Soul Sacrifice

August 11, 2013

Soul Sacrifice is a bundle of really good ideas, that for me, just never connected. I can totally see how fans ofMonster Hunter or Japanese Action-RPGs in general would be sucked into the deep mechanics and structure of the game, but I think you have to have an affinity for the gameplay style first. But, let’s start at the beginning and go through why Soul Sacrifice may or may not be your next addiction on your PS Vita.

Keiji Inafune, the designer of Mega Man, is responsible for the inventive ideas on display here, all of which revolve around the idea of a world of sorcerers in an attractive-looking and great-sounding adventure. The orchestral soundtrack can be very atmospheric, while there are some cool locations and crazily-designed monsters to fight.

Your character, experienced through a first-person perspective, has been thrown into a cage awaiting a horrible fate from the evil sorcerer Magusar. However, you soon uncover a sentient book known as the ‘Librom’, containing within its pages the diary of an unknown sorcerer. You’re able to relive the adventures of this sorcerer in bite-sized chunks, as they encounter other characters, face difficult decisions and slowly reveal the backstory of Magusar.

The Librom becomes your menu interface in the game – some of his pages are screens where you can equip the unknown sorcerer and change their name and appearance, while others are dedicated to selecting which level to play. You can read up on a surprising amount of well-written lore about the monsters you encounter and locations you visit, and even use the touchscreen to wipe a strange ooze out of the Librom’s eye, which has several uses. Chatting with the Librom is also an option, and while he’s voiced enthusiastically, his lines aren’t as charming or darkly funny as I was hoping for.

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The bulk of Soul Sacrifice‘s gameplay is found in reliving the memories of this sorcerer, as experiencing their journey grants your own character knowledge and strength and a hope of defeating Magusar. Amusingly, the option to fight Magusar appears on the main menu very early in the game, so you’re totally free to go up against him whenever you want – just don’t expect to survive the encounter.

These gameplay chunks are mostly dedicated to searching for a particular kind of monster or adversary and exterminating them. You take on missions from the Librom in exchange for loot, and to unlock more quests. It’s like the job board found in any larger RPG with everything else stripped away. The controls themselves take a little getting used to – you can assign spells to the triangle, square and circle buttons, using the R button to cycle through spell-sets. Spells are produced from loot you acquire, and deteriorate with use. You can sometimes find poorly sign-posted recharge points in levels, but once an item is used up you’ll lose that spell. In addition to this, there is a special move that can be performed when you’re low on health that has devastating consequences on your foes – and yourself.

Performing this special move will sacrifice a body part – for instance, your skin, and will affect your defense, attack or other attributes. You can recover from this with the help of the Librom’s eye-ooze, but the cost grows with every use, and the ooze takes time to regenerate. Sacrifices also play a larger role in gameplay with your enemies. With every defeated foe you can choose to sacrifice their spirit, or save it. Saving it will level-up your own life , while sacrificing it will level-up your magic. This isn’t always an easy choice, as levelling up one aspect may detract from the other, so you do have to think about what you need to beef up. Sacrificing also comes into play with boss battles, although it isn’t always a choice that’s left up to you. Defeating a boss yields the same option, and sometimes saving an adversary yields a new AI companion, while other times forces you back into battle to re-play the fight until you sacrifice them. Accordingly, sometimes sacrificing a boss halts your progress, forcing you to replay the fight until you make the right decision.

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It’s clear the developers set out to put an original spin on the action RPG genre, and the sacrifice mechanic is interesting, although I wouldn’t call it revolutionary. The idea is to make the player consider their decisions and feel each sacrifice as a permanent choice that puts your character on the same self-destructive path that Magusar himself no doubt followed. However, between needing to re-play missions and utilising Librom’s ooze to undo these decisions, the effect seems to be lessened.

With all this complexity, the gameplay itself still really boils down to running around and bashing up monsters in a selection of steadily re-cycled arenas. You’ll fight the same creatures time after time, and get tired of the scenery fairly quickly. This is especially a problem given the amount of grinding you’ll need to do to progress later in the game, and of course to defeat Magusar. Despite all of the creative decisions taken to make the game feel original, much of the time it still felt tedious to me. Playing online with a co-op partner helps somewhat, but it’s not a feature i’ll be regularly using with my WiFi model Vita. The Near feature is cool, though, allowing you to receive items and weapons from other players that you might have had a tough time getting otherwise.

Ultimately, even though I found the game to be a little tedious, I think the ideas behind it are solid. It’s well produced, has some inventive ideas and deep mechanics for an action-RPG, and the online co-op and Near features work a treat. If hunting monsters, leveling up, looting and engaging in lore sounds like your cup of tea, then I’d definitely recommend checking the game out, as you’ll probably have a much better time than I did. However, the grinding through its somewhat repetitive gameplay makes the game a chore if it doesn’t ‘click’ with you, and it may take a long time to do so. This is definitely one to demo before you buy.

Positives:

Creative ideas | Nice music and graphics | Well-written lore

Negatives:

Tedious grinding and gameplay

Overall Score: