Ladies and gentlemen. This is it. The one we’ve all been waiting for. The killer title for the PlayStation Vita. Normally when I hear comments like this leading up to a games release I tend to avoid it like the plague. I know what’s going to happen. I’ll start believing the hype and in turn build myself up for a huge let down. So is it worth sacrificing your time for this title or are you better off saving yourself for another game (Sorry).
Let’s start with Soul Sacrifices story. A crazy sorcerer named Magasur is running around imprisoning and sacrificing people, after his latest captive meets a rather messy end you come across a living book named Librom. As you read the passages contained within Librom, the story gets more and more fleshed out. You continue to read in the hope that the book may contain a way of defeating Magasur before you become his latest offering. By read I mean complete missions, destroying monsters through gaming vignettes which are set up as Magasurs memoirs. Yes you will spend the majority of Soul Sacrifice playing through the bad guys memories in order to find a way of killing him. Although it is at times predictable, the journey you take into the history of the bad guys is a rather cool and refreshing setup for a game.
As a side note I don’t feel I have given the depth of available information and missions here justice. Soul Sacrifice has an enormous amount of back story and side missions if you wish to stray from the beaten path. Librom is more of an encyclopedia of everything in the world than just a bed time story for those about to be sacrificed.
Graphically Soul Sacrifice does enough. Character and model environments really are not detailed as they probably could and should be. It still looks nice on the Vita screen, with various effects and monster views being stand out moments, but it’s not going to challenge Uncharted for nicest looking Vita title and as such it’s not going to be the game you show off the Vita’s capabilities to friends with.
The sound however is an entirely different story. The background music is nothing spectacular but makes a fitting and apt soundtrack to your battles and murder/salvation of the monsters that inhabit the world. The voice acting however is some of the best, if not the best thus far, on the Vita. Librom becomes a dynamic believable character within five minutes simply because his audio is so well delivered. The same can be said for all of the characters within Soul Sacrifice but Librom certainly is a stand out character for me.
Now let’s look at the gameplay which, being brutally honest, is simply a disappointment interspersed with some high points. For each mission you are dropped into a single zone arena with either some minor enemies, an archfiend boss battle or a combination of the two. You have to equip all types of powers and weapons in order to deal with each foe, accumulate powers by completing the mission or by forging two smaller powers together into a more powerful one. In simple terms, you fight and get powers which allows you take fight bigger monsters, this then gives you more powerful items and so on and so forth.
I know this is Hunter RPG 101 but it also chokes the fun out of Soul Sacrifice at times. There are many spells that can be picked up and used on the fly and the ability to destroy parts of the environments add a little depth, but you never feel the need or want to take this path. Your main objective is to murder everything, not go on a sight-seeing tour. Many titles within the genre know that simply killing everything that moves is not enough to keep the player grinding away. For example a well-known title that sees you hunting monsters adds in large mission areas, a variety of missions, item gathering, trapping and other anomalies which makes the game infinitely more playable. With Soul Sacrifice you arrive, kill everything and leave; this doesn’t stay fun for long.
The gathering of powers also feels a little shallow as well. Crafting items is a case of merging item A with item B in order to either make a more powerful item A or a whole new item C. There is no armour modding or intelligent crafting here. Part of the appeal I find with crafting is setting a goal of wanting a certain spell or weapon and then grinding away to get the ingredients required to obtain said goal. In Soul Sacrifice you get spells from completing missions but combining them feels like an afterthought as very rarely do you have to manage your spells and resources as everything is very much on a set path. Soul Sacrifice is very much about utilising what you have to advance rather than finding and creating spells in order to progress. As such Soul Sacrifice very much feels like an echo of other titles within the genre.
This by no means that Soul Sacrifice is a disaster, far from it. The process with which you level your character is a unique gimmick. As you defeat monsters you can choose to either Save them or Sacrifice them. Saving will level up your Life and Vitality bar whilst Sacrificing will add power to your magic skills. You can build your character to level 100 using any balance you so desire. Do you like getting in close and destroying enemies with close melee combat? Then Save your enemies to give you that little bit of damage absorption. Prefer to stand at a distance and unleash ranged magic attacks at your foes then Sacrifice to your hearts content.
As an added management aspect of the Save/Sacrifice dynamic, the major boss battles can also be saved which gives you additional NPC companions to join you in future battles or sacrificed in order to gain new extremely rare and powerful spells. This makes you think about how you are playing the game and forces you to tailor your decisions to best suit your playing style.
The final Sacrifice is the Black Rites spells. These are extremely powerful spells but come with an exceptionally high cost. You have to sacrifice part of yourself in order to use them. For example, you can sacrifice your skin which engulfs the entire map in flames but means you have receive a 50% reduction in defence whilst the black rite is active. Alternatively you can sacrifice your eyes, as you pop them out, which they then multiply when they hit the floor and start emitting lasers, shooting everything in their path. The cost? The game screen becomes blurry severely hampering your vision until you restore the Black Rite.
Whilst the Black Rite may save turn certain defeat into victory it comes at an ever increasing price. The only way to undo the Black Rite is spend Lacrima, which are the tears shed from Librom’s weepy eye on the front cover. Librom is consistently building up Lacrima but you can only harvest it inbetween missions. On top of restoring Black Rites Lacrima will reinstate offerings and rewrite quests with multiple outcomes.
As mentioned, the cost of restoring a Black Rite grows with each use, discouraging you from using it unless absolutely necessary. You may perform a Black Rite that saves you from having to restart a lengthy stage but find yourself stuck with its harsh penalty for the next five missions as you try to build up enough Lacrima to remove the effect. Yes it is punishing, yes it is frustrating but it does make you think about your strategy.
Whilst it is wholly possible to complete the entire game without touching the co-op aspect, you would be doing Soul Sacrifice a great disservice if you took this path. Communication with other online players is through ready-made text strings, however if the players are on your friends list you can activate the Vita’s party chat. This is the major issue with the online aspect as, quite often, other players have their own agenda in battle and the limited communication leaves little room for negotiation.
Teaming up with higher level players online can make the more difficult Avalon Pact side missions much easier but if you don’t have what it takes there is other ways you can participate. You can prompt your team mates to Save you which restores you back to life at a cost to their health, they can Sacrifice you which unleashes a power spell across the map. Alternatively you can simply die, which opens up the most intriguing aspect of online play.
When you die you continue to be part of the team and participate by tapping on enemies to weaken them or, alternatively, tapping on allies to strengthen them and their abilities via the Vitas touchscreen. This allows those new – or not very good – at the game to actively contribute to the cause without feeling like too much of a burden on the overall team and is an interesting take on a life after death mechanic.
Overall, it’s impossible to ignore the repetitiveness of the quests and missions but the well thought out story, rewards for committing to the unique decision making mechanic and well thought out price point are more than enough reasons to sacrifice some cash to rid the world of Arch Fiends.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: 01/05/13
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Soul Sacrifice for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PlayStation Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.