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Soul Sacrifice Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

Can We Offer This Up for a Better Game?

Soul Sacrifice Screenshot

HIGH Great concept and wonderfully dark tone.

LOW Grinding, grinding, grinding, grinding.

WTF Why are so many weapons painfully laggy and slow?

Soul Sacrifice has been heavily anticipated as an important Vita game from the man known for Mega Man, Keiji Inafune, and it's a big departure from his work on Capcom's cheerful blue bomber. It's an action-role-playing game with pretensions of getting a toehold in the Monster Hunter genre, and claims to challenge players with the concept of sacrificing things held dear in exchange for greater power. Unfortunately, while its premise is a novel one, I don't think anyone will look back on it in twenty years as a key work from this notable creator.

After a brief opening cut-scene, the player becomes a prisoner about to be killed by an evil sorcerer. While scrabbling through their cage looking for an escape, he or she finds a living book bound in flesh and adorned with a horrific face. This tome is the diary of someone close to the sorcerer. It's suggested that by reading its pages, the prisoner can learn power and ultimately free themselves.

From that point, the player can jump back and forth between menus and modes in the "book" by using their finger to turn virtual pages on the Vita's touchscreen—one page lists story quests, another is a table of contents, and so forth. Players can undertake any quest that's available, and a short text passage with creepy voiceovers precedes each battle. The written events are then re-enacted (and possibly rewritten) via third-person, real-time action in small, single-room zones.

Although couching the game as a "diary" is quite clever, Soul Sacrifice stumbles immediately after this intro and keeps on rolling downhill before ending up in a heap of apathy and disappointment. The first problem is that the tutorials fail to do the job, and too much goes unexplained exactly when the most questions arise—what is "renewing" on the battlefield? What are all these Soul Shards to be picked up? Upon completing the opening section, the game vomits a second pile of unintuitive systems and what seems like a hundred unexpected "Sigils" upon the player in a warm gush. It's surprising how clumsily it's all handled.

Soul Sacrifice Screenshot

I came to grips with things shortly afterward, and what Soul Sacrifice boils down to is the player selecting six different abilities prior to each bite-sized battle. These things can range from swords, shields, healing, ranged attacks, and so forth, and can only be used a certain number of times before they're expended. Once battle begins, players run around tiny, enclosed environments generally populated with simple ratlike creatures, tubby cats, and skull-faced birds in different elemental varieties. It's like being trapped in a terrarium built for small-pet deathmatch.

The action is fast, chaotic, sloppy and un-tuned. Using projectile weapons works well, but dodging doesn't always avoid enemy attacks and the melee is simple button-mashing. Strangely, for a game which moves so swiftly, I was surprised that many of the weapons force the player to stand still while charging up, or have some other pause or delay in use. These slower powers left me open for attack, so only a small fraction of the arsenal was of value to me.

After each battle, players are rated on their performance and will earn new equipment based on how they did. By taking less damage and ending fights faster, more equipment is awarded. It seems like it a solid foundation for a handheld game, but the poor quality of Soul Sacrifice's combat offers few thrills, and there's little incentive to earn more of this ineffectual, underpowered stuff. Fight the same dull battle to get another copy of a spell I won't use? No thanks.

Even worse, the developers re-use assets a ridiculous number of times. Facing the same cats and rats in the same levels over and over again turns stultifyingly boring within the first few hours of play. Occasionally, a large boss monster appears to add a bit of freshness, but they soon start to repeat as well.

The issue of repetition aside, it's unfortunate that Soul Sacrifice seems to only have two difficulties—cakewalk and OMG. The trash mobs are trash mobs, and the bosses are damage sponges capable of knocking the player out in just a few attacks. The difficulty of these foes is obviously geared towards stopping players until they grind for while, but given how shallow and uninvolving the game is, this wasn't a great choice.

Soul Sacrifice Screenshot

So where does the sacrificing come in? It's a fair question, and to be frank, the answer is a letdown—the implementation of the concept isn't nearly as interesting as it should be.

In the middle of battle, downed enemies can be "saved"or "sacrificed" to increase the character's defense or attack, respectively. It's little more than pressing a button while standing over a defeated character, and I never noticed much improvement either way. Also, I mentioned earlier that the player's equipment has a limited number of uses. If it's completely spent during a fight, then that item breaks. However, breakage is a minor annoyance since it's easy to avoid, and just as easy to repair a thing if it falls apart.

So where's the substantial sacrificing? It happens when the player uses a super-powered attack called a Black Rite, or when the player (or another character) dies.

The Black Rites are spells that do a chunk of damage in exchange for a persistent penalty to the player. There are apparently five in total, but I only ever had one which immolated my skin and gave me a 50% reduction in defense. I can't say that I was impressed, though. It usually failed to kill my opponent, and undoing the penalty is possible by using limited resources provided for just that purpose. Shouldn't sacrificing something carry heavier consequences?

Player sacrifice is similarly unimpressive. When an ally dies, they can be used to unleash a powerful attack spell, which again, usually failed to kill my opponent. Even worse, some questlines can't be completed if characters are sacrificed, meaning that the player must undo that death and re-try for different results. Just like the prior examples, this one doesn't carry any weight. It's also possible for the player themselves to be sacrificed, which then segues into a mini-game to lower defense or increase attack of those left on the field, but I have no idea what happens if remaining allies win—friendly AI is incompetent at best, and every time my character was offered up, defeat followed shortly afterwards.

Although there are some interesting ideas here and the Vita could benefit from a title like Soul Sacrifice, everything rides on how good the core game is, and to me, it just doesn't hold up. The combat system isn't complex or interesting enough, there's little drive to endlessly grind mobs to survive the bosses, and I never felt any sense of investment or urge to advance. Without something meatier hooking me in, Soul Sacrifice asks players to give up a lot of time and effort for very little in exchange, and that's one bargain I'm not willing to make. Rating: 4.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Vita. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode (between two characters) and the game was not completed. Two hours were spent in multiplayer mode.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, suggestive themes, and violence. Many of cut-scenes and interstitials are quite dark in tone and akin to reading a horror novel. It's not over the top, but probably inappropriate for young players. The violence in the game is standard stuff featuring projectiles and melee weapons. It's not particularly graphic or gory in terms of what the player actually does, although the game's imagery is heavy on the macabre.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There shouldn't be any issue here. I spent most of the time playing this game with the sound completely off, and had no issues. Voiceovers are accompanied with basic subtitles, and I found no auditory cues that were necessary for gameplay. As far as I can tell, it's accessible.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Vita  
Developer(s): Comcept  
Publisher: Sony  
Genre(s): Fighting   Online/Multiplayer   Horror  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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I don't know if we played

I don't know if we played the same game, because it seems like you missed out on so many concepts within the game. I do have one thing to add though:

Complaining about spells being laggy is...well, silly. Some spells you take a long time to cast because they have certain advantages over other spells. I don't know what you expected there. If you want fast spells, they're there.

If you think I missed out on

If you think I missed out on concepts in the game, I'm happy to be educated. Please enlighten me, honestly.

As for weak & fast v. slow & strong, that's obvious. the issue is that despite their strength, if they're too slow to use or to hit with, then the power is irrelevant.

*Inside the book's lore

*Inside the book's lore section are some of the tutorials that tell you what things do. I thought the renewing thing was self-explanatory (if you're referring to renewing offerings which are you spells)
*The problem isn't if they're too slow, but if they're too weak to offset the negatives. Similarly, the Greatsword in Monster Hunter is incredibly slow but powerful in the hands of people who can predict monsters movement. Most of the really slow abilities in SS tend to also be really strong (the charge attacks on weapon spells will often interrupt enemies making them safe if you land it, and deal large amounts of damage)
*Spells are both the currency and the weapons. You can fuse unrelated spells to get spells that you do want, and further fusing spells upgrades them to higher level spells so that even low level variants are useful for fodder
*I agree they repeat a lot of the cannon fodder foes, but the main game is the big guys. You have about 15 or so, each with variants that change up their attack pattern and abilities.
*You should rarely, if ever, have to grind in SS unless you're taking on the hardest foes in the game. You play to their elemental weakness. Ice beats fire, lightning beats ice, stone beats lightning, venom beats stone, fire beats venom.
*Sacrificing enemies restores offerings. Saving enemies restores health. Doing so during story missions can affect how the story branches out.
*Black Rites are incredibly painful depending on the rite. 50% reduced defense is also really harmful since that takes you from being able to take a few hits, to potentially one shot every time. You can use mind's eye (down on the d-pad) to see the HP the enemy has (given by the color of their 'aura), black rites are oft reserved as the killing moves for good reason. If they didn't kill your opponent, then you did it way too early and needed to keep a better eye on their health.
*Friendly AI is bad yeah. Play multiplayer, or master the patterns.
*A lot of this is explained in-game through the tutorials, loading screen tips or quick experimentation.
*also you can test offerings in the offering screen

Thanks for the elaboration

Thanks for the elaboration (honestly!) but none of this is new information to me... I'm familiar with everything you outlined here, I just don't think it's very well done, or very polished. The core game just isn't very good, and that's the bottom line on my review.

Monster Hunter would kick your ass

"Why are so many weapons painfully laggy and slow?"

God help you if you ever try to play a Monster Hunter game.

Oddly enough, I've got

Oddly enough, I've got almost 800 hours logged with the Monster Hunter series, so the weapons in that game aren't an issue.

In fact, it's really not about speed at all.

I didn't have the wordcount to go into this in depth, but my complaint about the game's weapons stems from a lack of concrete risk v. reward system in Soul Sacrifice. With enemies moving so swiftly and not having much structure to their attack patterns, the game seems to rely on monsters being distracted with other players (AI or otherwise) to allow some of the slower weapons to get their hits in. It's poor, sloppy design.

On the other hand, Monster Hunter has no such issue thanks to clear openings, tells before attacks, and a deep design to each weapon's implementation and use. It's just better in every respect.

Interesting

I disagree.. But..Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I will leave mine. Coming from someone who has never played a final fantasy (watched a buddy play final fantasy 7 countless hours on year of release, pushed me away from any game w rpg attached to its name) or monster hunter, or any rpg for that matter (except of course Soul Sacrifice) I am in love with this game. For someone who hasn't logged as many hours on monster hunter as you, I am perplexed you had such an issue with the system, timing use of powers/spells, all came very naturally for myself. Not meaning to offend, but as a newcomer I have had no issue. I should check out a video of monster hunter, because if it is free roam fighting like this game I am interested. I am perplexed at your low score, this games story alone is worth a 6 on a 1-10 scale. I have a VERY hard time believing you do not enjoy fhe combat or weapons. I have fused weapons to throw at a distance, use up close that are all quite satisfying. I know there is always someone to go against the crowd, but honestly the lowest score for an original IP such as this? No wonder publishers and developers are soo reluctant to put out new franchises. Sadly if this doesn't sell cod #s it will be a hard sell for a sequel. I applaud Keiji Inafune for such an originality.

Hi everyone. Just a couple

Hi everyone.

Just a couple of quick points here.

1> *all* reviews are opinions and preferences, and not objective. there's no such thing as an 'objective' review. anyone that says so doesn't understand what a review is.

2> for all the effort everyone's putting into debating the enemy attack structure, even *IF* that aspect was tight and tuned, the rest of the game still has serious deficiencies that would override it, as outlined above. this review does not hinge on that one issue.

3> is fifteen hours not enough for a 'proper' review? you can decide that for yourself. it's why we put the disclaimer there and give full disclosure.

however, i'll say this - after fifteen hours, the game was painfully boring to play, and i had no desire to see more. a good game draws players in, not drives them away.

when i reviewed my first Monster Hunter, i could easily see the depth and nuance to the play, and it's what kept me going even when some of the aspects were murky or awkward. with Soul Sacrifice, i couldn't get away from it fast enough. Putting more time into it wouldn't have changed my opinion.

thanks to everybody for reading, and i'll be bowing out of the thread now.

Cheers!

A year after the fact, I

A year after the fact, I finally got the game due to its high ratings and fan recommendation. And quite honestly I have NO idea what the hype is all about.

The tutorial was indeed unhelpful at best, but that's not really a big issue. After the first 5 missions or so I figured it out for myself; and I expect any player with average intelligence to do the same.

Now, players often compare SS to the MH franchise. But I'm sorry. No... Just... No! Its novel system aside, the gameplay is not NEARLY as refined as MH. Not by a long shot. The battle system is so sloppy it's unbearable. It's ALMOST as bad as the God Eater series. I've personally logged over 3000 hours on the various MH titles. SS is NOT a comparable title. Those that believe so honestly have no idea how much work is put into MH to reach its level of refinement.

I came online trying to find out what I was missing. And I believe most reviewers and players are missing the point. SS may be one of the best "core RPG's on the Vita", but honestly it stands out only due to its lack of competition on the console. It is a cool concept filled with potential, but still just a title bombarded with sighs of under budget and lazy developers.

^_^

^_^

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