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Fan Translation: Preview (Colons)

This is kind of a long story. If you want that, read on after this.

If you don’t, uh, just watch this.

Still with me? Good!

Amazon.com: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner [Japan Import]: Video Games

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is a spinoff of the SMT series. It was originally released for the Sega Saturn(wise choice) and then later for the PSP(tough call) and then never localized(thanks Sony. NOT).

What separates Devil Summoner from SMT? In a nutshell, Devil Summoners are basically the same as SMT’s protagonists: normal humans who work with demons. The difference is, Devil Summoners are more, shall we say, hands on with their demons. Demons tend to get more personality and have more influence in the story, and be more friendly with their summoner, not just tools for a job. (Especially in the Raidou games.)

Basically, Devil Summoner games are more ‘street level’ and character-driven. That’s how I like to think of it, anyway.

Devil Summoner (Video Game) - TV Tropes

Devil Summoner takes place in 199x, where a college student with terrible luck winds up having to save his girlfriend, the city, and maybe the world from the machinations of a Bible/Grimoire-wielding dark summoner hell bent on reviving a goddess and wreaking all kinds of the hades(props if you get that).

Sid Davis | Megami Tensei Wiki | Fandom

This brings us to a few years(?) back when on 4chan’s “SMTG” community, a user I’m fortunate enough to now-know as Fukuzatsu decided he was going to translate the game for the PSP.

At least, until he hit the worst of SMT walls: demon negotiation. It’s been hell on him.

Enter another Spanish team of savvy hackers, who’ve been making progress, namely https://twitter.com/megaflan/ and https://twitter.com/GriffithVIII , each of whom were kind enough to join up and make Fuku’s life(hopefully) easier.

I have to give special props to @NakuFox, who came up with the INCREDIBLE title screen, as seen in the video above.

So without further ado, here’s some screens.

Also, mad props to Marsh, the absolute madman below. He beat the game in raw Japanese, and his charismatic flow made the game even more popular than it was already.

SMT: DS was a huge success in Japan, and lead to its (IMO) vastly superior sequel, Soul Hackers.