Conceived by the mind of Keiji Inafune, who created Mega Man, Soul Sacrifice is a new title that's exclusive to the PlayStation Vita. It looks to draw a new crowd to the console, those who enjoy arena fighting in the realm of the action RPG. Some might see this as a risky venture for a new IP, but with the backing of Sony, Inafune has shown that this is exactly what their handheld needs to compete.
Trapped in a cage, an unknown prisoner is doomed to have the life drained from their body by an evil sorcerer known as Magusar. The only chance for survival is a talking book named Librom who offers the experience of the stories told within his pages. Stories that follow many great sorcerers and their battles with both monsters and fellow sorcerers. In experiencing these battles, the reader would gain the abilities and powers of the writer, allowing him to escape his fate.
While the protagonist's story is not deep in any way, the true story and development is in the pages of Librom. These stories tell the lives of many great sorcerers who dealt with the decaying world around them. The pages talk of a world where sorcerers are enlisted by an organization called Avalon to kill monsters who are possessed creatures and humans. And as you go through the story, you will start to learn more about this world.
Most of the pages are voiced dialog only, however some feature wonderfully crafted visions of the events in play. At times the story seems to drag on with deep descriptions, but the overall arcs deal with some interesting and twisted events. It was difficult to foresee how such a minimalistic approach to storytelling could pay off, but this, combined with some of the in-game events, do draw upon emotions in a pertinent way.
When it comes to gameplay, Soul Sacrifice manages to set itself apart from the crowd of monster slaying titles. While it does have a mission by mission setup, co-op, and long boss fights; this is where the similarities end. Soul Sacrifice has so much more going for it that really shake things up. However, it also features quite the learning curve.
Your player can be equipped 2 sets of 3 abilities called Offerings. Offerings can do anything from summon a sword, shield, companion, heal, etc. Offerings have a limited amount of charges based on how well you have boosted it before combat. However, charges can be restored in combat by finding offerings on the field, or by sacrificing enemies.
Sacrifice enemies you ask? Yes, Soul Sacrifice features a "Save or Sacrifice" system. When you beat down an enemy, you can either save them or sacrifice them. Saving can cause humanoids to join you in later battles and also helps to restore some of your health. Sacrificing on the other hand kills the target and restores some of your Offering charges.
Don't go crazy on one or the other too soon though. You have an experience bar for both Life and Magic. Saving grants Life experience while Sacrificing gives Magic experience. Leveling one or the other increases health or magic damage respectively. But you're limited to only 100 total levels, so deciding your strength and weakness is a must. The type of weighting you apply here will also determine your statistics and how the different boosts will be triggered on your arm.Many of the enemies deploy different methods of attacks and manoeuvres that keep the game fresh and interesting. Always keeping on your toes is the key to survival as you'll often have to dodge, run, or get into specific positions to survive and deal the most damage. You may also find yourself having to deploy what's called the "Black Rites". These are very powerful, game changing abilities that come at a great deal of cost - literally.
Aside from the main storyline, Soul Sacrifice features an array of side missions. These missions can be either completed solo with up to 2 AI controlled companions, or online with up to 3 other players. Upon entering a room, the leader can choose what mission and begin play. Communication is done through quick press captions or players can join together in Vita Party Chat for easier communication. Multiplayer can be done via either Ad-Hoc or Online. Either way, the stability of connection is solid with little issues if any. Even if you're disconnected you only lose your teammate but luckily you can continue finishing your objective.
Similarly to the Save/Sacrifice system with enemies, a neat feature in co-op is the ability to do the same to other players. If a player falls in battle, other players will be given the option of Sacrificing or Saving them. Saving the player costs a great deal of health, while Sacrificing causes the sacrificed to unleash a devastating final attack before dying. Even dead, the player can still assist by providing buffs. It's an interesting mechanic that keeps you engaged rather than sitting around waiting for a long fight to end.
Visually, Soul Sacrifice manages to produce some pretty strong environments. Very unique settings often provide for some insight to the seemingly decaying and yet magic filled world. The enemies are grotesque and well designed, however their models are a bit overused with pallet swaps. Despite this, you might be surprised to see how complex and nicely designed both enemies and player animations were. Each spell and enemy phase are recognizable to the point that it makes the gameplay feel solid. In the end, Soul Sacrifice is a visually well designed game.
The musical scores in Soul Sacrifice are amazing. Composed by legendary musician Yasunori Mitsuda, it fits so well with the narrative being told and the setting in which you're being thrown into. The beautiful gothic vocals and instrumental scores are complimented by voice work that's provided in both English and Japanese. The storytelling with the eerie voice layering makes the story told even more dark and twisted. The only issue here comes with the voicing in combat - the phrases can get very repetitive. Every time an ally is struck, they often say 1 of 2 phrases. And that's not an exaggeration, it's every time they are struck.
Soul Sacrifice is a very deep game with plenty to do. Which is it's best and possibly worst aspect when it comes to replayability. If you're looking for tons of customization and character building, there's tons to do. There's a vast assortment of abilities that can be fused and boosted to perfection. You can build up companions to your liking. Then there's endless of hours of online play with friends. However this can only go so far, as missions may become repetitive as the assortment of models become too common.
Soul Sacrifice manages to break away from the mould of mission based beast hunting titles and successfully carve a name for itself. It's a game with deep strategic gameplay that makes you plan, build, and master what abilities you can get your hands on. This is complimented by a strong online mode that's great to play with friends. While palette swapping monsters and reused zones are a disappointment, the overall obvious effort in design makes up for it. While it's not for everyone (as with any mission based game), for those looking for a deep experience on the Vita, check it out. It may be a stretch to classify Soul Sacrifice as a system seller, but if you have a Vita or getting one, you may want to look into it.
|Great gameplay and controls.|
|Unique and interesting story.|
|Reused enemy models.|
|Much more fun when playing with others.|