Review: Surrender all your free time to Soul Sacrifice
Last week, we gave our initial impressions of Soul Sacrifice, the Monster Hunter-esque game for the PS Vita, and we were hopeful that the game might even warrant a Vita purchase if you've been holding off thus far. After putting in dozens of hours into Soul Sacrifice, I can, with full confidence, confirm that this is the case here.
Soul Sacrifice tells the story of a prisoner stuck in a cell made out of spikes and human bones, who's to be consumed by a sorcerer named Magusar. Among a pile of bones, however, he finds a talking book named Librom, with a cover made from flesh, complete with eyeballs and all. This book collects and recounts sorcerers' adventures, and the ultimate goal is that the reader gain enough experience and power by living through those memories to ultimately overpower Magusar and escape their fate.
Like the name suggests, Soul Sacrifice is all about choice and ultimate sacrifice. It's an experience that, unlike many other games that ask you to choose between two outcomes, doesn't present choices that are simply black and white, and I often found myself unable to quickly decide between the two.
The lore is probably one of the most intriguing parts of the game. Sorcerers live to protect humanity from monster abominations, which are formed from living things, like rats, cats, birds and even humans. The sorcerers must defeat these monsters to attain power, even though that means sacrificing the being within as well.
Of course, there are also those that defy the sorcerer's code and cleanse these creatures, thus saving the living beings inside, but that also means granting pardon to whatever evil they have committed in the past to have been turned into such things in the first place. The interesting twist is that sacrificing and absorbing the power of these monsters will eventually turn that sorcerer into a monster himself. It's a dark and chilling story that sits comfortably next to Dark Souls in both tone and atmosphere.
The balance between sacrificing and saving plays into the leveling mechanics of the game. By sacrificing monsters, you gain offensive power, dealing more damage and being able to use more offensive sigils. On the flipside, saving monsters and returning them to their regular state allows you to have more health and use health and defense-boosting sigils. You can't max out both, as the combined level cap is a 100, meaning you can either balance yourself by going 50/50 or focusing on one over another.
Comparisons to Monster Hunter are going to be fairly obvious here, considering the structure of the games is relatively the same. You accept various missions, each taking only a few minutes to complete, most of which require you to defeat a certain set of monsters or a boss. There is no overworld to explore here; each mission takes you to a small map where the action takes place.
However, the comparisons end there. Soul Sacrifice easily beats out Capcom's hunting games on almost every level, the best being combat. SS is all about quick, action-based combat that asks you to experiment with various combat items rather than picking one and sticking with it. And boy, are there a lot of weapons to play around with. You get various items like broken axes, shields, plant roots, etc. each time you complete a level. These things can then be equipped and taken into battle. By sacrificing them, a broken axe will spawn a big axe for you to swing around for a limited amount of time. Similarly, sacrificing a plant root or items of that nature will grant you health boosts or some type of defense.
Overusing these items in combat can result in them breaking though. This means that spamming the same attack is impossible, thus you're required to switch things around during battles. Thankfully, you can bring up to six different types of items with you into battle, though there are various spots around the map that replenish small bits of health to them if they're near their breaking point. Combining different items will create new, more potent ones, while fusing the same items together will usually buff them with either more attack damage or more uses.
Then there are actual body part and organ sacrifices, which result in massive, level-wide attacks, but also deal semi-permanent stat decreases. One of these early instances relies on releasing a giant fire spell, which in turn burns your body completely, cutting your defense in half. Using these will undoubtedly save you from a near-death situation, though the consequences are often quite dire. The effects can be reversed, but it's through a currency that's not infinite.
Lastly, the game grants you the ability to commit the act of ultimate sacrifice during tough battles. Your fallen companions can either be left dead, resurrected back to life or sacrificed for ultimate power. While it may sound like the choice here is easy, bringing back a companion will also eat away a chunk of your health bar. Conversely, sacrificing them will grant you immense power, which also comes with a price, and kills off your companion. Again, these things can be reversed, but the cost gets increasingly higher and the source of the currency isn't unlimited.
Occasionally, you'll be tasked with taking down a boss monster, one that is made up of a human that can be saved or sacrificed. Sacrificing or saving these will yield a much bigger bonus to your offense or defense, but it plays a much bigger role than that. The characters you save will then join your ranks, and you'll be able to utilize their expertise on the battlefield, as you can take up to two AI companions with you. These companions are separated into three categories: Balance, Dark and Divine. Hence, if you tend to sacrifice more than save, it would be smart to bring along a Dark companion, and vice versa, as doing the opposite of what that character prefers might result in them leaving your group.
When you're not cleansing the world of monsters, you'll be reading through Librom, the aforementioned talking book, which tells the dark and gloomy stories of various sorcerers. Librom himself is one of the best characters of the game, providing a few laughs through his rather dark humor. He's also the source of a precious liquid called Lacrima, which reverses effects that I mentioned before, like completely healing your body from severe burns, or reviving fallen companions.
The best thing about Soul Sacrifice is undoubtedly its multiplayer features. The AI is certainly competent enough to get you through most of it, but the appeal of taking another player or two along creates a dynamic you just can't get from an NPC. The act of saving and sacrificing becomes much more personal.
Visually, Soul Sacrifice might be the best looking game on the system. Characters and enemies are all highly detailed in a way that I haven't yet seen on the portable. The environments can get repetitive, but that comes with the territory of the genre.
Equally as impressive are the soundtrack and the voice work, with epic battle themes and choir pieces playing throughout, and Librom being especially entertaining to listen to.
Soul Sacrifice's one flaw, which I've discovered by replaying levels, is that you can change the outcome of saving and sacrificing, attaining both respective bonuses. For example, I chose to sacrifice the Jack-o'-Lantern boss, which granted me +20 XP to my offense while killing him off as a potential companion. I then replayed the level, with my bonus to offense still in place, but this time I chose to save him, which granted me +20 to defense. I repeated this proces a few times to level up a bit, but the true disappointment was that I could alter these fairly big and major decisions between life and death at will, negating the impact of these important, life-changing choices from the get go.
Even with that minor issue, it's hard to deny the appeal of Soul Sacrifice. It's certainly more approachable than similar games in this genre like Monster Hunter, Lords of Arcana and Ragnarok Odyssey. Going beyond being approachable, Soul Sacrifice is just a hell of a lot of fun to play. The combat is fast and exhilarating, and the sacrifice system is intriguing.
Vita owners, you have absolutely no excuse to not get this game. Future Vita owners, I present you with your first mandatory purchase.