I imagine that games such as Soul Sacrifice are what Sony had in mind when first showing off the Vita – big, sprawling titles that wouldn’t really be out of place on the PS3. With the Monster Hunter franchise not looking likely on Vita any time soon, can Soul Sacrifice jump in and save the day? Oh yes!
You start the game with your character stuck in a cell, having witnessed another prisoner being brutally murdered by your captor, and extremely powerful sorcerer, Magusar. It’s only a matter of time before he comes back for you, and things look pretty hopeless.
Luckily, in your cell you come across a book. Not just any old book though, this one can talk and has a name – Librom. By reading Librom your character can relive quests from sorcerers past, gaining their powers with the overall goal of breaking free and facing Magusar.
I’m a big fan of the way the story is split up in Soul Sacrifice. Initially you’re only given part of a story arc, flicking the Vita’s screen like the pages of a book. At the end of each chapter comes a playable quest, and upon beating this you are given access to further pages of the story that had been blanked out up until then. Rather than just text, each page is narrated as well as having dynamic backgrounds. It’s very well done.
In terms of gameplay, this is where you’ll either love or hate Soul Sacrifice. When broken down to its most basic, each level has you roam about in a third person view for a few minutes hunting down enemy creatures to kill. Sounds easy, no? Well, the game gets incredibly deep. For starters you can customise your character’s look/voice, with more options unlocking as you progress.
You can also manage what spells you bring into battle, although this is limited to six at a time. This leads to a fair bit of micro-managing as you try and pick the most balanced set of spells possible, to allow you to react to unforeseen circumstances. To add to this, each spell can only be cast a certain number of times before wearing out (this varies by spell). Once gone you can renew a spell, however this costs precious ‘Lacrima’ – a substance that isn’t readily available.
Whilst problematic, this situation is alleviated somewhat by the placing of certain areas throughout each level that allow you to renew a portion of a spell’s use, giving it a little more longevity. As well as that, you can collect multiple types of the same spell to boost it, giving you additional spell casts. You can also fuse different spells together, creating something totally different. Let’s just say those who like to tinker won’t be disappointed.
However, things don’t stop there, as you can also unlock the option to carve several sigils to your right arm. You earn these at various points, and each one will provide a different stat such as boosting your base health and strengthening various types of magic.
Then we come to Black Rites. When very low on health an option will flash up on the screen asking you if you wish to use a Black Rite (assuming you equipped one), however each one comes with a cost. For example, using Infernus will surround your opponent in fire and cause massive damage. By doing this though, your defence will drop by 50% and will remain that way until you undo the Black Rite by using Lacrima.
The kicker? Well, the amount of Lacrima needed increases a fair bit after every Black Rite used. It really is a gamble because whilst it may get you out of a tight spot, you’ll certainly pay the price if you can’t afford to undo it. It’s a clever idea and really does produce some tense moments as your finger hovers on the button to activate a Black Rite!
Initially this is all quite a lot to get to grips with. Each spell has its own attack animation, which has to be learnt in order for you to know when the best moment is to unleash the attack. For example, when conjuring the Swordsman Icebrand there’s an initial animation where the sword appears and extends to full size. This takes a couple of seconds, so ideally you need to be out of reach of the enemy when this happens. On the flip-side the Firetree Root sends out an almost instantaneous blast of fire.
You’ll also need to keep track of your ‘Mind’s Eye’. You can enter this mode at any time, and it highlights an enemy weak point, as well as outlining any collectibles that are in the area. You’ll also rack up points during each level for achievements such as attacking first, and countering an enemy attack.
At the end of each level you’re graded on your performance; there’s nothing like being called a Third Rate Sorcerer to really get the blood boiling! Soul Sacrifice is definitely one for those who want to sink hours into really getting to know a game.
On the battlefield the controls are mostly positive. The left stick is used to control your character, whilst the right is used to move the camera. Flicking between spells is incredibly easy as they are hot-keyed to the Vita’s face buttons. I did find that sometimes the camera felt a bit sluggish – especially when dealing with the faster or flying enemies.
So where does the name Soul Sacrifice come from? Well, upon defeating an enemy you are given a choice to either save them or sacrifice them. Saving them will boost your health and eventually level up your health bar. Sacrificing them will boost your magic. How you level up is down to you. I have tried to split health and magic evenly, however I’m now at a point where I’m struggling to defeat a boss creature as my attacks aren’t hitting hard enough.
Speaking of creatures, they are a mixed bunch. The generic grunts can be a little bit boring, and you face them perhaps too many times. The boss battles are great though, and provide a stiff challenge as you tear around the environment desperately trying to manage health, magic levels and attacks. One thing I will say is that I wish the boss creatures had health bars.
Yes, visually they change the more damage they take, but there have been times where I’ve died after a gruelling battle and I’d liked to have known if I was anywhere near defeating the enemy, or whether I was just totally underpowered and shouldn’t attempt the fight again for a while.
Certain quests will also see you team up with an ally or two. I’m not overly sold on the AI of your partners, as whilst they often seemed competent enough, they would also do some incredibly frustrating, quest failing things. Or simply plough right through you to get to the enemy.
The interesting thing with the allies though, is that when their health gets too low you can either revive them or sacrifice them. Sacrificing them will immediately close off their story branches and the only way to open them up again is to pay the relevant price and have them revived.
Graphically Soul Sacrifice manages to both impress and underwhelm in equal measure. The character models look great, but the environments are on the bland side and get repeated often. Saying that, you’ll often be too busy to notice anything but the multiple fanged beast of horror trying to relieve you of your head. And organs. I’m also rather fond of the audio. The music captures the mood of the game perfectly, and the voice of the narrator is brilliant.
So, why no review score? Well, there are two reasons. Firstly – the game is massive. There is so much content that even after 14 hours of play I’ve not seen enough to start dishing out scores. Can I recommend it? Absolutely. So far it’s one of my favourite Vita games, and the length of each mission makes it perfect for portable gaming.
Secondly – I’ve not managed to connect to the online part of the game. This is a co-op section that will allow you to take on quests with a partner. There’s also ad-hoc play and a marketplace where you can leave and receive gifts via Near. This wasn’t available either at the time of writing this review.
Soul Sacrifice really is a brilliant game. Those not bothered about online will be pleased to hear about the game’s strong single player campaign and, unless something really bad happens, I’m confident the online part will be an absolute blast. Highly recommended.