I like being pleasantly surprised by video games, and it still happens from time to time even now. A game will cross my path and plant itself firmly on my radar even if I hadn’t even heard of it before I had the chance to play it.
The SCE Japan Studio-developed action role-playing game Soul Sacrifice was one such game. However, all that changed once I got my hands on the title, played through the (close to) four hour demo and discovered the sheer amount of gameplay available, along with the amount of replayability and complexity that’s contained within a game that, before now, I was blissfully unaware of. It’s my hope that by the end of this article, each person with a PlayStation Vita that may have been in the same boat as me, is aware of Soul Sacrifice, downloads the demo when it becomes available, and spends the time required to get all the way to the end. If, by that time, you decide that the game’s not for you, then at least you gave it a shot, and that’s more than you would have done if you didn’t know the game existed.
The demo starts with a little bit of backstory about the world that you’re going to be spending your time in. The sorcerer Magusar is killing the prisoners that he had under his “care”, and when it comes to your time to die, you reveal your skills in the magical arts, decimating the guards that have come to take you to your death. A demon in the shape of a book called Libram reveals himself to you, and offers to show you past battles that you have been involved in, hoping that it will refresh some of your skills, making you more powerful in the process. Hopefully powerful enough to face Magusar himself, although obviously that’s not something you’re going to be able to take part in during the demo.
As you’d probably expect from a game from SCE Japan Studio, the story isn’t the aspect of the game that’s going to draw you in and keep you playing, it’s a little bit lacklustre and while it does what it’s supposed to, that’s all that it does. While playing each of the quests inside of Libram, pages will be revealed to the player which explain the story as it happens, and there are good points and bad points to these. Firstly, unless you keep mashing at the ‘X’ button on the PlayStation Vita in order to progress the text, you’ll be waiting around for a long time for the narrator to start speaking the next line. However, the narration is entertaining and informative, and the animations that occur in the background do a good job of keeping the player at least moderately interested in what’s going to happen in the upcoming quest.
While the story serves its purpose, it’s the combat system in Soul Sacrifice that will keep people playing for the long run, and it’s a very interesting combat system. At the start of each quest the player will be asked to decide on what spell (up to a maximum of six) they want to take into battle, as well as other abilities such as rites that can be carved into the character’s right arm (the arm which quickly succumbs to the use of magical abilities). Once these abilities have been equipped, the player enters the quest, all of which serve as memories that are contained within Libram and technically have happened before, which they then attempt to complete by killing the monster that they’ve been sent to eradicate. The demo follows the main character as they complete The Ordeal, a selection of quests that each Sorcerer is supposed to go through if they want to be accepted into Avalon, allowing them to be sent all across the world in the pursuit of monsters and demons, eventually slaying (or saving) them and ridding the world of their existence.
Players can only use the spells in their inventory a couple of times before they need to be recharged, which the player can do by sacrificing one of the many enemies that they will find themselves killing. When an enemy is killed, and the player stands over their bodies, they will be given two options: Sacrifice or Save. If the player chooses to sacrifice the enemy then they will refresh their spells, but if the player chooses to save the enemy then they will get a little bit of their health back. It’s all to do with the tactics of the battle system in Soul Sacrifice. If you’re running low on health, save the enemy’s soul, if you need your spells recharging in order to take on the big enemy that’s no doubt lurking somewhere in the stage, then sacrifice the dying enemy to enable yourself to do so.
The interesting aspect of the battle system comes in the form of the Black Rites. This element allows the player, if they’re on low health, to sacrifice parts of their body to activate hugely powerful spells that have the potential of doing a vast amount of damage to enemies in their vicinity. These spells come at a cost though, and the one that the player has access to in the demo allows the player to sacrifice their skin in order to output huge damage, but sacrificing the player’s skin forces them to lose half of their defence which, if the spell doesn’t take down the enemy that you’re fighting against, could open you up to more pain than it’s worth. This is part of the tactic that the player is going to have to think about when they’re playing Soul Sacrifice, it adds quite a lot to the enjoyment of the game and forces the player to think about what they’re doing before going into a fight; something that doesn’t get seen in games such as this as often as it should.
Soul Sacrifice is a game that (embarrassingly) wasn’t on my radar before I had the opportunity to play the demo, but I will be doing my best to get my hands on a copy of the game once it’s released here in the UK. The combat system alone has enough complexity to keep people interested, and though the story leaves much to be desired, it’s clear that this isn’t the focus of the game. If Soul Sacrifice was a game you’d never heard of previously, hopefully now at the very least you will download the demo when it becomes available. You never know, you could be pleasantly surprised.
Soul Sacrifice is due to be released exclusively on PlayStation Vita on 1st May, 2013 in Europe and 30th April, 2013 in North America. Soul Sacrifice is already available in Japan.