You wake up to the sounds of someone’s bloodcurdling screams. The first thing you notice is that it’s dark; nighttime has fallen. The second thing is that you’re held in a cage made out of what appears to be large pieces of bone. Scattered remains and debris litter the dirty, bloodstained floor, a grim sign of things to come.
You realize you are a captive, and someone or something, is holding you prisoner.
Developed by Marvelous AQL and SCE Japan / Published by SCE
Available on the PS Vita
*Review copy provided by Sony
The story in Soul Sacrifice is well done, weaving a world full of mystery, wonder and despair. The idea of having cursed sorcerers using their gift to absorb or save evil (?) creatures is a fantastic one, and the backdrop of a society that promotes the killing of at many times confused individuals is an excellent way to tease players. Characters are developed and well rounded, so it’s easy to grow fond of or dislike many of them. Constant twists and turns also make the game feel like a page-turner, frequently causing me to go for “one more mission.” Top-notch visuals and voice acting also aid in creating a fantasy world that’s very rich and rewarding.
Gameplay is very similar to games like Monster Hunter. Players create an in-game avatar, and than are tasked with selecting missions inside Librom’s pages. Each mission plays out like a chapter of the book, featuring a self-contained story narrated by a mysterious voice who also happens to be the writer. Once a mission is selected, then players are warped into an arena, and must hunt down a number of objects or creatures, both big and small.
Prior to battle, players have a chance to arm their characters with six magic spells, which will be used to destroy their foes. Some are ranged weapons, like magic arrows that channel the elements and large boulders you can fire like mortars, to ranged weapons, like swords and axes made out of stone or elements, transformations where you channel creatures abilities, and more. There are also defensive spells that grant you armor, shields and bonuses to your movement and dodge capabilities, turning your avatar into a god for minutes at a time.
Using spells is what brings forward the “Sacrifice” mechanic into play. By casting a spell from your right arm, you slowly sap away at the spells energy after each use. Use the spell too much, and you risk the chance of destroying it for good.
To replenish the number of uses or your overall health, players must choose to either save or sacrifice their foes. Saving a creature replenishes some of your health, and sacrificing it replenishes some of your spells. This mechanic allows for some pretty exhilarating gameplay as players have to be quick on their feet and decide what is of more importance at any given situation. Saving/Sacrificing also serves an additional function, as these to add points to the Divine/Dark parts of your arm, granting permanent boosts to your overall health and/or attack.
Then there are Blood Rites, which grant the user a huge boost to their stats and/or abilities in exchange for increased weaknesses in other areas. These rites are really emergency-type spells that are single use in a mission, and while they can seriously debuff your character, they are really enjoyable. An example would be the first blood rite you gain, which allows the caster to sacrifice his skin to increase their attack damage but halving their defense. The risk/reward is very high, but it’s also thrilling to put so much on the line.
Defeating enemies and completing missions will grant players access to new spells, depending on how well they’ve preformed. These can then be combined to create stronger versions of them or can be used to create entirely new spells, provided you have the component spells. The large catalog of spells you can acquire and create adds depth to Soul Sacrifice’s already rich combat system.
Players can get new companions to join them on missions if they choose to save certain boss creatures or complete companion-specific missions. These companions can bring different personalities (depending on their arm type) and will grow closer or farther away depending on actions you take in battle.
Players can also gain new sigils and blood rites, which they can also equip. Sigils are signs that can be placed on the summoner’s arm, and usually grant bonuses to stats. Some grant bonuses to armor or health, others to fire-based spells or defenses. Occasionally some come with negative effects, like debuffs, or others have special bonuses depending on if your character is more divine or dark oriented.
Finally, there are costumes that players can acquire, allowing them to keep their in-game avatars looking the part.
The main campaign of the game is very enjoyable, as getting to the bottom of the mystery of who’s the mysterious author and what his relationship to baddie Magusar is pretty entertaining. While the main missions really boil down to rinse-and-repeat gameplay of defeating a boss character over and over, and grinding is somewhat a necessity, it still manages to be an entertaining experience.
Multiplayer, however, is where the game is really at.
In multiplayer, a team of up to four players can take on the game’s side missions, which range from the mundane to pretty difficult. Gameplay remains largely the same as the main game, expect for one major difference: players can sacrifice each other.
This leads to some really interesting game scenarios, as players on the verge of defeat can beg for their lives or can order someone to sacrifice them. Saving a life can add another player to the offensive team, but sacrificing can unleash a powerful attack on the foe and will allow the now dead player to buff players by using the touch screen. This adds a strategic and unique element that’s never really been seen in a game like this before and really makes the online experience that much more exciting, and occasionally nerve-wracking.
Despite being nearly perfect (in my book), the game does have a couple of glaring flaws. The most obvious, in my opinion, is that the partner A.I. is horrendous. Partners are pretty capable of defending themselves with sword and spell, but they blindly rush into danger, frequently dying in the process. There has been many a time when I’ve lost a mission because my partner kept dying over and over again, and I have to keep sacrificing half of my health to revive him. It’s not very fun when you have to play the role of the babysitter, and that is one of the reasons I prefer multiplayer to single-player.
Another issue is that the game is pretty repetitive. Locations are varied and are fantastic eye-candy, but the mission is generally the same: Kill X foes, or collect X items. The item missions are really unnecessary and come off as last-second additions to the game, defeating the whole purpose of carrying spells to being with.
When it comes down to it, Soul Sacrifice is a great game, full of fun combat, loads of replay value, and some of the best multiplayer I’ve seen in a handheld console. While it does have a couple of issues here and there, like idiotic A.I. and repetitive missions, it’s a game that’ll keep players coming back for more and more, and then some.