Is there enough here to convince people to sacrifice their wallets?

For those of you that didn’t experience the demo, Soul Sacrifice is an action/role-playing game in the third person; but at the heart it’s just an epic tale about a book. A powerful sorcerer called Magusar has gone off the rails a little  these days and is seen tormenting and torturing poor prisoners to death for his own gratification. It very much looks like it is your turn next, but your attention is drawn to a demonic book with an inexplicable ability to communicate with you – and it starts telling you a story. A story on how Magusar became so evil. And a story that you can alter you physically before you become practice fodder. Developed in-house at SCE Japan and by Marvelous AQL with both teams bringing to life the creative genius of legendary game designer Keiji Inafune (of Capcom fame) with a truly epic visual masterpiece.

SS1

If you have played the demo – which was quite frankly one of the best game demonstrations I have had the pleasure of playing, in terms of content and what is available – then not only will you be quite well versed in the story and mechanics already but also pleased to know that your demo progress will transfer over to the game. Starting the game up for the first time you will only have “New Story” available but once pressed  it picked up my demo save and then continued from where I was, albeit with the allies from the Avalon Pacts missions missing. Any trophies that you might have earned by playing or doing what you have done in the demo will unlock either by repeating the action (Black Rites, Saves/Sacrifices and mission progress in the chapter) or by the end of the first new mission you played, at least it did for myself with six in all out of the 56 total. It will also bring over every spell that you had in your possession, which is great news for those of your that have been spell farming for more than 25 hours. And it will also give you a fantastically over powered spirit spell as a reward too which can only be obtained (currently) this way. You can also of course just start over if you wish.

So as I said, your interface with the world of Soul Sacrifice is a book called Librom and through reading the book you can access levels, alter your appearance or check up on the enemies you have defeated already. The chapters that you access are played out with you in the lead role and you are in effect re-writing the history of what has come before. Although you are free to face Magusar at any time after you have  completed the first quest i would advise against it unless you desire an early death and a fast view of the credits. Each chapter that you play out is set in an arena and features various possessed creatures and upon defeating them you cave a very conscious choice to make. You can either “save” their soul and release them from their hell – which will usually provide you with life energy and better defensive qualities – or you can “sacrifice” them which will increase your attacking prowess and both will alter the appearance of your arm which will become more sinister or more divine. As you progress through the game you will encounter some larger enemies, which when eventually defeated have another consequence. Sacrificing or saving  these enemies will reward you with large level boost in either affinity, but saving them will allow you to spare their life and recruit an ally. This could be crucial if you are playing solo; missions can be replayed anyway and you can alter the history again, but playing solo is not where the most of the fun is in the game. Some of the choices that your AI helpers make are questionable sometimes and downright unhelpful at others so playing with intelligent allies is far better but more on multiplayer later.

SS2

Completing the missions and their objectives reward you with new spells, which is what is used within the game to combat the enemies. The spells come in a multitude of flavours, because at the heart of the combat system is a very simple rock/paper/scissors face off using ice, fire, poison, stone, lightning and neutral elements and many of the beasts the you will engage have a particular weakness to them. You will also be able to take some of the larger foes down by “chaining” some of these together – for example a frozen enemy being hit with a lightning spell will deal heavy damage – and this game has more than it’s fair share of larger foes. These spells are mapped out to the Square/Triangle and Circle buttons and using the R switches to a second set meaning that you can go into battle with a total of six. In addition, these spells are also grouped into different types with melee moves and those which require you to be up close and personal and those which are ranged. The x button serves as your general action button for interacting and when held, running and the L trigger acts as a lock-on. Mixing the spells up will allow you to find your own style that you are comfortable with. Within the text and pages of Librom you can also merge spells in a process called fusing to create new spells, or you can use multiples of spells you have collected to create more efficient or even stronger versions of the ones you have. This serves as a great “collect-’em-all” aspect of the game and certainly makes replaying missions to get those spells over and over more appealing. The spells themselves are awarded based on performance within the level itself, so attaining a higher score is crucial if you want those rarer ones with points awarded for speed of completion, taking minimal damage and type effectiveness and so on.

The quests you undertake have very little variety and are either going to be extermination pacts which need you to kill the required beasts, or an exploration quest where you need to collect a number of life shards in expanded arenas with an infinite number of spawns for the creatures. There are also memory quests which are practically the same as the exploring ones. In these Librom has no information so in a visually challenging environment you need to gather the words and after you have done this a new mission will then be available. There can also sometimes be additional requirements to the missions, such as a timed element and this can really put some pressure on but the real action is the many wonderful boss fights.

SS3

There are a great number of these and this is where the game truly shines. Selecting the right spells and knowing the Behemoth’s weaknesses is only part of the battle. With the variety of attacks and differences in style even at a lower mission difficulties being under-prepared would be suicidal. Luckily there is a pattern and taking advantage of when the boss is down will allow you to deal severe damage, especially if you are after that particular boss’s special magic. By targeting the “cursed” portion of the boss – which are the weak spots and can be highlighted using the “Mind’s Eye” by pressing down on the D-pad – you will gain these spells upon successfully finishing the mission.

If you are really struggling with a boss then you can sacrifice part of yourself. As you go through the game you will acquire abilities which unleash powerful magic, but with a massive cost. Infernus is the first of these that you will gain, and when your health is low enough it will activate the trigger – which you activate by touching the sign on the screen – and will unleash a fiery explosion upon your enemies causing massive damage at a trade for half of your defence. It really is a sort of last resort, and there is a price to repair the damage which come in the form of “tears” which Librom sheds frequently. Your spells can also expire if you overuse them and Librom’s tears replenish these too. There are many more of these powerful spells to discover. And if all of this is still not enough, upon being close to death you an also allow your team to sacrifice you, which results in a massive eruption of spikes and carnage. Even in death you can still influence the action via a spirit mode, as this is when you will see the monster’s health bars (which were previously unknown) and also alter the defence of the beasts and increase the attack of your allies.

SS4

As you progress more through the game, the choices made with either saving or sacrificing takes its toll and allows you to open up the use of “sigils”, which allow you to customise your style further. Your cursed right arm has five slots for you to equip various boosts for your character from increased attack, boosts to various types and other effects such as increased freezing. I’ll leave the complete list out as we will be here all day and it’ll be nice for you to discover them.

The combination of stat growth, customisation and spell accumulation allows for a variety of character set ups to be in play with those that are trying to be heroic rewarded with tanks which although difficult to take down and that offer great healing powers although they hit as hard as a sponge whilst those who decide on the more satanic route are rewarding with hard hitting monsters that will die in a very few hits. All the permutations in between the two sides of good and evil.

The game is presented very well and the use of the book is very interesting. As already noted, after you have completed the introduction to the game you are free to take on Magusar at any time, but Librom continually checks that you are sure, and whether you should continue to read on in the journal to increase your prowess before you do inevitably face your enemy. Broken into sections, you can access a vast number of continually unlocking missions and chapters and you can of course replay them as you see fit. There is no linear progression either which will see you jumping from chapter to chapter and will ensure that if you want to complete the chapter or obtain the trophy for it you’ll have to put some graft in. This serves as the story progression as well as the “Lore” section which is full of detail and discussion on the mythical creatures that you will encounter as well as a welcome recap for many strategies within the game.

SS6

Visually the game is a mixture of pure beauty and excellence with minor annoyances. The game textures at a slight distance appear pixelated on the floor but this pales into insignificance with the rest of the splendour on show. This really is a massive technical achievement and is easily one of the most impressive handheld titles that I have seen in terms of scale and design. Rendering blips aside, the scenery and your surroundings are astounding. And this is all squeezed into slightly more than 1.7 GB. The game’s soundtrack is also very atmospheric and really suits the style. The vocals of the main characters are a very mixed bag with some of the downright annoying and others very suited. The lip-syncing leaves a lot to be desired though as you’ll notice but you will get used to it.

There are so many quests within the game that even playing solitary will take you some time, but where the game truly shines is in the multiplayer. Whether you wish to play via Ad Hoc or via Wifi you and three others will be able to take on almost any of the quests that you want and with the different styles that players will ome up with will enable far better strategies and will greatly aid you in getting those ellusive spells and earning “Legendary” ratings in those missions. Playing regularly with others especially will give you so much fun and working out strategies together to take down particularly difficult enemies is extremely satisfying. I wasn’t able to test the functionality of the multiplayer in the full game as the EU servers weren’t yet activated ut after spending many hours in the online demo I have a decent experience and undertsanding of what to expect. And if you are struggling for some of the spell types they have a handy “peddler” mode where you can send or receive spells via the use of Near, although not everything can be set as a gift.

SS7

With the promise of many more DLC packs with newer bosses and quests, an already expansive title looks set to continue giving you many reasons to play long after you have bought it.

This is easily the best title that I have had the pleasure of playing on the Vita so far and it has stopped me from playing almost everything else in my collection. Perhaps for the first time it feels like this is a title wants to be on the platform. Impressive, immersive and it could be labelled with a wide variety of superlatives but the simple fact is this title is amazing and you should get it if you are looking for either something to keep your Vita switched on or perhaps even purchasing one for. It’s that good.

  • Kyle Wakeling

    Great review. I’m sure my impressions from the demo will hold up and I’ll be giving it a 9/10 right there with you. =D

  • HellRaiser

    Just pre-ordered this game, comes out in Australia in 2 days, I can not wait. Thank you for the review Smurphy, you just made me want it so much more!

    Dying here.. 🙁

  • I’ve been considering the title, but the demo showed my that I wouldn’t be playing this a lot.

  • Definitely getting this. Excellent review Paul….just one question? With so many spells, perks etc. is it ever overwhelming? Like Disgaea etc

  • Teras

    My pre-order unlocks tomorrow morning (GMT+2).
    I can’t wait!!!!

  • Teras

    And another thing.
    We need you guys on metacritic. Although I respect reviewer opinions and never base my purchasing decision on scores, there are some really bad trollers in there taking scores down with awful reviews that never go into detail about anything.
    You know who I’m talking about, Octagon, Hedge etc 😛

    • Eurogamer’s review was laughable. Quickly losing respect for them now. Pocket gamer are just as bad. I spoke to Paul about metacritic a while ago….I believe it’s a long process but we definitely want to be listed on there.

    • Metacritic is a long process which has set application points which we have unfortunately missed. We will be making sure we apply when the window opens next time.

  • Graphics are crap.

    • I didn’t think they were too bad from the demo, but they’re not great either. With presentation, I think he’s referring to the art and everything.

    • Handheld title. Graphics are great. IMO.

      • Anthony Brinklow

        Compare it to 3DS titles rather than home consoles

        • Compare it to Vita titles rather than 3DS titles.

      • I think the special effects and enemy design really help up the graphical fidelity. The rock solid and fast framerate and gameplay also make it feel polished to me. So many games come out with framerate hiccups these days. It’s easily my biggest annoyance. Well, that and polygon clipping!

  • “Perhaps for the first time it feels like this is a title wants to be on the platform.”

    Gravity Rush? Little Big Planet?

    • Gravity Rush really hasn’t grown on me in the (almost) year that it has been out. LBP is a great game but was another title in an established franchise.

      Remember this is just my opinion, other sites clearly disagree.

  • Dusean17

    *claps*

  • Buckybuckster

    Thanx for the great review and your overall opinions of a game that’s causing quite the buzz on the internet. I did a tour of reviews and scores that have been posted, and for the most part they have been positive. Although some reviewers have been somewhat biassed and honestly unfair in giving their judgements. No worries of Sir Murphy ever doing so. An excellent and honest assessment of the long awaited title.

    With that being said, I still have no idea if SS will end up in my Vita collection. My main issue with it is that it’s origins come from a genre I rarely frequent. I love PSO, but that’s mainly due to the fact that I’m a Phantasy Star fan.

    I will admit, all of the countless videos I’ve watched and now the reviews of fine folks such as our Murphy (which for some strange reason, I’ve knighted), have only served to enhance my desire to pick the game up. I know I’m late to the party, but I really need to DL the demo.

  • Anthony Brinklow

    Great review – hopefully this site will get recognised on Metacritic. A lot of the main sites are a joke. Gaming journalism is so, so poor on the whole with most reviews being affected by the authors personal feelings toward a title or system.

  • One of the best released demo’s of all time….Tks Team Soul Sacrifice just for putting it out there like that…will support soon, but I’ll be honest the art style of PSO is more intriguing for me and I’m more likely to get involved in that world. This one a bit too scary lol..

  • Polar__Bear

    I’d just like to point out that the character design is not amazing, and is in fact lacking. The narrative is not very poor, it is actually pretty interesting and intriguing. The “lip-sync issues” are because the game has been ported to English, this is not a valid flaw. Grinding is annoying is a personal opinion, and that of one who does not play or enjoy JRPGs. In addition, you didn’t mention the repetitive monsters and maps, which is the greatest flaw in the game.

    • In your opinion. The above review is MY opinion. Your thoughts not matching mine does not make either of us wrong. I personally don’t get bored of the game not find it repetetive, but I do state “The quests you undertake have very little variety”.

      The lip syncing is oviously because of the translation but is very noticable and needed mentioning.

      And I like the character designs, for what it is worth. It’s more levied at the boss appearances.

      • Polar__Bear

        Yes, of course it’s just my opinion. Every review is different. Sorry if I offended you to cause you to dislike the post. 🙂