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Soul Sacrifice Review: Build Your Sorcerer

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The Playstation Vita has been out for roughly two years now, and in those two years several great titles have been released for the oft-criticized handheld. Much of the criticism is understandable, as Sony has not addressed many long held concerns including a lack of first party titles, over-priced proprietary memory cards, and a slow trickle of legacy releases (i.e. PSOne Classics and PSP games). If you look past these issues for a moment, you will see a powerful handheld console that has a surprisingly large amount of fantastic games, not the least of which is the Vita exclusive IP Soul Sacrifice.

For fans of the hunting genre, there is perhaps no better console than the Vita. PSP downloads include major titles like Gods Eater Burst and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, while the Vita has its own selection including Ragnarok Odyssey, Soul Sacrifice, and upcoming titles like Toukiden, Freedom Wars, God Eater 2, and potentially Monster Hunter Frontier G. Before the Vita, I had never played a hunting style game in my life. As someone who loves games that tell a good story, the hunting genre is generally lacking. That all changed with the release of Soul Sacrifice, a game with a lengthy narrative, great writing, and rewarding gameplay that ties it all together.

 

Story

Soul Sacrifice stands out in its genre because of its story. The main story arc follows you, the player, as you traverse through a book that tells stories revolving around a number of powerful sorcerers. By reading this book, named Librom, the player is able to relive each tale. It is a solid structure that allows you player to jump from place to place without disrupting the narrative.

The primary story is a very interesting tale of loyalty, friendship, love, betrayal – basically all of the major themes present in any good drama. The meat of the game, however, lies in the huge number of side-stories, each with their own characters, locations, and lore. Speaking of lore, very few games are as lore-intensive as Soul Sacrifice. Every locale has a story detailing its origin, and every single creature, even the most basic, has a history. Reading through all of the backstories is extremely rewarding and adds to the immersive qualities of Soul Sacrifice.

 

Sortiara's is one of many compelling stories you will experience

 

The structure also lends itself well to player freedom. You can tackle the main story without even touching the non-story quests, or you can complete all of the side content while barely touching the main story – it’s up to you. In fact, the game opens up the final boss battle almost from the get-go. That doesn’t mean you should go for it with a low-level character, but with the right spells the final boss is doable early on, which is great for those seeking additional challenge.

 

 

Gameplay and Design

Soul Sacrifice is unlike anything you have ever played. Unlike Monster Hunter, Soul Sacrifice is a spell-based game. There are spells that grant you the use of melee attacks like swords and fists, but they are still spells. The core of these spells revolves around the save or sacrifice system. Do you choose to save a creature that you killed, giving a health bonus and contributing to your overall defense, or do you sacrifice a monster, restoring spell uses as well as raising your attack? This choice drives character progression. Sacrifice enough and you will increase your Dark meter, which increases your attack and grants a number of offensive boosts. Save enough, and you will become like a tank, though your offensive capabilities will never reach their potential. Being neutral is also a very viable option, which is a welcome change from games that penalize the middle ground. In addition to the stat bonuses, saving certain bosses allows you to summon them as allies for non-story quests.

The system may sound complex, but it is very easy to understand once you get going. If you ever find yourself wanting a change – maybe you are tired of being good and want to go the dark route – the game allows you to rewrite your Light/Dark levels without much of a penalty. Every build is useful, however, and every spell has its advantages. The game's accessibility essentially eliminates the need for extensive strategizing outside of playing the game (like Monster Hunter often demands). It is friendly to newcomers, but if you want to challenge yourself with a specific build (1/99 or 99/1 for example), that option is also available.

 

Fight alone, or with companions (AI controlled or online)


The structure of the game also makes it perfect for a portable title. Every battle takes place in a fairly small arena, and you will be placed there automatically once you accept a quest. Depending on your level, most monsters can be defeated in a matter of minutes if you know their elemental weaknesses and the vulnerable parts of their body. When you have a good understanding of how the game works, and you know what spells you want to work toward, you can choose the monster that will net you the necessary rewards. For example, if you want to upgrade your ice sword spell, simply scroll through the quests until you see a monster that offers this reward (the game tells you what the rewards are – a very nice addition), and go to town. By the time I had reached a combined level of about 50, I was able to defeat many mid-tier monsters in just a few minutes and, if you have a golem spell, you can dispatch monsters with ridiculous, almost game-breaking, efficiency.

The environments, while a bit small and limiting in many cases, offer up help for those in need. If you use a skill called Mind’s Eye, which can be done with a simple touch of D-Pad down, you are able to see areas of the environment where you can replenish your spells (each has a limited number of used), pick up an item, use a spell for free (usually a sword, fist, or shield), or check out the status of your enemies (weak spots, overall health status indicated by color). Some stages also offer special spots that will increase your attack or defense if you stand within a designated area.

Like most hunting games, Soul Sacrifice does require grinding to improve. Sometimes, you may be compelled to kill the same boss over and over again to farm materials needed for a more advanced spell. Despite this monotonous design, I never once got bored during my thirty hours of play. The game offers constant progression and even if you play for only ten minutes at a time, you will have something to show for it.

 

Before long, you will have acquired a powerful arsenal of spells.

 

Soul Sacrifice is also a game that offers tons of variety. There are melee spells, range spells, spells that seek out foes, spells that shield you, spells that give you armor, spells that freeze, electrify, poison, burn, and petrify, spells that transform you into a giant boulder that steamrolls the enemy, spells that slow down time, spells that heal you, heal your party, spells that summon huge golems that ruthlessly crush your foes – Soul Sacrifice is designed for experimenting with different play styles. When it comes to variety, however, there are a limited number of enemy types, including re-skinned bosses that follow the same attack patterns as their forerunners. The developers have addressed this issue to some extent, however, as they’ve released tons of free DLC offering a plethora of new boss types.

 

Graphics and Sound

Vita exclusive titles tend to have the best graphics on the system, and Soul Sacrifice is no exception. Character models look great and move fluidly, spell effects are suitably spectacular, and the environments are nicely varied and have great details. There are some jagged edges and washed out textures, especially on the floors of the environments, where one can almost see each pixel. Other than these symptoms, which are quite common in most Vita games (as developers continue to work out the system’s capabilities), Soul Sacrifice is a great looking game.

 

It's no Uncharted or Killzone, but Soul Sacrifice still stands as one of the Vita's best looking games

 

The sound design is superb. The music is some of the best I’ve heard in a long while and perfectly suits the melancholic nature of the story. The voice acting, while often a bit too melodramatic, is very well done and provides character to the mostly static cut scenes. The gameplay sound effects are also extremely well done, and nothing is quite so satisfying as freezing an enemy and then hearing the explosion that accompanies your well placed lightning shell.

 

Conclusion

Soul Sacrifice was not a game that took me by surprise. The demo convinced me that it warranted a buy at full price (which is something I almost never do). Still, I didn’t know just how good it would be until I finished the main campaign over thirty hours later. It lacks polish in some areas, it is repetitive by nature, and the melodramatic story may not be to everyone’s taste, but Soul Sacrifice does almost everything extremely well. The story is compelling, the gameplay is fast-paced and fun, the sense of progression is empowering, and the amount of content is exceptional. Even after conquering the final boss of the main story, I feel like I have a long way to go. Soul Sacrifice is a game I fully intend to continue which, considering my backlog, is saying a great deal.

 

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

 

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