Soma Bringer - Staff Retroview  

The Soma It Brang to Us
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
40-60 Hours
+ Fast, enjoyable combat
+ Meaningful character skills
+ Varied, interesting locations & enemies
- A whole lotta plot
- Constant inventory shuffling
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   Even during the great rush of DS localizations in the late 2000s, a few RPGs slipped through the cracks to stay stranded in Japan. Some of them are best forgotten, such as the unpleasant Archaic Sealed Heat. Soma Bringer, on the other hand, would have found quite a few fans with its interesting applications of action RPG mechanics. Monolith Soft turned out a compelling game that offers plenty of gripping combat, making it a worthwhile experience for anyone with interest.

   Soma Bringer begins by having the player choose a class of character, and this choice matters quite a bit. Large quantities of equipment cannot be used save by select classes, and the currently equipped weapon determines which skills are applicable in battle. All battle skills can technically be developed no matter what class the player has chosen, but the majority are ineffectual unless a character able to make the most of them is present. The skills themselves are improved upon slowly but steadily as points are gained with each level up, and making use of every battle ability offered will take an enormous amount of grinding. These aspects of the game make the initial and subsequent choices regarding character development quite important and rewarding.

   When exploring the environments and slaying their many dangerous denizens, players will find numerous treasure chests with equipment to acquire. The huge quantities of booty thus discovered will quickly overwhelm the relatively meager carrying capacity of the player, but simply pressing the X button will switch items into a larger bag that cannot be directly accessed. Having to do this frequently is rather annoying, particularly when most of the equipment discovered isn't worth using, but it beats just throwing things away instead of pooling them for sale.

   The combat at the center of Soma Bringer looks superficially similar to myriad other action RPGs, but the details make clear how distinct its application is. Monolith Soft clearly intended for the game to have a multiplayer focus, since two other combatants will accompany the player when experiencing things solo. They can't be controlled and their damage output won't keep pace with the player's, but as a means of dividing enemy attention and inflicting additional pain upon the opposition they're invaluable.

   Soma Bringer does away with pausing the game, save by means of putting the DS into sleep mode. Instead the player selects four items that are mapped to the face buttons, and which can then be used without entering the menu. Entering the menu to arrange this is best done when the enemy is not close, or else the screen will flash with an alert message indicating an attack. All items come with a wait time before another can be applied, meaning that it is very possible to temporarily run out of means to restore HP. This is an excellent means of keeping the player's attention. The four face buttons of the DS also have direct combat actions mapped to them, and these are switched to the items with a tap of the L button. Without a visit to the menu for reorganization the four mapped attacks are the only means of striking enemies, but considering the time it takes to develop these offensive operations, keeping the focus on only a few is a good thing.

A graphic reenactment of what caused an emergency doctor visit. A graphic reenactment of what caused an emergency doctor visit.

   The general flow of events finds the player marching through very large dungeons with occasional warp spots to cut travel time down. The environments of Soma Bringer do a superb job of staying interesting, and the six main areas each have at least one change of scenery to keep the exploration from growing stale. The enemies in evidence also do a fine job of varying their appearances and patterns: some regular enemies can be beaten with one strong attack while others require quite a bit of abuse before they go down. Optional bosses will also be encountered while progressing, and they definitely demand the player's full attention to defeat.

   Getting killed while fighting these enemies is quite likely given how fast and hard they can hit. Death is only a minor inconvenience though, as it prompts the player to be booted back to the closest town. Every time the player is slain the game drops a headstone at the spot of death which contains a portion of the experience necessary to gain a level. Some of this experience is lost every time the player is beaten, but as it is impossible to actually go down a level the penalty is somewhat limited — quite a fortunate mechanic considering how easy it can be to die. Enemy life meters do not replenish until the player moves to another area, making it possible with persistence to triumph over the most powerful adversaries to be found.

   Soma Bringer is a fairly easy import to anyone who knows just a little bit of Japanese. Equipping and using items is easy, and the game as a whole is free of language-intensive puzzles. The areas are not simple to navigate, but neither do they demand the ability to read signs in order to progress.

   The plot is the one area where Japanese knowledge will be necessary, and the inability to skip cutscenes makes them something of a slog for someone who does not understand what is occurring. The story that comes through the language barrier involves a team of good-hearted characters encountering a magical girl named Idea whose mysterious powers are in demand by bad people to unlock an ancient evil. There are further details, but the story is not the reason to play Soma Bringer.

The characters have a magic bag that apparently holds far more than their pockets can accommodate. The characters have a magic bag that apparently holds far more than their pockets can accommodate.

   Yasunori Mitsuda gets exclusive credit in the game's personnel for its music, and his compositions go a long way toward making the dungeon explorations engrossing. Atmospheric and captivating, the music also changes often enough to remove any possibility of becoming overly familiar. Soma Bringer is another of the games which makes the erroneous assumption that an annoying alarm sound needs to air whenever the player is low on health, but otherwise its audio is a sumptuous treat.

   The visuals suffer a bit from the DS's blocky 3D graphics, but are never less than acceptable. Inanimate objects also display some very eye-catching visuals that do not use polygons. Monolith Soft made a definite effort to vary the images throughout the game, so that landscapes and enemies do not become dull through repetition.

   Industrious people on the Internet have made it possible to play Soma Bringer in English, but this game's many assets are easy to enjoy without following its story at all. Monolith Soft turned out an addictive title, and anyone with an affinity for action RPGs will have a very good time with it. An official localization would have made it much more accessible, but just because Nintendo didn't let that happen is no reason not to take advantage of DS games being region-free by partaking of a definite gem.

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