Although Soul Sacrifice may not be a title that resonates with everyone, the J-RPG crowd will be well aware of the role-playing game conceptualized by Mega Man creator, Keiji Inafune. Set in a dark world shrouded in mystery with an equally curious plot, much is left to the player’s own devices to discover and unearth answers in what is a much needed RPG experience for the PS Vita.
Developer: Marvelous AQL, SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation Vita (Reviewed)
Players: Single, Co-operative
Genre: Action-Adventure, Action Role-Playing
Released: (EU) May 1st 2013, (JP) March 7th 2013, (NA) April 30th 2013
Not much is revealed in the introduction as we find ourselves trapped in a cage of bones, waiting to be sacrificed by the powerful sorcerer Magusar. After witnessing the demise of another ill-fated prisoner, a voice beneath the resulting debris calls to you, a demonic talking journal by the name of Librom as it turns out. The book contains memories within its pages and by revisiting forgotten events, the author’s secrets can be learnt which potentially provides the ability for escape from the perilous situation.
Confined to a caged cell, Librom is your only means of interaction serving multiple purposes for quest selection, customisation, and exploring the bestiary compendium. The character’s appearance can be slightly tweaked to make your persona truly your own and the game can also be saved and loaded via Librom in between each quest. You’ll quickly discover there is no where left to explore beyond the tome and although I appreciate the game design at work here, it can feel limited to experience the entire game through what is essentially memories.
Initially, storytelling is vague at best, nudging the story forward with each ‘quest’ without shedding much light. The tale begins to unravel deeper into each chapter, yet the narrative remains vivid and unclear most of the way through. This is possibly the weakest element of the game depending on how much of the plot can be absorbed from untangling the web.
Combat is from a third-person view and adopts elements from successful RPGs while incorporating its own original touches. Three abilities can be equipped at any time, with a further secondary set of three accessible with a tap of the R trigger. Skills types are diverse from frost spells, metal spinning blades, physical charge attacks, to even blood splattering bullet-type projectiles that tap into your health gauge. Each element has its strength and weaknesses to exploit, playing to the age old rock-paper-scissors philosophy in simplistic terms.
Spells can be upgraded by fusing spells together multiple times to create powerful souped up abilities. The limitation of six accessible spells at a time will require players to strategically think about what spells to use from battle to battle, particularly as some bosses are quite challenging. Flipping through the bestiary can help find weaknesses to exploit should you stumble, which was quite frequent for me, yet I didn’t feel like the game was unbalanced.
Each quest lasts no more than ten minutes at best making it perfect for the portable format. Set in an arena-style map, the general objective is to kill a certain number of lesser enemies before facing off against a brutal foe at the end. Completion is graded based on speed, skills used and overall performance with items awarded to you measured against these factors. Each stage more or less, plays out to the same formula and can feel repetitive and almost MMO-esque with its “kill and get paid” ideals. What separates it from descending into a state of grind is Soul Sacrifice‘s dark theme and atmosphere that plague our hero’s existence. The constant struggle with humanity will provide plenty to think about in-between each battle.
The ability to “sacrifice” or “save” a defeated enemy or ally is your greatest decision, setting a path with moral consequences depending on which road you travel. Neither option is overly superior to the other as either choice has its advantages and drawbacks, be that a villainous or righteous journey in which you choose to follow. Saving an enemy or ally restores a small portion of health whereas sacrificing an ally or yourself for that matter creates a powerful spell for get-out-of-jail situations. Sacrificed characters can no longer attack and enter a spectral spectator mode. While in a ghost-like state, buffs can be applied to strengthen allies or weaken foes with a tap of the touch screen. In single-player mode, there isn’t all that much interaction but engage in co-op with up to four players and it takes on an interesting and engaging twist.
Tackle challenges in selected battlefields by banding together with other sorcerers. Although the teamwork aspect borrows from the Monster Hunter franchise, it does so to brilliant results. Portable RPGs aren’t usually the ideal platform for multiple player interaction, yet the mechanics of saving and sacrificing worked so well with each magician chipping in for the greater good.
Voice acting is solid and passable, but its the soundtrack in Soul Sacrifice that shines best. The music conveys a dark and convincing tone thanks to the well scored tracks which meld together the tragic plight of our hero with the heavily layered action from the never-ending stream of demonic confrontations. The beats are quick, but so is the action and the intuitive control scheme make for adrenaline filled battles. Targeting can be a little tricky and take a little getting used to so it’s a good thing that the button mapping all made sense from the get-go.
Soul Sacrifice is a brooding and dark title with plenty of design aspirations encapsulated in what is a limited package. There’s plenty going on here when you consider the budget the title was built upon. Whether or not this is for everyone is open to interpretation but I found it to be one of the more accomplished titles on the PS Vita to date, going as far as to say it should be a staple in a PS Vita game library. That said, it is violent, gory and all sorts of creepy so if you consider that a good thing then Soul Sacrifice is right up your secluded alley.
8.0 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.