Hollow Story, Cursed Mechanics

HIGH A well-detailed and beautiful look.

LOW Navigating dungeons. Poor character development.

WTF What do you mean a sniper can’t hit the back line?

There’s a certain charm to strategy RPGs and storytelling games alike. The former gives players the satisfaction of creating a plan and executing it flawlessly, and the latter brings players into a world with captivating plot twists and characters. Vambrace: Cold Soul touts itself as narrative-driven with deep strategy and colorful characters, but I didn’t find either of those claims to be accurate…

In Vambrace: Cold Soul, players take control of Evelia Lyric, an adventurer seeking answers. Days after her father’s funeral, she receives a package with a magical bracer that leads her to the city of Icenaire. Once there, she’s soon drawn into larger events…   

Combat is turn-based, with the party having a maximum of four characters. Each character has a basic attack which also builds a “Flourish” meter, two special abilities that use Flourish, and the ability to defend from attacks. Characters are placed in a single-file line from front to back, and each attack/ability can hit specific enemies depending where their location in the enemy line. It’s pretty standard stuff for the most part, but some of the attack ranges don’t make sense, as some abilities can be used at any distance, while others are extremely specific. 

One character I had was a dwarf rifleman. Strangely, the rifle could never attack the backline of the enemy, even if he was first in my team formation. An archer can’t hit anyone in the enemy’s front line, regardless of position, and I had a melee character who could hit all enemies no matter where they (or she) was on the field. While Vambrace tries to explain how the system works, it’s strange in practice. 

While the attack ranges don’t make sense, the navigation in each dungeon is even worse. Vambrace gives players a map of the area they’re exploring, but it doesn’t always line up with what’s onscreen in a logical or intuitive — when going into a doorway that leads south, why do I actually go west? Couple this runaround with a gauge that increases the difficulty of encounters the longer a player spends in a dungeon, and it’s easy to get stuck in a zone with nothing but tough fights until the end.

Also problematic is the way Vambrace handles permadeath — it warns players that it’s a possibility, but it’s only half-true. If party members die, they’re permanently lost, along with their items. If Evelia dies, it will eject the player from the dungeon without losing anything since she needs to survive for the story to progress.  As a result, I focused on getting her killed if I was struggling with a fight, and the other party members were just blank slates to me. 

The disposable party members exacerbate the “narrative driven” aspects of Vambrace. Evelia stumbles into being a hero — it isn’t convincing, and there are many journal entries that try to fill out her world, but it all felt more like a checklist than a story. As for the lore, I didn’t have any connection to any of the races or characters, so I didn’t care about their histories.  In dungeons, strange story events can happen while exploring, but they’re limited to maybe six or seven different options, most of them having the same outcome each time.

Vambrace: Cold Soul is a confused title that apparently wants to deliver a rich story and hard choices, but due to strange systems, exploitable mechanics and weightless characters, none of it feels consequential in any way.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Devespresso Games and published by Headup and WhisperGames.  It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game does not currently have a rating, but contains Strong Language and Violence. Some of the named NPC characters will say “dick” or “bitch” throughout the story. The game is about killing monsters and ghouls. Encounters are not bloody or gory, but players will encounter many frozen and torn up bodies as background dressing through the game. Teens and older only please.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes .

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is text-based. While not resizable, the text is on dark backgrounds. Text is not in a traditional font.

Remappable Controls: There are no remappable controls There is no control diagram. Players can use the analog stick to move around, A to select and interact with items and places, and B to cancel. In combat, all face buttons are used for combat abilities. The D-pad directions are used to bring up things like the map of the area, quest logs, and item pack. There are keyboard and mouse controls as well.

Eugene Sax
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