Soul Sacrifice is a title that honestly caught me off guard when I first heard about it. Having almost no marketing behind it other than it being one of the ten titles released on the PS Vita’s shelf, it was one of those games that caught my intrigue after hearing only hearing the most basic concepts of it. “It’s a game where you’re a sorcerer, and you can kill your friends during missions to help you beat a boss” was the description one of my associates gave me when I inquired about it a few months ago. That explanation was enough to catch my attention, and I eagerly watched as release got closer and closer.
Now the title that promised to redo the multiplayer experience is upon us. Released at the tail end of last month, it’s a title I’ve been feverishly working on. Having clocked more hours into it than I care to admit, I can say that it is a certainly interesting title. At the very least, Soul Sacrifice is a game that deserves some clarification.
Sweet Premise - The concept to Soul Sacrifice is pretty unique. The player is a lone mortal who will soon be offered up as a delicious feast to a tyrannical sorcerer named Magusar. However, before he can be offered up, he stumbles across a talking book that promises all sorts of power, and the ability to defeat Magusar if they only agree to read the contents of the book. This book then serves as a hub, and let’s players relive the experiences inside, playing the role of an unnamed sorcerer. Being honest, it’s one of the more creative plots I’ve seen.
Story Time With an Accursed Book - Soul Sacrifice has a good story. Part mind trip, and part tragedy, it’s a nice hybrid that’s enjoyable to observe while trying to guess the ending. It starts with a young sorcerer having to sacrifice his partner to gain power and slowly evolves into a story of never-ending heartache and suffering while somehow managing to now overdue to the whole tragedy bit. It’s a careful balance, and as I said, a good story.
Magical Fun - I’m happy to say that while niche, Soul Sacrifice has a rather complex and enjoyable gameplay system. Single player and multiplayer work very similarly in the fact that sorcerers are working together (the difference here is that in single player these other sorcerers are AI controlled) to try and accomplish a mission. Whether it is killing a huge monster, or simply clearing an area from a plague of smaller monsters, the gameplay is fun. It’s fun, because the player is limited.
Monsters that the player defeat will be left for a short period of time as its true form. Giant spiders are really just smaller spiders, and orcs are nothing more than adorable house cats (it makes more sense when you play it). When the player runs up to these monsters, they face two choices. The easy choice is to sacrifice these monsters to restore your spells’ charges. The harder choice, while seemingly unrewarding, allows the player to save these monsters’ souls to restore your health. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that these souls, as well as recharge points that let you restore your spells without killing things must be rationed between the players. Have fun drawing straws while running from a giant slime made of gold.
Controls Work - The controls of Soul Sacrifice work in the same way that the controls for Monster Hunter on the PSP worked. They make sense, but they don’t really seem designed for Western audiences. Are they solid and make sense? Absolutely, which is what you need in a control scheme. Unfortunately, some of the buttons seem out of place. Really, it’s a great control scheme, I just would like to see X and R switched from the default settings. Having the button that makes you run on the shoulders make it difficult to control the camera while running from an enemy.
Go Deeper - At first glance, Soul Sacrifice doesn’t appear that deep. Kill monsters, collect new spells, get stronger. That is, until you’re a few hours in and begin to really notice the depth of the customization. Physical appearance aside, there are unique traits to every play style that begin to open up the further you go. Players who save more than they kill quickly become party tanks, while the sacrificers sacrifice everything to do as much damage as possible with each hit. Additionally, each monster responds differently to different attacks, and each spell has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s a complex game, trust me.
YOU SACRIFICED ME?!
Bland Level Design - The level design could use a bit of work. There are a lot of areas, but they aren’t necessarily memorable. All the locations ultimately come down to an area with a few obstacles for both you and the monster, and some points where you can get spells for free. They aren’t interesting, and I can hardly remember a single one past this one that appeared to occur in a giant Greek fountain.
Only How Many Enemies? - There are some epic fights to be had in Soul Sacrifice, but they quickly lose anything that made them unique as you realize the boss you’re fighting next is just a recoloring of the last one. In total there are only a handful of unique boss designs, and less than a dozen unique smaller enemies to fight. Sure it’s fun, but there’s not a lot of variety.
Just Lazy - What I’ve been trying to get at with my last two complaints is that Soul Sacrifice is lazy. It has a really cool idea, and some really unique features, but the shallow gameplay runs out fast. Yes, getting to level 99 has a cool reward that I won’t spoil for anyone reading this review, but who really wants to devote the 100+ hours it takes to get there? There’s not a whole lot to do whether it’s inside the multiplayer or outside, and that’s a huge problem. Put simply, there’s not enough unique content on the gameplay side of things to justify the awesome features found in the customization.
Soul Sacrifice reaches for the stars and falls short at the very end. It’s a game that brings a lot to the table, but doesn’t deliver where it really needs to. The concept of sacrificing a team-mate in order to quickly beat a boss, or ripping out a part of you to do copious amounts of damage in exchange for a disadvantage (such as partial blindness or rapidly draining health) until the fight ends is really cool. The problem is simply that there aren’t enough things to perform these attacks/abilities. It’s frustrating to see a good game not live up to its potential. Here’s hoping there’s a sequel that fixes these restraints.
*This review was based on the PS Vita retail version of the game.*