Thanks to its protagonist, Soul Hackers 2 has the opportunity to offer a refreshing take on Persona’s system of social sim elements.
Now that interest in Atlus RPGs has been heightened so much, Soul Hackers 2 seems like a great move, even if it's a somewhat surprising one. Not only has Persona 5 greatly expanded interest in the Persona series, but Shin Megami Tensei 5 and Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster have brought more fans to Atlus' core Shin Megami Tensei line of games. As a Megami Tensei offshoot, Soul Hackers 2 will likely share a lot of design elements with the demon-centric Shin Megami Tensei series, but Atlus has confirmed that there are some notable Persona mechanics in the new game, incluiding social sim elements.
In the Persona games, spending time with friends and strengthening bonds is a key way of making the protagonist more powerful. Soul Hackers 2 will reportedly include something similar; the protagonist Ringo can spend time with her fellow devil summoner to improve her relationships with them. However, the premise of Soul Hackers 2 implies that its social sim elements will look very different from Persona's Social Links and Confidants. As a speaking character with a fleshed out personality, Ringo might have far more to say to her friends and allies than a Persona protagonist, which opens the door for some mechanical nuance.
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Persona protagonists are generally silent, which results in them having very limited impact on all kinds of cutscenes. Whether it's part of the central plot or a Social Link interaction, the protagonist generally sits and listens until there's something minor that they can contribute that changes the conversation's direction. When interacting with Confidants and Social Links, these choices do matter, since saying the right thing will expedite the rate at which the protagonist and the NPC bond. Overall, though, these silent protagonists say little no matter who they're talking to.
Soul Hackers 2, on the other hand, has a named protagonist with a lot of dialogue: Ringo. Because Ringo clearly has a lot of dialogue during the Soul Hackers 2 narrative, it stands to reason that she'll speak up during any social sim elements. Players might find themselves choosing a ton of different dialogue options during each social sim interaction, rather than only picking three or four dialogue choices like in Persona. While this means social sim elements will require significantly more work to navigate, it would open up a lot of interesting mechanical differences that set Soul Hackers 2 apart from Persona.
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Social elements in Soul Hackers 2 could have a lot more choice and nuance than Persona's Social Links and Confidants with the help of Ringo's dialogue. If players get to choose a dozen or more dialogue options during social scenes, then Ringo could rack up points in different ways. Players might earn extra credit toward a friendship by choosing several of the right responses in a row, while choosing a response that a character dislikes could subtract points. What's more, additional dialogue options could open the door to branching paths for each ally's character arc. Depending on what Ringo says over time, she might lead a Soul Hackers character's life in a certain direction, resulting in unique scenes and mechanical benefits.
It's possible that Ringo will also be mostly quiet during social sim moments for simplicity's sake, or that only a bit of her dialogue will be choice-driven, but that'd be a shame. Ringo's place as an independent character enables her to interact with a social sim system in entirely different ways from the various Persona protagonists. Soul Hackers 2 borrowing mechanics from Persona is a good call, since it'll attract Persona players, but it can't simply copy those mechanics. They need to get adjusted in meaningful ways that make them feel at home in Soul Hackers 2's world. The more Ringo has to say to the people around her, the better.
Soul Hackers 2 releases August 26, 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
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