Its all about choices…
The Vita may not yet have the massive library of games to entertain the gaming masses, but the library is slowly growing and there should at least be something for every type of gamer on the Sony handheld. However, it still remains that many of the games on the Vita are aimed at a more niche market, and the latest offering from Sony is no different. Soul Sacrifice is not the “killer app” that the Vita has been waiting for, but that doesn’t stop it from being a very entertaining action RPG for those who are willing to spend the time learning and mastering the mechanics.
The story that guides the game is more than a little strange and begins with the players’ as yet unnamed character trapped and awaiting execution by the powerful Magusar, a sorcerer who is more than a little crazy. It is not looking good for the player, but then a slightly irritating voice calls out from a pile of bones. The fact that the voice belongs to a book is perhaps not as strange as the fact that the book has a misshapen face and offers to help you out of your predicament. The book turns out to be Magusar’s journal and, through following the journal and playing out the quests found within the book, the player will be able to learn the skills needed to defeat Magusar, whilst also finding out why the sorcerer is insane.
But don’t be expecting an easy ride in Soul Sacrifice. The first encounter, in which the player experiences an acid-style flashback, meeting and fighting alongside the pre-insane Magusar and facing off against a giant crocodile-like creature with a human face plastered onto its snout, is packed full of confusion. Spells accessed through button presses with no explanation, and trigger buttons adding to the confusion. As an introduction to the core game, it really doesn’t inspire confidence.
Fortunately, after this initial encounter, things take a step back and the concepts of the gameplay are more steadily introduced. Much like the Monster Hunter series, with which this game is somewhat comparable, Soul Sacrifice is a learning curve in which the player will advance in skill and knowledge along with their character in the game.
So, the core of the game revolves around killing monsters in small arena-like areas, and the means to do this comes from spells, so many spells. It is here that the game shines for the Monster Hunter crowd, as players will progress and collect many different types of spells, and then be forced to choose between them depending on their strategy and the style of play they enjoy. Players can only take six spells into battle and with such a variety available, with different spells focusing on attack, defence or support, the player will have to make difficult choices to get it right.
There is a massive amount of content in Soul Sacrifice. Although the missions rarely stray from the standard “kill whatever” formula, they really only exist as a method of gaining more spells and learning the craft. There are side missions to be had, which can be essential for the purposes of preparing the player for the next big encounter. There are even additional powers to be mastered and used to improve your game. Then there is the most interesting mechanic in the game – save or sacrifice.
After downing an enemy, the player has the choice of whether they save their soul or sacrifice it. This choice will dictate how the player progresses, as saving the soul will grant the player extra life, whilst sacrificing will make the player more powerful. There are times in the game when the player will be forced to make a specific choice by the story, but for the most part this choice is left up to the player and should be dependent on how they play the game. Those who prefer to fight at range may well be better suited to sacrificing the souls for extra power, but those who get up close and personal would perhaps prefer the extra life. But then, the choice is down to the player and with so many variables, each player will have to decide for themselves as there is no single right way to play the game.
The goal of the game is simply to defeat Magusar, and this raises another choice for the player. They can choose to take on the insane sorcerer at any point in the game, whenever they feel ready. But can you ever really be ready to face him? Maybe a few more hours playing the missions would be a good idea…
There are some issues with Soul Sacrifice that will put off many gamers. For starters, the game is very slow to get moving. Given the confusing way that the game starts, the slower introductions to the different mechanics is welcome, but it drags far too long. Then there is the difficulty curve which leaps up at times, making it frustrating for the less than perfect gamer to progress. Finally, the control layout is awkward, with switching spells, sacrificing souls and activating powers becoming confusing when being swamped by enemies.
Soul Sacrifice looks nice on the Vita, with some suitably foreboding environments and impressive character models. The bosses are especially big and nightmarish, a highlight for the game.
Many of the missions will have the player accompanied by a companion. These AI buddies have their uses, but can be limited in the support that they offer. For a more suitable companion, the player may be better served by teaming up with friends via the wifi or ad-hoc co-op option. Things are always easier with friends and when the player can team up with others that have complimentary play styles, Soul Sacrifice becomes a real joy to play. Interestingly, the save or sacrifice mechanic applies to your allies as well. Save them and they can rejoin the battle, sacrifice them and they are gone for good, but they unleash incredibly powerful magic into the battle. More choices…
The real problem with Soul Sacrifice is, as I previously mentioned, its niche appeal. Whilst it looks good and will provide many hours of gameplay, the game is complex and very slow to get moving. A massive investment in time and concentration will be required to get the most out of Soul Sacrifice, but for those who fancy some magical monster hunting, the sense of accomplishment when finally defeating a difficult foe is worth the investment.
Soul Sacrifice is one of the better games for the Vita, and is incredibly well made, but just fails to have the global appeal needed to make it an essential buy.