I wrote an article complaining about video games journalists comparing Shin Megami Tensei 5 to Persona, but never published it, or recorded a voiceover for it. I didn’t do any of that, because I was kinda late to the party. However, a new Atlus game is being released later this month, it’s called Soul Hackers 2 and is a part of the Megaten universe, just as Shin Megami Tensei, Persona, Devil Survivor and a couple of other sub-franchises are. And you know what this entails – journos are out of the woodwork with new Persona comparisons! I’m miraculously on time with my content, so let’s get into it. Also a small disclaimer – this is a bit of a rant along with proper analysis, so keep that in mind. The discussed article can be found here.
I wrote an article complaining about video games journalists comparing Shin Megami Tensei 5 to Persona, but never published it, or recorded a voiceover for it. I didn’t do any of that, because I was kinda late to the party. However, a new Atlus game is being released later this month, it’s called Soul Hackers 2 and is a part of the Megaten universe, just as Shin Megami Tensei, Persona, Devil Survivor and a couple of other sub-franchises are. And you know what this entails – journos are out of the woodwork with new Persona comparisons! I’m miraculously on time with my content, so let’s get into it. Also a small disclaimer – this is a bit of a rant along with proper analysis, so keep that in mind. Also, the discussed article is linked in the description.
Willa Rowe, a journalist at Inverse, a media outlet specialising in what I call “geek culture”, released a review of Soul Hackers 2. The title is as follows: SOUL HACKERS 2 IS A LACKLUSTER ATTEMPT AT A MORE APPROACHABLE PERSONA. Aside from the title and a description of a single image, Persona is mentioned 12 times in the rather short review. For some context, Persona is a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series, just like Soul Hackers 2 is. And SMT is only mentioned twice in the whole review. Anyway, let’s look into the review itself, shall we?
The first three paragraphs provide a small summary stating that the game’s a trimmed-down Megaten title. This isn’t exactly the case – Soul Hackers as a series has its own personality and, despite being in the same universe, is a separate set of works compared to the mainline SMT and Persona. Because of that, saying that some mechanics of the game have been shed is not correct, as they were never present in the Soul Hackers spinoff, to begin with. You can’t trim something that wasn’t there. While Persona and SMT are certainly more complex, such a comparison would be like saying that Final Fantasy X is a downgrade compared to Final Fantasy Tactics, because you can’t walk in the game during combat, ignoring the fact that these are two completely different titles.
The next section called “All grown up” starts with a statement that comes as very ironic in this case. “This is not a Persona game”. Don’t you say? Why do you compare it so much to the Persona, then? Further in this section, the author says that Persona’s social links have been, quoting, “taken away”. Once again, you can’t take away something that wasn’t there. I can’t say much about the next part of the section, as it’s written in a nice and concise manner, shedding some light on the fact, that Ringo, the main character, is, as far as I and the reviewer know, the first voiced Megaten protagonist.
The next part, though, is the one in which Willa shoots herself in the foot. She talks about the combat system, which implements a variation of the “press turn” system. To keep it short, the system allows the player to get more moves if the player exploits the weaknesses of the enemies, while also allowing the enemies to do the same. However, the reviewer brings the fact that there’s this stacking mechanic due to which the main character will unleash an additional attack dependent on how many times you’ve struck the enemy’s weaknesses. To quote, “Yet this is where Soul Hackers 2 begins to simplify things in hopes of making the game easier for newcomers: enemy demons can also exploit weaknesses but are not capable of executing stack attacks at the end of their round”. The reviewer complains that the enemies can’t perform that mechanic and that is the simplification. We may expect that the author means that it’s simplified as compared to Persona games, forgetting that they also have a similar, player-only mechanic called All-Out Attacks – the enemies can’t do them as well. This is a huge mishap which shouldn’t be included in a text written by a professional.
The next thing I wanted to mention was the part in which the author says that the game cuts some of its mechanics compared to its direct predecessors from the Soul Hackers sub-series. Now, this is finally a good piece of writing, as the reviewer finally compares the game to what it’s the most relevant and relatable. A pity none of these mechanics, like happiness, focus on the Magnetite grind and such are mentioned, so a reader needs to do their own research on them. That’s definitely a missed opportunity.
Now, let’s move on to the baffling last paragraph. Despite it being barely longer than 5 lines, Persona, for whatever reason is mentioned twice there. It even begins with “The market for a shorter Persona experience is there”. Guess what, this isn’t a Persona game and shouldn’t be treated as such. These comparisons, aside from the games sharing some lore and mechanics, are baseless. Unfortunately, this journalist fails to see that and is upset that a game that isn’t a Persona, isn’t a Persona.
I don’t know if it’s going to be the case with all upcoming Megaten games now, but we’ve already had Shin Megami Persona Without The Heart Tensei 5, and Now we have Soul Lackluster Attempt At A More Approachable Persona Hackers 2. What’s next to come? Devil Fun SRPG Take On The Persona Formula Survivor 3? Catherine What If Persona Was A Puzzle Game 2? I personally can’t wait for Digital Devil I Can’t Romance A Teenager In A World Devoid Of God But I Can Kill And Eat Them Saga 3. It’s a bit like the situation with Daniel Radcliffe. Man’s more than 30 years old and most people still know him as the guy who played Harry Potter. The big difference, though, is that the movie journalists can see past that, while the gaming ones don’t write proper reviews for Atlus’s JRPGs, they write Persona comparisons. I can only imagine how annoying and ultimately unfair this has to be for the devs – they work on a title that is not really connected or relevant to it, only to be treated to the neverending comparisons. I do feel bad for them, as their work is pretty much diminished to not being Persona. I also believe that such reviews are detrimental to the real score of the game, because it’s not taken as what it is, but rather as what it’s perceived by the journos as. Would Soul Hackers 2 get a higher rating than 7/10 if it wasn’t a Megaten game? I don’t know, but I suppose it might. The line about a shorter Persona experience is, in my opinion, a giveaway that it would.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind a small comparison to Persona. I wouldn’t even mind a whole article comparing the game to Persona, but that would call for comparison, not a review, wouldn’t it? Most other reviewers seem to understand that and, while they do mention the game in their review of Soul Hackers 2, they don’t make the whole thing about it. I guess we’ll see more stinkers like this review, though, in the nearest future, as some outlets haven’t yet published their reviews. That’s quite a pity and I hope, although I hope in vain, that gaming journalists will become better at writing, being professional, doing their work well and accurately describing and reporting on their experiences.
The most disheartening from a marketer’s point of view thing is that people will read this article and feel discouraged from buying the game, despite it not being a fair representation of the product. Is the game going to be good? I don’t know yet, as it hasn’t been released, but such an incompetently written rag of an article will certainly do no good for the sales. Will it convince people to buy Persona? I’d bet that it surely makes this series more presentable and desirable than the supposed topic of the article.
Sorry for venting a bit today, but my blood boils when I see such stuff that will deny the hard work of fellow marketers and that enables incompetence. Anyway, I hope you liked this article. If you did, feel free to subscribe to the channel. I also have LinkedIn and Twitter newsletters, so if you feel like reading, these may be of use – they’re linked in the description. I really hope that the next one will be more useful for marketers. Have a lovely day, cheers!