To sacrifice, or not to sacrifice; isn’t that the real question?
Soul Sacrifice was released in both North America and Europe in demo form on the seventeenth, after being out since December in Japan. Though I’ve had some hands on with the Japanese demo, I decided to have another look – for both the bonuses you get from playing, and the fact that this game is brilliant in many, many ways. I have to say; this is the greatest demo I’ve ever played, and probably one of the highest in content as well (comparable to DoA5+ in that regard). Let’s dig in, and get a little more information for those on the fence, or who haven’t yet downloaded that 1.2GB demo for whatever reason.
The game starts out with the death of a man; they don’t tell you much, but he is killed by a sorcerer. Then though the eyes of the player, you see another man taken; the man in the cage next to you. He too is killed by the sorcerer, but this time it’s clear – his punishment is because of magic ability. Out of his death comes your salvation, as the book he was learning from calls to you from the rubble of his cage, and in a moment of hope and weakness you take it.
The book informs you that it is the sorcerer’s magic journal, and that through its pages you can relive the sorcerer’s past battles; gaining experience and knowledge as you do so. The book is broken down into chapters, each of which you must relive in order to move on and increase your experience. This learning through trials may be the key to your life, and your escape; if you can gain enough experience, the hope is that you can take on the sorcerer and defeat him, gaining your freedom.
That’s the basic premise behind the game, the driving force for the character you become in this world; he just wants to get enough power to be free of his master. Accepting this, you reluctantly enter the journal (and by extension, the past), taking on the task of a sorcerer and attempting to rid the world of those who have abused their powers and become something… else. Training and battling is the only way to gain knowledge and ability, and so you commit yourself to the role fully.
Starting off; you are thrown into two levels that are hardly teaming with monsters, or difficulty. The rat-type creatures and cat-type creatures you encounter are easy kills, and really seem to be there only to let you get a feel for the controls. The first real foe you encounter is the Jack-O-Lantern on your third mission, and he’s not the easiest to put down the first time around. This game definitely becomes a game of tactics at this point; in prior missions you could just “melee” your opponents to death with no worry of being killed, however the “bosses” tend to have a much better attack pattern and a higher amount of hit-points. Unlike most games where you approach a strong enemy, there are almost no good distance-type attacks at your disposal – leaving you to make yourself a window of attack when possible. This mechanic brings a bit more difficulty into the game as you can’t rely solely on the strength of your attacks, instead causing you to strategize and plan. Such a refreshing change from the rush-in-and-mash-attack we tend to experience regularly.
There are also super attacks, unlocked when enough sacrifices have been made. These attacks are unlike normal spells, in that they have a higher cost associated with them and do much more damage. The cost of a super attack is a black rite – a change in the body of your character that weakens them in battle, and can only be removed from the menu (book) using lacrima (a secretion from the book’s eyes). It’s a strange mechanic over-all, but comes in handy when fighting the harder bosses.
The save or sacrifice element comes into play whenever you’ve defeated an enemy, or a companion has been downed. Standing over their body, you are given the choice to either save their soul – giving you health and adding to your “holy” level, or sacrifice them – gaining magic and adding to your “evil” level. Both “holy” and “evil” levels have their rewards and punishments, and you will learn to compensate accordingly based on the route you take in leveling your abilities.
Like you would expect, the bosses and even minions get harder as you go on; though you get more powerful as well. Returning to an early mission after gaining a ton of magic would make the earlier levels seem almost too easy, and is really only recommended if you’re trying to level up your character. It’s also worth noting that the demo has a ceiling of level 20, so you won’t be maxing out your character while you wait for the full game.
Your magic can get quite powerful though, as you gain more spells and abilities. You start off with a set of three spells; an ice incantation, a melee strength enhancer, and a blood/projectile attack. By leveling up and gaining more spells, you can unlock another set of three spells (bringing your on-hand number to six) and even modify what you’ve got loaded. I opted to negate most of the blood spells as they sap health; instead doubling up on the melee attacks, adding a healing spell, and another ice-variant. The spell system in general is very customizable and makes for a great mechanic, especially if you’re looking for something with a large amount of possibilities and “flavours”.
This game is neither free-reign nor open-world, but a scaled down “arena” you fight in, using a linear progression system. It doesn’t take too much away, though – as the areas are quite unique, and the monsters make up for the lack of open-ness (you forget about an open world just fighting them, it’s that fun). Spells of “offerings” are the main focal point of your arsenal, and will be the most changed customization option by far. There are a handful of spell types, and much more than that of each type – meaning your spells will likely be quite unique once you’ve collected a few and armed your character in your own way. The character customization is welcome as well, but lacking options. It seems like there are a finite number of appearances, and it’s quite possible you and your buddy could look very similar first time you pop into an online game together.
Over all, I’d say that Soul Sacrifice has got my buy; the first time through the Japanese demo version made me like this game, but the progression through the English version made me love it. There are areas where it could be better; but for what it’s trying to be – it’s still a must buy.
Staff Comments on Soul Sacrifice:
“Nicely presented with an interesting (if somewhat haphazardly put together) premise. The restrictions on the number of times you can use use spells really ensures that knowing your enemies and their weaknesses are crucial.I’d like for it to open up and have more than just smaller arenas, but everything that is here is presented very well and it all looks very nice. The spell combining is very handy – and is something that if it had new spells added and long term support could be an element that could keep the game fresh.
This has got to be one of the best demos I have ever experienced in terms of content too.”
“I’d say it’s a very impressive and meaty demo. I’ve completed the sorcerers tale which was a joy to play. The game has a layer of depth that you can really get your teeth into and as Paul says, you really need to know your opponent before gearing up for a battle. I’ve played 2 of the Avalon stories and died trying to take the Jack O Lantern down on my own with no companions (although I can clear him in under 4 minutes on the earlier trial). I haven’t gone online yet as I was out house hunting last night but I hope to get on this weekend (Saturday afternoon looks hopeful) to snag Paul and any of you lot that may be on for some co-op fun.
I was on the fence with regards to a pre-order before the demo arrived but now I’ve played it I will be buying it. I love the Librom, I love the back story and could spend ages just reading the lore. Balancing spell casting really is a tactical feat to behold but it’s one that’s certainly a lot of fun. I unlocked the Jack O Lantern’s bolder ball attack yesterday but haven’t had the chance to use it yet, that looks to be devastating. I’ve fused items, upgraded them and buggered about as much as I can. I have to say the Ice Thorns are a lot of fun, liked that. And I fused a giants fire fist together, that’s pretty devastating.”
“The demo is of great length and showcases the combat system of Soul Sacrifice very well. The general combat design, which involves fighting smaller monsters and larger boss creatures, is put together well. It is very repetitive, and that may be off-putting for some. The spells used to defeat these monsters are very varied, though they wear down after a relatively short period of time. While this mechanic ensures that you do not spam certain more powerful attack, I can imagine more fun ways of coping with this problem, such as a large recharge period on good spells. I found it a bit of a pain to replay older chapters to gain spells I needed but had won before. The game also boasts a variety of other mechanics that enhanced the fun quite a bit, such as tattooing symbols on your arm to increase your power and the ‘save or sacrifice’ game element where the player can choose to sacrifice a beaten enemy to gain more attack power or to save him to receive a defense boost.
The story is a two-sided affair. The dynamic storytelling is terribly confusing, haphazard and uninteresting. The lore is a different story; it provides great insight into the horror-ish world of Soul Sacrifice, and I enjoyed reading it.
All in all, the demo was promising. I’m not sold on the game yet, as I had expected a better narrative and I did not like the wearing down of weapons. I did enjoy playing online with others and tackling the variety of boss creatures by creatively using the different mechanics the game has to offer was fun, too.”
“This may seem odd, but I deleted the demo after about twenty minutes gameplay. There are only ever two reasons I do this; obviously if I hate a game I will remove it, or if a game is SO AMAZINGLY AWESOME that I know without a shadow of a doubt I WILL be purchasing it (so I delete it not to spoil anything). This game falls into the latter. When I saw initial screens I was worried the game would actually lack graphically, and was surprised and amazed at the speed of the action, rock solid frame-rate and high attention to detail. The combat system is clever and deep and rewarding of tactics as well as being fast paced and addictive. From what I’ve seen, this is definitely a Monster Hunter killer and should sell by the bucket load when it finally reaches our shores. The game is also well paced and I really enjoyed the interactive story of the Librom too. The demo does well to give you a flavour of what’s to come, and I’m sure when I purchase it, Soul Sacrifice will be one of those few games that I’ll probably not stop playing until I’ve seen all it has to offer. Here’s hoping my wallet can afford it by the time it hits.”