Soul SacrificeWritten by: / / 5 Comments
The phenomenal success of the Monster Hunter series on the PSP paved the way for other co-operative focused games such as God Eater Burst and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to find an audience on that platform, and now the PS Vita represents a golden opportunity for developers to capitalise on the popularity of this genre and offer fans the type of game that they’ve been craving ever since the system launched last February.
Thankfully the first major co-op action RPG for the PS Vita, Soul Sacrifice, is far from being a disappointment, offering players an addictive blend of combat and character progression that is equally rewarding whether you play alone or take the fight online.
What makes Soul Sacrifice stand out from the crowd is its unique setting and core concept of power requiring sacrifice. The game begins with your character imprisoned in a dangling cage made out of bones where you meet a talking book called Librom. On his pages are scrawled the stories of a sorcerer and you soon discover that you can relive this necromancer’s memories, most of which are illegible until you can gain a greater understanding of his situation.
The game’s story unfolds via the sorcerer’s narration together with animated illustrations on Librom’s pages, and to gain access to new narrative strands you’ll need to complete quests that loosely tie in with the events depicted at that particular point in the story. These story quests can’t be played with friends but most of them feature an AI partner or two who provide believable backup during combat.
The difficulty of these quests ramps up fairly quickly so you’ll need to play through the dozens of multiplayer-enabled side-quests to beef up your character’s stats and acquire ‘offerings,’ which will help you overcome the challenges presented by Soul Sacrifice’s story quests.
Unlike most action RPGs, Soul Sacrifice doesn’t have equipment such as swords, shields or armour, but instead features a combat system revolving around items called offerings. Each offering can only be used a limited number of times during a single quest and you have six offering slots to work with in total. Examples of offerings include one that makes a blade grow out of your arm, and another that coats your body in ice thereby boosting defence.
You obtain offerings by completing quests and they can be fused together to form new items, or ‘boosted’ by combining two or more of the same offering to increase the number of times you can use it during a quest. Even if you exhaust all of your offerings during a mission, there are objects such as trees, barrels and flagpoles scattered around the various arenas where combat takes place that can replenish your offering power or grant you temporary offensive or defensive abilities. Power can only be drawn from these objects once per quest so you’ll need to search further afield in the arena as you exhaust nearby supplies.
Your character has two XP levels linked to life and magic respectively. After defeating an enemy you’ll have a choice whether to convert their remains into life XP or magic XP. The former boosts your defence and grants you some HP while the latter raises your magic stats. The system becomes more complex when you defeat a boss as you then need to decide whether to spare their life or sacrifice them by converting their soul into magic XP. Sparing them is usually a wise choice as they are then added to the list of AI-controlled party members who can accompany you on side-quests.
Things become even more interesting when an ally is busy dying and you need to decide whether to save or sacrifice them. Saving them takes away a portion of your HP while sacrificing them causes considerable damage to enemies, and if they’re human-controlled they can then run around in ghost form and touch allies to increase their attack or tap enemies to lower their defence. If you’re playing online using Party Chat then the person in ghost form can also relay detailed information about an enemy’s remaining life back to their allies, which comes in handy when you’re fighting a very resilient boss.
The ‘sacrifice’ element of Soul Sacrifice is also apparent when it comes to using powerful abilities called ‘Black Rites,’ which are linked to parts of your character’s body such as skin and brain. When you’re low on health you’ll be prompted to invoke your currently equipped Black Rite which will cause massive damage to enemies, but will always have some form of repercussion such as your defence stat being halved. Unless you replenish the part of your body linked to the Black Rite you’ve most recently invoked using in-game currency called Lacrima, you’ll forever be hindered by the stat penalty associated with it.
One of the most fascinating, commendable elements of Soul Sacrifice is how complete, cohesive and original the game’s combat system and world setting feel. There are pages of lore to read through regarding the game’s locations, enemies, bosses and central components, and these all serve to create a uniquely compelling setting full of avarice, envy and despair. Combine this with striking art and character design along with a stirring score from legendary Japanese composer Yasunori Mitsuda, and you have a game that plays, looks and sounds like nothing else before it.
Soul Sacrifice is great as a singleplayer game but team up with three friends and you’ll get to see it at its best. The frame rate bogs down a bit when you’re all hacking away at a boss but this is a small price to pay for the wonderful sense of co-operation you feel when fighting alongside human allies. Getting into online games with strangers is unfortunately fraught with network disconnections and there’s no native support for voice chat, so creating a Party on PS Vita and talking strategy with friends as you take on uncompleted quests together is by far the most fulfilling way to approach the game’s multiplayer component.
Soul Sacrifice represents a great value proposition for PS Vita players thanks to its lengthy campaign and dozens of side-quests, which are compatible with being played in short bursts.It’s worth mentioning, however, that there’s a fair bit of repetition in terms of the arenas you fight in and the enemies you face. Most quests are on the simplistic side, requiring you to defeat a certain boss or find a particular item. The element of variety comes in when you begin to experiment with newly acquired offerings while facing tougher versions of foes you’ve already encountered dozens of times.
Some players may also find that Soul Sacrifice’s graphics fall below their expectations as the game doesn’t run at full resolution and doesn’t feature all the bells and whistles of other first-party PS Vita titles, such as PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. The game’s frame rate is impressively smooth, however, considering the amount of detail and effects in each arena, and animation is top-notch.
It should come as no surprise that the same team involved in the creation of Soul Sacrifice (i.e. SCE Japan Studio) also played an integral role in the conception of cult classic Demon’s Souls, which reignited the action RPG genre in many ways. Soul Sacrifice is a genuinely noteworthy new intellectual property for Sony and one that isn’t afraid to forge its own identity by creating a world setting and combat system that put the ‘dark’ back in dark fantasy.
Soul Sacrifice is one of the most addictive and engaging handheld experiences available on PS Vita and shouldn’t be missed by RPG fans looking to conduct some sorcery on their systems.