Soul Sacrifice (Vita) Review

soulsacrifice
What we liked:
+ An incredibly unique experience
+ Very interesting story
+ Offering mechanic
What we didn't like:
- Occasionally frustrating AI
- Targeting system
Great
DEVELOPER: SCE Japan Studio   |   PUBLISHER: SCEA   |   RELEASE: 04/30/2013

Review
Cats, birds and talking books.

Soul Sacrifice is the timeless story eternally retold of a prisoner, locked up by an evil sorcerer, who finds a magical talking book (that cries collectable tears) which happens to contain the story of a sorcerer from the past. Reliving that sorcerer’s story through the book allows players to gain a measure of his power, with the ultimate goal of besting their captor and escaping confinement. Ok, so maybe it’s not a timeless story endlessly retold, but it certainly is an interesting one. It’s also one that Soul Sacrifice takes great care to ensure players get sucked into. With unique, engaging game play to go along with the narrative this is a sacrifice Vita owners will certainly be willing to make.

Soul Sacrifice begins with the imprisoned character finding Librom, the aforementioned talking book, and diving into the narrative of the first unnamed sorcerer who the journal originally belonged to. The story plays out in an incredibly engaging way while flipping through the pages of the journal to the hands of very strong narration. The storytelling method here really sells the story itself and is completely unlike anything I’ve played in that aspect. I’ve seen some people compare SS to games like Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online. While there are certainly some similarities (and major differences we’ll discuss further down the page) the emphasis on its dark and interesting story sets this game apart.

Shock the…whatever the heck that is.


All options play out, in or around Librom, from battling through his pages to consulting him between missions and wiping Lacrima as it weeps from his eye. That last part sounds gross, but Lacrima is used for a great number of things and its value can’t be overstated. Players will be glad to wipe away the tears. In between missions Librom will occasionally have something new to tell or an explanation for something just witnessed in his pages. For what is basically a menu system, he has a tremendous amount of character (although at times the cheesiness gets a little extreme) and this makes actions that would normally be mundane at least entertaining.

The game plays out through a series of individual missions that take place in segregated arenas. These areas fit the overall theme well, and are visually appealing, but there simply aren’t enough to keep even the most interesting ones from getting a bit old after a while. Once playersselect the mission they would like to tackle, they are taken to a screen which allows them to view pieces of lore regarding the enemies or location. This is one area where the game is certainly not lacking, and there is plenty to read and learn about each. I also had the option to set gear here, which is where Soul Sacrifice really begins to set itself apart.

Weapons and attacks are handled through equipping different pieces of loot called offerings. Things like broken axe edges, dirt from a grave, seeds and roots that would be treated as throwaway trash in other titles become the conduit from which the sorcerer’s power flows. Each of these offerings creates a different spell with a different elemental effect. That axe edge might become a powerful spiritual melee weapon when invoked. The dirt from a grave becomes a giant fist that explodes from the ground, knocking enemies for a loop. These items have a set number of charges that can easily be depleted by a novice and they are the only source of offensive firepower, so conserving shots and scouring the battlefield for spots to recharge became very important as I progressed through the story to face tougher and tougher enemies. Go to the well one too many times and items will break, requiring me to either discard them completely or spend that precious Lacrima to repair them.

This approach to loot and weaponry makes every single piece acquired feel special, especially early on when I was constantly gaining access to new items with untested and unfamiliar effects. Knowing that these can also be combined and boosted only increases the already ludicrous amount of depth. Like Monster Hunter, some pieces of loot can only be acquired through severing special parts of boss characters, which adds even another layer of strategy. The sorcerer will eventually gain access to additional gear like amulets and sigils. These effect different stats in different ways and will need to be balanced to match the sorcerer’s skill set.

Stop mocking me!


As you can imagine, with all these things to balance and all these potential weapons or spells, things can get a bit difficult quickly. Players need to make sure that they have a strict plan of attack when battling the various monsters they come across in their journey. Once the planning is done and the action begins players will be grateful, as having the right offerings equipped for the enemy type makes a huge difference. Each offering is assigned to a face button (with R functioning as a page switch) and locking onto enemies is performed with the L button. One of my only complaints with the game is the hit or miss nature of this lock-on and the game’s targeting system. Sometimes it is difficult to quickly switch between targets, which can cause issues when players are ganged up on.

The other interesting mechanic in play here is the save/sacrifice option after defeating an enemy. Lesser enemies will give extra XP towards increasing either overall health or magic power depending on whether I chose to purify the original animal or sacrifice it. When it comes to the archfiends (boss characters), this choice becomes even more consequential. These characters revert back to their original human forms, so a human life now hangs in the balance instead of that of a cat or bird. These also have some pretty significant implications in other areas of the game depending on the choices I made, but I won’t spoil those now.

Another unique addition to the combat options is the Black Rites feature. Attacking enemies will build up the sorcerer’s ability to use one of these incredibly powerful attacks, which was often enough to at least put a serious dent in any fiend that stood in my way. Of course, you wouldn’t expect a game with sacrifice in the title to let players unleash these without consequence, and each of these Rites requires its own. Powerful attacks like these don’t run on garden variety offerings, instead drawing their power from parts of the sorcerers own body. Depending on the part sacrificed I experienced different debilitating effects like drastic reductions in defense or impaired vision.

On just about every mission, players have at least one AI controlled partner. If players are planning on playing the game mostly solo, they will have to depend pretty heavily on these characters to help out. Unfortunately, they’re not carved out of the most dependable stone. I frequently ran into issues with them missing attacks, not defending against or dodging attacks and other potential problems. This ranges from merely inconvenient to infuriating depending on the battle.

You are the wind beneath my enormous wings.


Thankfully, the real meat of the experience comes on the multiplayer side. I could join up to three additional people and take on the Avalon contracts together to battle foes and collect offerings. This is where the strategy and intense resource management the game is built on really shines and I could tell it’s where a bulk of players will spend their time. Working together to complement each other’s attacks makes the already difficult archfiend battles even more intense.

Players looking for a unique grinding experience on Sony’s portable platform should look no further. Soul Sacrifice blends the best aspects of several titles together to create one completely unlike anything else on the market. Despite some issues with AI and targeting, interested parties will find tons of hours worth of content just dying to be explored, but if you can corral a couple friends along for the ride you’ll get the best out of it. Even if you’re only planning on playing solo though the game, it’s well worth the sacrifice.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Ryan Wombold

Wombat lives by the code that if you are playing a game from this year, you are doing it wrong. His backlog is the stuff of legend and he is currently enjoying Perfect Dark Zero, Skies of Arcadia and Pong.

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