Soul Sacrifice Review
Earlier this year, Ragnarok Odyssey hit the Vita and showed that a Monster Hunter-style game could be done really well on the hardware. In that case, you had a game with great gameplay and visual beauty that wound up being more fun than the Monster Hunter games. Now, with Soul Sacrifice, you have that same kind of gameplay style, only with more to do during battles, more depth, a risk/reward system involving sacrificing your foes, and a super-dark tone that lends itself well to midnight play sessions in a darkened room.
The core game is a lot like those kinds of games. You (and usually, a partner) go through stages, beating minor waves of enemies before getting to an area with a boss. Every kind of enemy requires some kind of skill to defeat. Some are best destroyed with close-range melee combat, while others can only be beaten from afar due to their ability to fly. If you’re strong in one area, but weak with the other, it helps to have a partner who can make up for that. However, in the long run, you’ll want to be at least proficient in everything to survive on your own. In online games, no one wants to be the weak link – or be in a match with one.
What helps separate this game from the others in the genre is its use of multiple kinds of attacks. A press of the R button gives you a different set of three attacks to use, and you can arm them before battle. They’re all tied to elements, with different powers. An Earth-based one may do more damage, but have low range, while an ice attack can stop an enemy, but it requires precision, while fire can be more imprecise and long-range, but will do less damage. Pressing down on the d-pad brings up the Mind’s Eye, which lets you see the weak points on enemies (yes, to do MASSIVE DAMAGE), but disables the ability to use your magic. L locks onto foes, while R chooses between which set of three spells you’ll use at that point in time.
Perhaps the biggest difference between it and others comes in the form of the sacrifice/save system. When an enemy is near-death, you can either hold L to save them, and get a health boost, or hold R and kill them, but gain more power. Each act gets you XP, so you can choose to be super-powered in one area, or better yet, go for about an even level of each. Saving too many enemies, especially bosses, will lead to folks being quite pissed at you, and just add to the frustration. It’s best to kill all of them, and then save a lot of smaller enemies – especially in boss battles where you’ll need to use them to regain some health rather than rely on your partner to revive you in battle.
Unlike any game in its genre, Soul Sacrifice has an outstanding storyline. The characters and general premise are quite dark, but enjoyably so. You wind up caring about the characters you meet in single player mode, which makes it harder to sacrifice them when you know you have to. In turn, this makes doing that in multi-player sessions harder as well. At least if that happens to you, you’re able to turn into a spectre and use touch controls against enemies – so while it sucks in a way, it is still kind of cool.
The control layout is quite good, and after a few rounds of combat, it becomes second nature. Everything you can do is explained by clear menus and graphics showing you what to do, and you can reference them at any time after battle. In-game, your only option is to go to the home screen and view the manual – it’s less than ideal, but still functional.
Online play is where a lot of folks will go after leveling up offline, and you’ll definitely want to do that beforehand or else you’ll likely be kicked out of rooms unless you create one yourself. When you’re in a room with folks and battling enemies, play is reasonably smooth and after a few hours of online combat, I rarely had lag and was only kicked out of one room at the very beginning of my play session. Folks are generally pretty nice online, which is a godsend given how social this game is. It’s also amusing to request to be saved, then be sacrificed and turn into a ghost to help folks out – it’s actually not too bad a deal since it helps them out, and if they win, it still counts as a win for you too.
Visually, Soul Sacrifice is quite stunning on the whole. While close-ups tend to reveal muddy texture work, from a distance, everything looks great. The art design leans towards sweeping, epic pans of the world and giving everything a cinematic feel to it – right down to post-battle sepia-toned shots of your character. Creation tools allow you to make a serious-looking character, or a ridiculous person dressed as a wacky wizard, or something out of the Final Fantasy series.
My favorite design involved making someone look a bit like the original Dante from Devil May Cry, which is fairly easy to do. You’re able to make a fair amount of changes to designs, especially facially. There aren’t many options for attire though, which is a bit disappointing. Character models look great, with a lot of detail evident. Unfortunately, due to that detail, you usually see the muddy textures more than with the environment, where it seems the bulk of the texture work was used.
Soul Sacrifice has some incredible music. Some of it is fairly standard dark and haunting fare with some violins, while other songs are really epic thanks to some chanting. A couple of songs also reminded me of Cowboy Bebop’s most somber fare – definitely a good thing. The haunting narration sounds a bit like Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter mixed with Batman: The Animated Series’ version of Mr. Freeze and a touch of Vincent Price too. It’s easily the best part of the voice work, which varies from being melodramatic for some characters, but being a bit silly – but enjoyably so, like the talking tome, Librom.
Soul Sacrifice is one of the Vita’s most polished efforts yet, and thanks to an extensive demo that will take a couple of hours to complete – even if you don’t grind for goodies – it’s easy to see if you’ll enjoy the full game or not without having to spend money up-front. As someone who loved Ragnarok Odyssey, but really doesn’t like the Monster Hunter series itself, I found this super-dark take on the action RPG sub-genre to be very interesting and fun. If you’re curious about it, clear some space up on your memory card and download the demo – your time with it is well-spent as you can carry your save over to the full game, and find out if the formula is for you. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it given the many things you can do, so be sure to spend as much time as you need to get accustomed to everything in the demo before buying the full game. Anyone who enjoys Monster Hunter, and even folks who don’t, will find a game that offers up a lot of fun both off and online.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
This review is based on a copy of Soul Sacrifice for the PlayStation Vita provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.
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