Is Soul Hackers 2 a Persona Game?
No, but it is a Shin Megami Tensei game.
In a modern gaming world where the Megami Tensei series spans over 50 games (not counting mobile games, ports, remakes, remasters, etc.) among multiple subseries, Atlus titles can be confusing. Especially if you’re not sure what Megami Tensei, also known as Shin Megami Tensei, is or what subseries fall under its umbrella. With both the Persona and Soul Hackers subseries dropping the main series name in the West (and in Soul Hackers 2’s case, the Devil Summoner name as well), things were bound to get a little messy. Well, messier.
The Megami Tensei series (marketed in the West as Shin Megami Tensei) was formed in 1987 by two games with the exact same name, both based on the same book trilogy but by different developers — kind of. What a fantastic and confusing start.
The Digital Devil Story trilogy was written by Aya Nishitani and published by Tokuma Shoten in Japan during the late ‘80s. The first book, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, was released in 1986 with extreme success. The second book, Digital Devil Story: Warrior of the Demon City, would be released within months of the first book. Following this success, the then-duology would have its video game rights acquired by two companies at the same time: Namco (now known as Bandai Namco) and Telenet Japan.
So where was Atlus during all of this? Developing both titles.
Despite being published by Namco, Atlus developed Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei for the Famicom. They had applied for the rights to the game through Namco, a move that Kazunari Suzuki, the scenario writer for the game, would later state was necessary. In an interview with Japanese site 4gamer.net in 2015, Suzuki implied that a different publisher than Namco would have reviewed the game and most likely wouldn’t have released it based on its content.
As for Telenet Japan, Atlus co-developed Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei with them for the PC. Telenet Japan had received the rights to Digital Devil Story simultaneously with Namco, leading both companies to agree to go in different directions with their projects. While Atlus had created a traditional turn-based RPG for Namco and the Famicom, they worked with Telenet Japan to make a top-down real-time action RPG.
Despite Atlus developing both titles along with having the input of writer Nishitani and book publisher Tokuma Shoten, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei for the Famicom was the more popular game among fans and critics by far. Atlus and Namco would follow Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei with Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II, a sequel unrelated to the first game and book trilogy apart from having similar themes. It was the success of that sequel that would lead Atlus to buy the full rights to the Megami Tensei name and create a semi-remake of Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II known as Shin Megami Tensei.
It was Shin Megami Tensei that sealed the Megami Tensei series’ spot among popular JRPGs such as Final Fantasy for many. Religious imagery, turn-based gameplay, first-person dungeon exploring, and demon negotiations had all become staple features in Megami Tensei, seen in the many subseries that would come. During the next few years, Atlus would develop the Megami Tensei subseries Last Bible and Majin Tensei along with standalone titles Jack Bros., Giten Megami Tensei: Tokyo Mokushiroku, and Kyuyaku Megami Tensei — a remake of Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei and Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II.
This is where it becomes important to clarify that even though every Shin Megami Tensei game is a Megami Tensei game, not every Megami Tensei game is a Shin Megami Tensei game.
Within two years of releasing Shin Megami Tensei, Atlus would develop Shin Megami Tensei II and Shin Megami Tensei if…, the former being a loose sequel set decades in the future and the latter being the Shin Megami Tensei series’ first spin-off. Following Shin Megami Tensei if… and throughout the rest of the ‘90s, Atlus would create two other subseries for specifically the Shin Megami Tensei series: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona — then named Revelations: Persona in the West and Megami Ibunroku Persona in Japan.
Revelations: Persona was released in both Japan and North America in 1996, making it the second Megami Tensei localised in the West (hee-ho, the first was Jack Bros.). Despite the many edits and drastic changes made to the game in the West, Revelations: Persona performed well among critics in Japan and the US and the series quickly gained a following. 25 years later, the Persona series now has six mainline titles (there are two Persona 2 entries), three subseries, and one standalone spin-off (not counting ports, remasters, and enhanced editions). The series is known for taking classic Megami Tensei elements and putting them in a slice-of-life school setting. Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and Persona 5 all included a negotiation system similar to other entries in the overall Megami Tensei series. Meanwhile, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 introduced the Social Link mechanic, an in-game system that ranked the player’s closeness to other characters that would be used for the next two mainline entries, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and Persona 5.
The other breakout Shin Megami Tensei subseries from the late 1990s is Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner. While not nearly as big as Persona, Devil Summoner is a decent-sized subseries that spans a variety of media, including a live-action television series. There are four (soon to be five) games in the series: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunohan vs. the Soulless Army, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon. All Devil Summoner games take place in a shared universe throughout different points in time. The Raidou Kuzunoha set focuses on the devil summoner of the same name during the 1930s and features real-time action combat, a rarity in the overall Megami Tensei series. Meanwhile, the original Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner focuses on a silent protagonist while he possesses the body of dead devil summoner Kyouji Kuzunoha in ‘90s-era Japan. The original Devil Summoner features the classic turn-based combat that the Megami Tensei series is known for.
Then there’s the second entry in the Devil Summoner series and the start of the newest Shin Megami Tensei subseries: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. Serving as an indirect sequel to the original Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner and an indirect prequel to the upcoming Soul Hackers 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a cyberpunk-themed turn-based RPG with a hard focus on demon fusion and map exploration. Like its prequel, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers has a large focus on summoning demons through computers, with both games featuring a device known as a GUMP — the mixture of a handgun and the standard demon summoning COMP seen in many Megami Tensei games. Unlike its prequel, the game is set in the future in the technologically advanced Amami City and features various computers and terminals, holograms, hacking, and an entire virtual universe known as Paradigm X.
That finally brings us to the upcoming fifth entry in the Devil Summoner subseries and the newest overall Megami Tensei title: Soul Hackers 2. Dropping both the Shin Megami Tensei and Devil Summoner monikers, Soul Hackers 2 teases something new while promising the same futuristic cyberpunk elements as its direct predecessor. In a different interview with Japanese website 4gamer.net, directing duo Eiji Ishida and Mitsuru Hirata described their inspirations for the long-awaited sequel. To paraphrase Ishida, “The reason I actually thought about making it into a project was that the first work, which had sci-fi elements, was quite edgy among the works related to Shin Megami Tensei at the time. I thought that I could make a new work with the current feeling by making use of the elements such as technology, people, and the occult, which were the subject matter, and their relationships.”
While it is still unknown what Soul Hackers 2 will bring to the Megami Tensei franchise, it is safe to say that it will take some influence from the many Shin Megami Tensei games released between the first and second Soul Hackers. During the 25-year gap in the subseries, Atlus developed and released six more mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, an abundance of Megami Tensei-themed mobile games, many entries in the Persona subseries, and three new Shin Megami Tensei series — Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Ideally, Soul Hackers 2 will take what is good about these games and the original Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers and combine them to create a unique and interesting gaming experience.
Wanna see what the hype is about? Visit the page for Soul Hackers 2.