The Playstation Vita is a great piece of hardware, there's no denying this fact. Its main issue is that there's not a significant amount of software to truly set it aside from every other gaming platform. That is why games like Sony Japan's Soul Sacrifice are important when it comes to proving the Vita's value; but is Soul Sacrifice a Vita defining title? Or does it lack the soul it needs to be Vita's shining star?
Soul Sacrifice features an interesting story concept. You play as a nameless slave who is imprisoned by a powerful sorcerer named Magusar. While imprisoned, a mysterious talking journal calls out to you and using the front touch screen you must reach out for it. By reading the journal's many entries you can relive the authors memories and use it to gather a greater understanding of Magusar and his secrets. Doing so will eventually make you powerful enough to confront him.
The nature of the storytelling in Soul Sacrifice puts a lot of creativity in the hands of the developer, yet the true potential of this game's presentation is never fully met. Their strict budget is made apparent because instead of wowing us with artsy sorcery filled cut-scenes, they stuck entirely with the text on page concept. Which is fine, as we're re-living entries in a journal. But following the numerous journal passages got tired very quickly, and the story lost much of its appeal as a result.
The gameplay segments are fun in small doses. One of the aspects of handheld gaming that appeals to me the most is being able to fit in quick sessions whenever I have the time for it. Soul Sacrifice compliments these quick gaming sessions in the best way. Each memory will only take you around five minutes to complete as they all consist of slaying a specific set of enemies. Though this gets very repetitive, it does make you feel like you're making progress at a rapid rate.
Combat feels clunky and at times frustrating, mainly due to the camera cutting off your field of view when maneuvering. I found dodging to be the biggest annoyance in the game, to the point I opted not to evade enemies unless it was absolutely necessary. If you have good timing you can easily just run out of an enemies range when you see them starting an attack. Before each quest you can assign up to six spells to use, these are all controlled using the face buttons.
There are a decent variety of spells for you to acquire, each fitting a different scenario in combat. You can summon swords for close ranged combat, use elemental magic or summon throwing blades to hit enemies from far away. Those are just a few examples of what's on offer, and much of the fun in Soul Sacrifice comes from experimenting with the different spells. As you progress further through the game things get even more exciting thanks to summoning abilities.
"Soul Sacrifice" isn't just a fancy name either, sacrificing plays a big part in the games role-playing elements. After defeating enemies you have the choice of either saving or sacrificing their soul. You don't always have the luxury of choosing though, because many times Sacrificing will be necessary if you wish to continue using your spells. Saving however, will earn you a new A.I companion that can be used in a number of side stories, while also increasing your health.
Another interesting ability is using taboo spells which sacrifice parts of your flesh to keep you alive, while also delivering a super attack on your enemies. The catch is that doing so will leave you incredibly vulnerable after, and you must use an in-game currency called Black Rite to undo the changes you have inflicted upon yourself.
The enemies of Soul Sacrifice are very well designed and detailed. The problem lies in their A.I. Enemies will continuously spam attacks over and over making it all too easy to stand at a safe distance and fire ranged attacks repeatedly. Environments don't help the situation. They are small and mundane, but usually feature one or two structures you can run behind to confuse enemies. Occasionally you'll come across a challenging boss battle that will have you committed to defeating it, but these challenges are few and far between.
Soul Sacrifice also features four player co-operative play. Interestingly players can even sacrifice their fallen buddies to unleash spells which cause critical damage to foes. Fallen allies can try to offer assistance by boosting their companions via the touch screen, but for the most part it's useless. It's definitely worth trying co-operative play to give the game some legs, and you'll enjoy it a lot more playing with friends.
Soul Sacrifice is a game that is continuously compared to Monster Hunter. As someone who hasn't played Monster Hunter, much of the similarities went over my head. However, I am certain that this game would fall short in a competition between both games. Soul Sacrifice is a great idea on paper (literally), and there's lots to like here. The problem is that it isn't thorough enough on the gameplay to deem it a Vita seller. If the controls had been refined, the level designs expanded upon and the narrative been more captivating, it might have made a huge difference. Instead, Soul Sacrifice quickly ends up feeling like something is missing. Repetitiveness will have most players giving up before completion, and overall I find the best way to enjoy this game is in small doses.
I would love to see Sony and Marvelous AQL work on a second Soul Sacrifice game with a bigger budget. I'm sure they would do it more justice the second time around.
This review is based on a digital download copy of the game for Playstation Vita provided by Sony.