RPG protagonists usually fall into two categories, the living character and the silent type. Protagonists like Geralt from the Witcher 3 have a distinct personality from the player — he has personal motivations and speaks for himself. But for Shin Megami Tensei and its spinoff series Persona, the silent protagonist has been the norm, and it’s a trope that’s often used to help the player feel immersed in the game world. With Soul Hackers 2, the sequel to a 25-year-old game, Atlus has bucked this trend and given players a protagonist who is her own person, and it should never go back.
Walk, walk, fashion baby
Meet Ringo. She’s not like other girls. That’s because she isn’t human at all. Ringo is a futuristic digital sentient being, an agent of Aion. To stop the impending end of the world Ringo has been given a physical body with which to investigate.
If I were to describe Ringo in one word, it would be ‘cool.’ If I were to describe her in two words, they would be ‘REALLY cool.’ Look at that jacket! The jagged neon tile design pulses as she walks around the futuristic city streets. That’s my case right there, it’s a sick jacket. I would buy that jacket!
But the fashion design of Ringo isn’t just for show, it’s a sign that Soul Hackers 2 understands its roots. Cyberpunk as a genre is obsessed with being cool and this often is shown through jackets. Genre pioneer William Gibson writes a lot about jackets in his novels, and CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 literally has a ‘Cool’ stat.
Main character energy
Yet Ringo isn’t just a mannequin for pretty outfits, within the first few minutes of Soul Hackers 2, Ringo quickly endears herself to the player. Unlike previous SMT and Persona protagonists, Ringo is full of her own goals and emotions. This is something that she and the players must get used to. Becoming an individual intelligence separate from Aion is giving Ringo new freedom and she uses it to explore human culture and bond with party members.
In comparison to a game like Persona 5, Soul Hackers 2 makes it clear that Ringo is the star of the show. Building social connections in Persona is a chance for players to learn about each character, these stories are often the game's highlight. Nobody would say Joker is their favorite Persona 5 character because he isn’t a character, he is a vessel for the player to experience other stories. Ringo is the complete opposite.
Ringo is inquisitive, but this also means she leaps before she looks. While others might try to take caution Ringo wants to see what new experiences are out there, which can lead to unwanted trouble.
Giving Ringo a voice of her own is a welcome change, and voice actress Megan Harvey deserves all the credit for giving Ringo a standout personality. Hanging out with companions becomes worthwhile just to hear Ringo talk people’s ears off and react to their stories.
Ringo isn’t a vessel for the player to inhabit, but she still works as a perfect companion to experience the story with. The player is just as new to the world as Ringo, I found talking to myself in the early hours of Soul Hackers 2 felt like having a conversation with Ringo. Her constant quips and observations cut through the monotony of grinding through dungeons.
Soul Hackers 2 has given Atlus a chance to tweak the formula of their main SMT franchises, the standout change being Ringo. The welcome addition of a voiced protagonist, and one of the few female protagonists in an Atlus RPG, is something future games from the publisher should seek to emulate. It also wouldn’t hurt if they made more cool jackets.