Westerners Won’t Get This Soul Hackers 2 Easter Egg

Atlus is big on self-referential easter eggs. They range from overt (revisiting Persona 3‘s Gekkoukan High in Persona 4) to subtle (a Catherine figurine in the background of Futaba’s room in Persona 5) to downright obscure (the demon Mokoi referencing his vacation to Istanbul from the Raidou Kuzunoha manga).

Still, devoted fans are usually able to pick up on them, so long as they’re familiar with the source material. That’s not the case with one of the easter eggs from the start of Soul Hackers 2, however. The game begins in a freight yard, and the player quickly leads Ringo and Arrow through a small maze of shipping containers. All of these containers reference Atlus properties, some more subtly than others. Let’s take a look, starting with the easy ones:

An orange shipping container reading SHACKER on the front. On the doors, the prefix reads SHAC.

This probably requires no explanation, but the orange SHACKER container is a clear reference to Soul Hackers, the very series this game belongs to. However, take a moment to notice the 4-letter identifying prefix on the upper-right corner of the container’s doors, which reads SHAC. In real life, these letters function as an abbreviation of the shipping company’s name; in this case, that’s SHACKER. This’ll be important later, so keep it in mind.

A green shipping container reading DVS on the top-left corner. On the doors, the prefix reads DVS, as well.

Next up are the green DVS containers. This, of course, stands for Devil Summoner, the sub-franchise of Megami Tensei that Soul Hackers belongs to. Once again, this easter egg isn’t too difficult to figure out.

A blue shipping container reading MTS on the front. On the doors, the prefix reads MTSA.

The blue MTS containers might seem simple at first, but there’s a bit of a regional difference that could trip you up. You’re probably thinking to yourself that they should say SMT for Shin Megami Tensei, right? Well, many of the games labelled Shin Megami Tensei in the West were simply Megami Tensei originally, including Devil Survivor. So, MTS expands to Megami Tensei.

Two pictures of real-world shipping containers. On the left is a container labeled MOL, with each letter blocked in alternating blue and white. On the right is a stack of several containers within a ship, some of which read MAERSK. The Maersk containers have a 7-pointed star in a box, which is similar to the SHACKER container's logo.
The MTS container also references the real-world shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) with its logo. I believe the SHACKER logo is intended to evoke the Maersk Line, as well. Image Source

The wordplay for MTS doesn’t quite end there, however. If you look at the side of the container, the 4-letter prefix is MTSA. In this case, the letter A is evoking the Japanese えい (ei) sound, as seen at the end of Tensei. The English letter’s name and this Japanese ei sound identical, so it’s a pretty straightforward pun. More on that kind of wordplay with our final example, which is a real doozy.

An orange shipping container reading SKJ MAQ on the front. On the doors, the prefix reads SJKM.

Any ideas for this one? I’d be pretty surprised if even Japanese players got it right away. To understand it we’re going to have to learn about 語呂合わせ (goroawase), or sound matching. We have an in-depth article on goroawase in Yakuza 0 planned for the near future, so I’ll try to keep this explanation brief.

Essentially, goroawase is a type of wordplay based on homophones: things that sound the same, but have different meanings. The A→ei wordplay above happens to be an example of goroawase, so you’re actually familiar with the concept, already!

A screenshot of the Live A Live remake's jukebox screen for Playing with Psychos, the battle theme of Akira's chapter.
For now, if you need more information, this article also briefly discusses goroawase when explaining why this song from Live A Live has never been localized properly.

In this particular case, we’re looking at a combination of abbreviation and goroawase. The first three letters show us the consonant sounds in the first word of our two-word phrase: S, K, and J. With a little informed guesswork, we can arrive at 世界樹 (sekaiju), the Japanese word for Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse mythology. Any big Atlus fans reading this might already know where this is going, but let’s solve the other half, shall we?

Next, we have MAQ. Like with sekaiju, the M indicates the first consonant of this word. As with MTSA, the A converts to ei. Finally, the letter Q’s name becomes きゅう (kyū), a pretty common implementation of goroawase that fans of Kotaro Uchikoshi may already be familiar with. Put it all together, and we’re left with 迷宮 (meikyū), meaning “labyrinth”. However, with video games, it’s more commonly interpreted as “dungeon”. When combining sekaiju and meikyū, we get…

The Japanese box art for the first Etrian Odyssey game alongside the soundtrack for Etrian Odyssey Nexus. In Japan, Next was named Sekaiju no MeiQ X, using the same Q→kyū pun highlighted in this article.

Sekaiju no Meikyū, the Japanese title of Etrian Odyssey, another Atlus title! Looking at the image on the right, you’ll notice it’s not even the first time they’ve used the Q→kyū pun for this series. This one really threw me for a loop, until Matthew A) noticed the A→ei wordplay in MTSA and B) reminded me of Etrian Odyssey‘s Japanese title once I’d gotten Meikyū down. Even though I’m the one writing the article, he deserves a lot of the credit for unraveling this one!

So, yeah, this is the only one that’s totally impossible for Western audiences to figure out. I wonder if even Atlus West didn’t recognize this one, since I’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to change the texture to read “ETN ODC” or something like that so English-speakers could appreciate the reference.

A screenshot from Persona 4, of the protagonist establishing a Social Link of the Justice Arcana with Nanako Dojima.
Goroawase can be hidden in almost anything. For example, in Persona 4, Nanako’s birthday of October 4 translates to 天使 or tenshi, the Japanese word for “angel”. Correspondingly, building her Social Link will make angel Personas more powerful!

I thought this easter egg was really cool, and noticing and unraveling it was pretty fun! Can you think of any easter eggs like it, with encrypted references to other games? If so, post about it in the comments! By the way, if you’re interested in nigh-untranslatable Japanese wordplay, maybe check out this article on Live A Live‘s caveman chapter. Or, if you want more Soul Hackers, how about this article on why Lunch’s name isn’t a mistranslation?

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Additionally, throughout the week, I try to post interesting localization trivia that doesn’t merit a full-length article. So, if you follow, you’ll actually get more content compared to just reading the site alone! For example, this week I explained the meaning behind the Dragonite code distributed in this week’s episode of Pokémon, as well as the double entendre behind the anime Urusei Yatsura‘s title.

One comment

  1. “So, yeah, this is the only one that’s totally impossible for Western audiences to figure out.”

    As a longtime Etrian Odyssey fan I caught it pretty much immdiately, and it’s not like it was a small series; it did even get crossover spinoffs with Persona which specifically were called “Persona Q” in reference to the way the series’ name gets shorthanded like that. But I guess if your familiarity with Atlus begins and ends with everything SMT, then yeah.

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