After over a year on the market, many PlayStation Vita owners (and prospective buyers) have been lamenting the lack of a ‘killer app’ for the console. When it was announced that Keiji Inafune would be making an exclusive action role-playing game for the console, it seemed like prayers were being answered. While having the mind behind many of Capcom’s best franchises (Mega Man and Resident Evil being but two) working on a new IP for the Vita has certainly been encouraging, unfortunately, Soul Sacrifice fails to live up to its billing.
• Developer: Marvelous AQL, SCE Japan Studio
• Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
• Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
• Release Date: Available Now
The story sees you take control of an unnamed prisoner, being held by an evil sorcerer known as Magusar. In the rubble near your cell, you discover a hideous, skin-covered journal. Coming to life before you, it informs you that its name is Librom and by reading its pages, you can learn from the experiences of the author. These trials will teach you to become a sorcerer yourself and enable you to win your freedom from Magusar.
You take control of the previously mentioned author – an accomplished sorcerer who must venture out into the dangerous world to defeat demons and monsters alike. Equipped with six customisable magic slots, you must equip your character with various spells, ranging from projectile attacks to elemental powers. Combat takes the form of repeatedly blasting enemies from afar, or carefully targeting weak points – all the while, moving around various forms of geographic obstacles in the environment. Like the Monster Hunter series, these mechanics can get repetitive quickly and while there are numerous spells to choose from, they quickly lose their appeal. The AI is also poor, often getting stuck in the geometry. Battles, especially those against boss characters, tend to be a trial of endurance, rather than skill.
Navigating the various arenas of battle, quests normally take the form of killing a certain number of creatures, or defeating an archfiend. While regular enemies tend to be redesigned rats or spiders, archfiends are monstrous plays on beasts from myth and folklore, like Cyclopes or Hydras. Production values in Soul Sacrifice are high and the monster design is where this is most evident. Environments are also beautifully detailed and the score compliments the tone of the game perfectly. A lot of money has been poured into the game and every penny is on-screen.
Unfortunately, the structure of the game, while ideal for a handheld console, impacts the game’s immersion. The plot unfolds with readings from the journal acting as introductions to each story quest. However, the voice acting is poor by modern industry standards and as the lines are read, all you are shown are pages turning. I quickly lost interest in these and skipped through some when I lost patience. In turn though, this made the quests far less meaning and the drive to complete them disappeared. Grinding to learn new spells and gain experience quickly loses its appeal.
One of the more unusual aspects of the game is the save or sacrifice system. When friends or foes die, their souls can be either saved, which revives allies and earns you health points, or sacrificed, which either refills your magical powers or unleashes a powerful spell. The system comes into its own when you explore the games online co-op mode. Fallen comrades can be sacrificed, taking them out of the game but causing your enemy massive damage. If this happens, the player can still participate by helping to buffing the remaining combatants; just don’t be surprised if they choose not to.
Despite what must have been a large budget, Soul Sacrifice fails on a mechanical level. Though it is aesthetically pleasing, and the co-op is fun, dodgy enemy AI and excessive amounts of grinding mean that the game becomes a chore to play without companions. I hope that sequels and further iterations can resolve most of these issues as the world they have created is ripe for further exploration, however until then, the search for the Vita’s ‘killer app’ continues…