Weekly Famitsu magazine issue #1760 (or the August 25, 2022 issue) includes a lengthy Soul Hackers 2 release feature. Part of this feature is a development interview with creators behind the game:
- Eiji Ishida (Producer / Director): Eiji Ishida has previously worked as the director for Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, the art director for Shin Megami Tensei IV, and worked on Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE as director alongside Mitsuru Hirata.
- Mitsuru Hirata (Producer / Director): Mitsuru Hirata worked as director for Radiant Historia and lead director of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. He also worked on Shin Megami Tensei III and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey with Ishida.
- Makoto Miyauchi (Scenario Writer): Makoto Miyauchi worked as a planner for Etrian Odyssey III, IV, as well as scenario writer for Devil Survivor 2: Break Record and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.
After 25 years, “Soul Hackers 2” has finally been released. How do you feel about this project?
Ishida: There were some difficulties during the development process, but once the theme was finalized, we worked straight toward the goal without hesitation, and I think we were able to achieve it.
Hirata: As with any project, we cannot create a game that will resonate with people unless we give it our all. It’s the same now, and I feel that we did our best. However, because of the long period of time we spent on this project, we were much more exhausted than usual (laughs).
Miyauchi: I, too, felt that I had given everything I could to this project. Even after the voice recording had begun, we were still making necessary changes to the scenario. We all pushed ourselves beyond our limits and worked until the very last minute to create something good. We put that level of “soul” into the scenario, as well.
What kind of theme did you implement into the scenario that you put so much “soul” into?
Miyauchi: “People who can’t make it” has always been at the core. In this game, the characters are placed in a unique situation where “the world is about to end,” and they are all trying to do what they think is right in their own way. However, because of their different circumstances and positions, they can’t move forward inthe same direction, and somewhere along the line things get complicated. This is where the drama begins.
Ishida: It’s not an uncommon term, but I think “mutual understanding” was one of the big themes. In the past, I felt that many stories were structured in a way to expose the “evil” side of human beings, once you uncover who they are underneath. In the previous game, “Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers,” the negative aspects of human beings were exposed through technology, right? With that in consideration, we had the option of using a similar theme for this game, but we deliberately decided to choose a different one.
Hirata: With this perspective, even if 90% of our ideas are different, if we have something in common with the remaining 10%, we can create something together based on that. This is exactly what we are looking for in modern society.
Ishida: A new structure was created in which a girl from a technology derived background acted as leader of a group of people from different backgrounds, such as the Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society, who are all working together.
Certainly, Ringo’s presence is like a “bridge” for the Devil Summoners, who had been in a confrontational relationship up to that point.
Ishida: It was a significant challenge for us to create a leader who actively takes action like Ringo, and the composition and structure of the scenario were quite different from those in our previous games.
On the other hand, the story seems to be set in a world that is easy for modern players to get into.
Ishida: Actually, there was a time when I was thinking of a metaverse-like world. A dystopian one with a strong syber feel, dominated by the network.
Hirata: From there, we changed the worldview to one in which Devil Summoners and demons were active in a world that felt connected to the world we live in. The character that underwent the most changes in the setting was Ringo who was not initially the main character.
So what was she like in the beginning?
Hirata: Ringo was an “electronic fairy,” if you will, who accompanied the other main characters.
Ishida: She was like Nemissa in the previous game. However, we felt that this would not be fresh enough. So we thought it would be interesting to make such an existence the main character instead of a partner. So we reshaped the entire game and the other characters were also adapted into their current forms to match the renewed worldview.
I see. I would like to ask about Aion, where Ringo originates from. In the past, AI has often been portrayed in games and movies as a being turning against humans. But recently, I feel that this negative image has disappeared. Aion is not portrayed as a threat, is it?
Ishida: I think this is due to changes in our society. I would say that a world where people and technology coexist is more “modern.”
Miyauchi: The question of where technology will end up is an evergreen theme. Recently, there seems to be a growing belief that technology will reach a point where we it can feel human-like sensations, rather than turning against us.
I feel that there are more and more happy endings in entertainment projects overall now.
Miyauchi: That may be so. I would say that the number of works that give a refreshing feeling after experiencing them has increased.
Hirata: I think there is a growing need for entertainment that can relieve minds exhausted by the current reality with healing.
In the midst of all this, Ringo and Figue, playing the central role in the story’s progression, gradually begin to show more and more emotion. In a sense, they feel more human than actual humans. Is there anything you were conscious of when creating the characters?
Miyauchi: I thought that it was absolutely essential to create a character who is not only physically superior and smarter than humans, but also a character the player can relate to and find compelling. I was very careful when it came to depicting the different sensibilities they had due to their different origins from humans. I wanted to express Ringo and Figue’s unique “human-likeness” in ways that they didn’t ven intend, such as when they fail because they operate too quickly without taking their surroundings into account.
Hirata: We didn’t want them to be stereotypical android-like characters. That’s why we gave them a human-like quality. The reason why Ringo and Figue have human shapes is so that people who come into contact with them can easily relate to them. They are almost god-like beings, but it’s hard to imagine that such beings beyond human knowledge would be around to communicate casually with humankind. Therefore, they were sent to us in the guise of a woman with a human-like personality, so that they could fit in.
Are there other human beings who are aware of Aion’s existence?
Ishida: It’s to a level where it’s not like there are people who don’t. There may be other Aion agents besides Ringo and the others, but they are probably well hidden because they are not yet accepted by humans.
Miyauchi: Ichiro Onda knew about Aion, and only a few people know about Yatagarasu. Even within the government, there must be a few.
The story in this game begins from when Ringo, and by extension the player, descends into the midst of many mysteries swirling around, such as “Destruction of the world?”, “Covenant?”, “Why were they killed?” This type of introduction is also not similar to previous Atlus games.
Ishida: Ringo is a different character from the so-called “player surrogates.” If the main character had the same point of view as the player, it would be necessary to explain the situation in-depth at the beginning of the game. In this way, the story progresses at a good tempo.
Hirata: That’s why the story begins with almost no explanation. Originally, we had too much exposition, and some people within the company would say they didn’t understand the story, so we added an episode at the beginning.
Miyauchi: Actually, the story initially began with a scene at a warehouse in the bay. The scene of Ringo and Figue’s birth, included in the final version, was added because we thought it was necessary.
Hirata: In that sense, I think the concept of the main character as an agent sent by Aion to save the human world, as a god-like being, fits the story very well. The character’s position and purpose were clear, and it was easy to control. Even if we don’t see the character’s details, it should be a role that can gradually draw the player in.
Ishida: Additionally, in regards to the pacing, we were also conscious of the characters’ “pull.” For example, Ichiro Onda and Arrow, whom Ringo wanted to first contact, have already been killed when they first meet. As soon as the game starts, they’re no longer able to accomplish their mission, which leads to the question, “What does this mean?” And that’s how the game begins. Arrow is successfully revived with a Soul Hack, and the story begins from there.
Demons in Soul Hackers 2
I feel that the demons on the field and in combat in this game are portrayed in a brighter and more unique manner than in the past. Was this intentional?
Miyauchi: Although we did not make an overall decision to do so, I think the entire development team thought about “not making people feel uncomfortable while playing.” So we were especially conscious of the game’s friendliness, and we certainly tried to keep that aspect of the game modern.
In previous Atlus games, there have been demons with a light touch, but it’s different here.
Miyauchi: For example, I think it would be easier to understand if you think of the demons with a Gyaru style. In previous games, the word “choberiba” was used, being popular slang at the time. But this time it was updated to a modern style, using different wording.
It is also fun to encounter unfamiliar demons one after another, such as the many new varieties of Jack Frost.
Ishida: The new demons are not something we decided to include initially. But with the collective desire to include them, we did with the staff’s efforts to include elements that would please fans as we developed the game.
Hirata: The reason we were willing to adopt such ideas was because everyone on the team wanted to include fun elements unique to “Soul Hackers.” The “Turbo-Granny” was a perfect example of this.
The familiar demons also have beautiful graphics. Are they newly created?
Ishida: We have used some of the demons that appeared in modern console enteries as the basis of our models. However we made some adjustments so that when they are placed next to characters designed by Sirow Miwa (the character designer”, they wouldn’t feel out of place.
Hirata: We spent a lot of time on that process, as well, so I think we were able to create a sense of overall unity.
I was also surprised when I tried to attack the demon’s weak points based on my experience from previous games, only to find that the weak attributes had changed (laughs).
Ishida: It is on of the promises of Atlus games: The more you know about them, the more you’ll be taken by surprise.
Hirata: Please enjoy that aspect of it as well (laughs).
On the other hand, the battles seem much easier and less difficult than in previous MegaTen enteries. Were you conscious of this point?
Hirata: The battles in this game were designed with the theme of “how much you can enjoy a pleasant moment.” We received some feedback at the public demo session that the battles were “milder,” but in fact, we did not set out to make the battles milder than they were originally. The foundation of the system is the “press turn battle” system, where a wrong tactic can lead directly to total annihilation. But at the same time, if you succeed, you get a significant return. In this game, we tried to reduce the amount of time spent on hedging risks to prevent allies from making mistakes, and focused on strengthening the elements that give players a sense of satisfaction.
Ishida: We’ve created a system that allows players to earn a steady return for their efforts. This way of thinking is based on the know-how gained from “Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE,” which was produced by the same team.
Basically, the standard battle strategy is to aim for the enemy’s weak points and inflict a lot of extra damage with Sabbath.
Hirata: I would like you to try the COMP enhancements from the COMP SMITH. Particularly, the “commander skills” that Ringo learns will give you a significant advantage if you can master them. Among them, I recommend takin the initiative to use “Stack Optimization,” which leads to increased damage in Sabbaths and “Conversion” which allows you to swap out your allies during the battle.
Certainly. In the first half of the story, in the battle against Kaburagi, if you use stack optimization and then perform a Sabbath with the largest stack, you can do tremendous damage, right?
Hirata: Yes. The battle against Kaburagi is a major hurdle in the first half of the story, and we wanted to create a balance that would allow players to test his power.
Also, with Conversion, you can rest assured, even if the enemy changes attributes during the battle.
Hirata: I think it’s a skill that can be used in a wider range of situations. Additionally, as you progress through the Soul Matrix, you will be able to obtain “Summoner Skills,” tied to each character’s personality. Another element that is often forgotten outside of COMP enhancements is the use of magic crystals. They’re items that provide some benefits when equipped. They can be used to increase damage and reduce MP consumption, which can be very useful in combat.
What is the best way to start COMP modification?
Hirata: Basically, I don’t think you will have much trouble with the amount of money given, so I think it’s a good idea to start with the modifications that are available at the time, while leaving some spare money.
I see. However, I don’t think I will have that much money to spare until the battle against Kaburagi… Accessories are also surprisingly expensive (laughs).
Hirata: If you could easily get everything you needed with the money you had on hand, the customizability that comes with thinking about how to make things happen would be lost, so you may run out of money in the first half of the story. However, accessories can be obtained during dungeon exploration without buying them at the store, so it is possible to compensate for this lack. I shouldn’t say this out loud, but… (laughs).
It’s helpful (laughs). All of the dungeons in this game are large and have a wide variety of elements, don’t they?
Hirata: We aimed to design the dungeons for various locations, such as the warehouse in the bay area and the underground railroad lines, and we ended up with dungeons that spread out horizontally. In the middle of the story, you will be exploring buildings, so there will be dungeons with a vertical structure, where each floor is small but where there are many.
Ishida: Dungeons in this game can be divided into two main categories: those based on real structures and those with unrealistic structures. The Soul Matrix is the latter.
Hirata: We created ordinary dungeons with realistic structures and appropriate size for game design purposes. On the other hand, the Soul Matrix is positioned as a challenging element of the game. Therefore, we designed it to be as wide as possible, both vertically and horizontally. We also included warp zones, and other gimmicks that don’t exist in real life. For those of you who have played many Atlus games, this will feel familiar to you.
The more you play through the game, the more you will feel Atlus’ style.
Hirata: We’ve put in a lot of elements that will allow you to play the game for a long time. We hope you will enjoy exploring the game while completing Aion Orders and other tasks.
Requests & Missions
For requests and missions such as Aion Orders, how many are there in total?
Hirata: There are more than 100 in total. Most of them, with a few exceptions, can be complete at Club Cretaceous or at the entrance to the Soul Matrix, so you should be able to complete a reasonable number of them by just playing the game normally/.
Requests can also be made by talking to demons in the dungeons. However, since they are located near the dungeon’s entrance or in other places that are easy to find, it’s not that difficult to just accept them.
Ishida: Requests can be encountered while completing another request or while doing something else, so they can be derived from a single request or occur in a subsequent manner. We intentionally arranged them in such a way, so please pay attention to them.
Hirata: Additionally, the request menu screen updates as he game progresses, and Ringo will notify the player of this, or say something if a request is in progress like “You should go to XXX” or something like that. If you check them out, you will almost never get lost in the requests. We’ve prepared a large amount of text for this purpose, and we hope that you will make use of it.
Apart from the requests, there are also quite a lot of “personal events” that depict interactions with companions, aren’t there?
Hirata: I can’t give you a specific number, but we have prepared quite a few. I believe that communicating over drinks is one of the expressions that “Soul Hackers” is able to do, so I tried to include as many as possible. Basically, it will be Ringo and someone else, but there are also those with Ringo and two others, or Ringo and all three allies, and so on. We hope you will enjoy the unique interactions that you will not see during the main story, and we hope you will deepen your interactions with them.
Should I give prioritiy to my favorite character in raising their Soul Level, which is raised through conversation choices during events? Or do it evenly?
Hirata: Personally, I think it’s more based on a gut feeling, and I would like people to give priority to their favorite characters. I know that many people will want to increase the Soul Level evenly since it will be reflected in the numerical values, but you cannot raise everyone’s Soul Level to their maximum level right from the start. So we recommend that you play according to your own preferences.
I see. By the way, is it possible to raise everyone’s Soul Level to the maximum if you play through multiple times?
Hirata: Yes, that’s right. A system making it easier to raise Soul Levels will also be unlocked. Additionally, there are also personal events that can only be seen during a second playthrough.
Ishida: Ringo has taken the souls of the three Devil Summoners as data and incorporated them into herself. If there is something in their souls that they can’t get over, such as regrets from the past, it will materialize in the form of a Soul Matrix.
The deepest level of the Soul Matrix is only shown to those whom they have opened their hearts to. So by deepening your relationship with them through personal events, we can confront them. As a leader, Ringo will resolve these issues, and in doing so, will gain a deeper understanding of them, and her leadership will be honed. The Soul Matrix is based on small personal problems, but when resolved, they lead to great power. This is an element we wanted to portray through gameplay.
This story is that of the first contact between Aion and humans, but there is still room to expand the worldview, isn’t there…?
Ishida: Yes. We have put everything we can do at this point into this game, but I believe we can create a story beyond that in terms of the worldview and setting, and I personally would love to do so.
I look forward to it. Lastly, do you have a message for the readers?
Ishida: We were not able to make a simple sequel because we had to make a new game after 25 years, which is quite a strange thing to do. So, even though the game is called “2,” I think it is full of its own novelty. While keeping the previous game in mind, we have included many new elements, so I hope that fans of the previous game will play it again, and I hope that newcomers will enjoy it as a completely new game.
Hirata: We are still in a situation where we tend to spend most of our time at home, but I think this title will allow us to sit back and enjoy the game. I would be happy if you could enjoy this world to your heart’s content from the comfort of your own home.
Miyauchi: The party members are all good-natured people, so please take good care of Ringo and her allies until the end!
Soul Hackers 2 was released for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC in Japan on August 25th, and will be released in the West on August 26th, 2022.