How Much Are You Willing to Sacrifice? Soul Sacrifice Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
Exclusive titles are important to the life of any console, as are original intellectual properties (IPs) – both of which are somewhat lacking on the PlayStation Vita’s core lineup. This is where Soul Sacrifice comes in, a product from the development studio Marvelous AQL. Bringing in an epic adventure based around choice, and wrapped in a chaotic magical tale, does this title bring the much-needed relief for Vita owners everywhere, or is it a sacrifice made in vain? Read on and find out!
In Soul Sacrifice, you play the role of a nameless prisoner being held captive by the evil sorcerer Magusar. This villain has captured you and countless others to be used as sacrifices for the sole purpose of keeping Magusar in an immortal state. You’ll hear the screams of your fellow detainees as they perish, knowing your time may be soon. However, it’s the man across from you whose number has been called, and Magusar’s terrifying minions come knocking. It is then that your fellow inmate unleashes a blast of magical power, destroying his cell and the minions in one fiery move. All his hope is dashed, though, as Magusar appears behind him, sacrificing him in a rain of blood before disappearing again.
A few moments later, you hear a voice. Digging through some rubble, you find a living book that calls itself Librom. This paged being reveals itself to be the diary of “a certain sorcerer” who has been forgotten by time, and by reading him the player relives that mage’s memories. This sorcerer had become involved with Magusar many years ago, before he went insane, and bared witness to his downfall. It is at this point that the player starts to dive back into the past, learn what happened, and begin to gain the knowledge needed to wield powerful magic in order to escape.
The tale of Soul Sacrifice is shrouded in mystery, with a central theme of “what would you sacrifice for power.” Many a time you will see you character question his own actions and those of people around him, all in the name of power and control. This often leads to some great observations of the human condition within the game’s universe as well as presenting you with many questions. Who is Magusar? What was the forgotten sorcerer’s relation to him? How exactly do you tie in and what is your purpose? When will you escape? These inquiries will have you pushing forward, level after level, looking for the answer – which makes the title very addictive and engaging.
In terms of gameplay, Soul Sacrifice plays fairly similarly in both layout and combat to another popular title, Ragnarok Odyssey. The in-game events happen through what Librom refers to as Phantom Quests (PQ). An average PQ goes like this: the player receives a short summery of the situation through a motion comic – with still images, characters, words, and scenery moving across the pages to atmospheric mood music – before being given a task, which usually consists of killing a set type of monster or battling a boss while a mean fight riff plays in the background. After you complete this mission, you’re given your rewards for that round, and then are treated to more narrative. Although the story is quite enjoyable, this setup leads to a lot of long monologues from the nameless protagonist (who possesses a flat and unexciting voice) which will lead a fair amount of gamers to boredom.
All of these PQs are grouped into large sections of the story as chapters within Librom, including: a prologue, which sets the scene for the forgotten sorcerer; a Tutorial; and the main body of the tale involving Magusar. Additionally, there are several side stories that show off some of your character’s adventures before meeting the infamous antagonist. These stories not only add to the overall playtime of the game, but they also show some interesting moments with the supporting cast whom you’ll either grow to love or hate. As well, gamers get to see a bit more of what it means to be a sorcerer, and what the profession actually entails – things aren’t as simple as reading books and growing long, white beards. On the other hand, this also increases the amount of time you hear your sorcerer talk aloud to himself, which will have the aforementioned players skipping ahead (wherever possible), to the heat of the action.
Speaking of which, Soul Sacrifice’s combat appears simple on the surface, but there is a lot of hidden complexity as you go on. At its core, the title is an action/adventure game where players are free to move about the field as they see fit, and attack enemies in real-time. To do this, you’ll need to use sacrificial items assigned to the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons. There are many items that can be used, each with its own range, element, type, and number of uses before breaking. Players will be able to summon swords of fire, hands of rock, shoot a hail of bloody bullets, create shields of ice, and fling spinning shuriken of death – just to name a few! However, as mentioned before, these items can only be used a set amount of times before becoming exhausted, meaning any further use could lead them to break. Any item that wasn’t destroyed in battle will have its uses restored at the end of the mission. This setup causes players to think tactically, not only in terms of elemental differences and enemy weaknesses, but in the short- and long-term for supplies. Do you charge in with no regard for your tools, adapting as you go, or do you play cautiously, making every hit count like it should? The choice is yours – as are the consequences!
Using your item stock isn’t your only means of offense or defence, nor is it the only action with possible negative reactions, as the player will have to access to the dark arts know as Black Rites. These are terrible yet powerful spells that can only be triggered under certain conditions, and demand a very high cost of the user. One example of these is Incinerate, a fire spell that can only be used when the player is close to death. Once cast, the gamer’s sorcerer is coated in a layer of flame before summing a demonic fire avatar, which sets the surrounding area ablaze. The sheer power of this attack is enough to cripple boss characters in a single blow, but it comes at a great cost – 50% reduced defence. Every hit you take from here on out, you will only block half of what you would, and that’s a permanent effect! Once used, you will have to live with the consequences for the rest of the game, and you’ll be unable to use that Rite ever again. While these forbidden spells can be a life saver, players need to weigh the risk versus the reward of each spell, or they will be left in a pinch for the long haul.
If these costs seem a little too high for you, they may actually be within your reach after all. When you close Librom, either to get into the options or save the game, there is a chance that you will find tear-like droplets (though Librom, using his signature pompous and matter-of-fact tone, would tell you he isn’t crying) call Lacrima, which can be used to rewrite specific parts of Librom’s story. Namely, these can be used to repair damaged items, renew your Black Rites, and remove your incurred penalties. While the Lacrima cost for repairing items is specific to the item itself, the price for resetting for Rites will double with every use – meaning gamers still need to consider the long term effects of using them. While it seems like an easy let-off for players, giving an easy escape from the costs of power, the amount of Lacrima given at any single time is considerably low, meaning you’re unable to use this way out as many times as you like.
Does the idea of hunting monsters by yourself frighten you? Fear not young sorcerer, for you need not brave the dark alone! Soul Sacrifice comes loaded with a co-operative multiplayer mode (both online and local ad-hoc), which allows up to four players to hunt and slay fiends together as a group. Each player can utilize any ability available in their solo game, but there are a few additions that makes multiplayer unique. When you lose all of your health, you’re knocked down. From here, another gamer can help you back up and heal you with a spell… or he could be a little more devious. In an interesting twist of fate, a downed character may also be sacrificed, creating a level-wide devastating power attack, on par with Black Rites, and restoring the live player’s item uses. Sacrificed gamers will receive no bonuses at the end of the match aside from the mission-specific rewards, but they can, however, see detailed enemy health bars and exact numerical damage from allies. These now-bodiless phantoms may also use the Vita’s touch screen to tap friends to boost their powers, or foes to weaken them. While being sacrificed isn’t exactly ideal, it’s not without its bonuses, and using it at the right place and time can lead the party to victory – making it an interesting, unique, and welcomed mechanic to the multiplayer. All for the greater good, right?
Continuing with the theme of choice and sacrifice, players have another set of decisions to make, this time involving the slain monsters. When you land the fatal blow on a creature, you have a choice: save them or sacrifice them. Depending on which one you pick, a different stat will be augmented. Should you save a creature, you will be granted extra life, whereas if you sacrifice a foe, you will gain an increase in attack power. The amount your stats increase either way varies from kill to kill, and some saves/sacrifices will even degrade the other side, such as +2 life and -1 attack for saving a soul, for example. As you collect the saved/sacrificed souls of your enemies, your character will start to align himself as divine, devilish, or neutral. Whichever side you take will affect certain aspects of play, and will help shape your play style. Do you save everything and be a holy deacon of defense, leave none spared in your quest for uncontrolled power, or find the crucial middle ground to fight on, using a carefully balanced strategy? Like many other things in Soul Sacrifice, the choice is yours!
Something else that is affected by your choice is Sigils, which are unique marks you can place on your right arm. Unlocked through events in the game, these signs can be placed either one or two at a time on different parts of your arm, and present you with different stat increases (such as augments, attack, or +100 health). Certain marks, though, require you to either be at a certain alignment, or buffed up to a great form if you take a specific side. What really makes this mechanic interesting is that it’s a huge gray area and not simply assigned to good/bad/neutral, so your alignment won’t change if you use them. Certain augments on Sigils, however, are only activated when at a specific point in the spectrum, like, a little bit holy for example. Go too far towards the light side of your nature, and its buff may change. Players need to keep this in mind when saving or sacrificing creatures, to make sure that they keep their ideal play-style.
Regardless of what path you start to walk, one thing is certain: the game looks fantastic! Soul Sacrifice really pushes the boundaries of what the Vita is capable of, and showcases some impressive visuals. Enemy character design features several twisted and grotesque themes, where creatures often appear melting or disproportionate – like a real-world person or animal that has been mutated and deformed. Boosting the graphics is the actual power of the Vita itself, which creates smooth textures and appealing character animation to boot. The title’s main designers have created a world full of new and terrifyingly interesting lore and creatures, putting a great polish on top of it too.
One thing is certain when it comes to Soul Sacrifice: it is the Vita exclusive title that we need. With an interesting (though monologue-heavy) story and universe, fantastic choice-oriented gameplay, and shiny visuals, you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with this new portable game. Whether you’ve got that action/adventure itch, feeling the need to cast some spells, or are just looking for a fun, brand new Vita game, this is the one for you.
Final Score: 4.75 / 5.0 and a brand new set of legs to replace the ones you sacrificed
About This Post