Soul Sacrifice - Staff Review  

Sacrificed Potential
by Michael "Wheels" Apps

Soul Sacrifice
Less Than 20 Hours
+ Intriguing story and lore.
+ Fun fast paced battles.
+ Great audio/visual presentation.
- Disconnect between the story and gameplay.
- Lack of variety in enemies and spells.
- No real hook to keep multiplayer engaging.
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    Looking to breathe some life into the slow sales of the Vita, Keiji Inafune's Soul Sacrifice aims at filling the void left by Monster Hunter moving to Nintendo's portables. Not strictly a Monster Hunter clone, Soul Sacrifice tries to go its own way while still providing addicting combat against challenging monsters. Unfortunately, some of the ways that it deviates from the formula set by Capcom's series actually serve to harm the game and its lasting appeal. At least it does have a dark and interesting tale to tell despite these gameplay issues.

   Soul Sacrifice takes place in a dark fantasy world where sorcerers are constantly at battle with monsters, or rather, it takes place in the grim apocalypse of this world. The player takes the role of a prisoner of the mad sorcerer Magusar. After a fellow prisoner fails to fight the sorcerer with the help of a talking book, that tome falls into the hands of the player. This talking book serves as the interface for the game as well as a commentator as the player experiences the story through its pages. Within its pages is the story of a nameless sorcerer who served as Magusar's partner up until the world reached its current state. The story focuses primarily on the nameless sorcerer and Magusar and does a fantastic job of building their relationship. The two struggle with the life of hunting and sacrificing monsters and fellow sorcerers, as the sacrificed souls are absorbed into their arms, and their memories often seep into their own. This memory issue pervades much of the narrative, and provides many great twists and turns.

   Players can also experience several side adventures telling the tale of other sorcerers. These tales aren't quite as interesting as the main story, but still serve as an interesting diversion.The book also has a number of lore entries that help give depth to creatures and locations in the world. Many of these entries are even told as short stories which make them far more interesting to read. It will make players want to explore Soul Sacrifice's diverse world, which unfortunately they cannot do. The game is expertly localized all around with some great voice performances so players will find little reason not to dig into the game's dark tales.   

   The only real issue with the story is the way it can feel completely detached from the game's gameplay. Gameplay in Soul Sacrifice boils down to arena battles against either large numbers of small monsters, or one or two larger ones. The game does a great job providing lore for the monsters and locations, but apart from that it can feel very disconnected from the tale. Often times the battle for a story chapter will feature monsters or a location not even mentioned by the characters during the last sequence. Further confusing things, there will sometimes be fellow sorcerers to save or sacrifice in a battle which have no mention in the sequences before or after that battle. Since the story is told solely through story book style sequences and never in the engine used by battles, there's really nothing to even distinguish story missions from non-story missions except for the occasional story related dialog at the start of a battle. Despite the obvious attempt to distance itself from Monster Hunter, the game could have used some kind of home base to explore and talk to other sorcerers. The book interface is an interesting idea, but distances the player too much from the game world.
One of the first ... last
                                        enemies in the main story,
                                        highlighting the lack of enemy
                                        variety. One of the first...  and last enemies in the game, highlighting the lack of enemy variety.
   Thankfully, despite these issues the battles themselves can be quite engaging. The player creates a custom avatar to relive the events of the nameless sorcerer's life, and they can take a selection of six spells into combat. Instead of using a magic point system of some kind, each spell has a set number of uses. These charges can be refilled by sacrificing defeated enemies, or by using a few one off recharge points that appear in most areas. Even with these recharge options available, careful management and uses of spells is vital. The spells come in a variety of forms, such as swords and other melee weapons, mortar-like ranged spells, and defensive spells such as shields and armor. At first this variety seems extensive, but in fact many of the spells are just alternate versions with different elemental affinities.

   The plague of palette-swaps also extends to the monsters the player battles in the game. The number of different monster types is in fact relatively small, with monsters often being reused with increased attack and defense or swapped elemental affinity. At least the monsters that are available are quite engaging. Attack patterns are often aggressive and difficult to deal with, and discovering elemental weaknesses is not always obvious. Large monsters feature a number of cursed parts that can be attacked, which decreases the power of the monster when destroyed.

   When defeating monsters, players have the option to save or sacrifice them, which serves as Soul Sacrifice's leveling system. Sacrificing monsters refills spell charges in a battle as previously mentioned, but also adds experience toward leveling up the player's attack stat. Saving a monster restores some hit points and add experience towards leveling up the player's hit points and defense stat. This ensures that some balance of the two will be present, though there are incentives for increasing one a certain degree over the other.
Teamwork is essential in
                                        multiplayer. Teamwork is essential in multiplayer.

    Furthering the theme of sacrifice, players can equip one black rite that lets them sacrifice something, such as defense for a powerful attack. To restore this sacrificed element, players get a number of lacrima points for completing missions which can be used in this regard. These points can also be used to restore spells that are used up in a battle, though if players are careful not to overuse them they are restored between battles. Players can also choose to sacrifice or save fallen AI or multiplayer allies. Saving them simply brings them back to life while sacrificing them unleashes a powerful attack, but then that companion is dead for the duration of the battle, able to do nothing except wander around as a ghost and provide slight buffs to allies or debuffs to enemies. A dying player can give their indication as to whether they would like to be saved or not, but even AI companions are under no obligation to follow this request. Dark aligned AI commands will have no qualms about sacrificing a player early on in a battle regardless of his/her requests.

   Players can equip a number of different sigils to enhance attack and defense stats, some of which are enhanced by having a greater number of dark or divine levels. More sigils to equip can be unlocked by acquiring more materials from monsters by sacrificing or saving them. Unfortunately, these sigils never feel like they have much of a tangible impact on combat. This robs the game of a lot of its replayability because hunting for materials for new sigils never feels important. There's not much of a tangible reason to play the game's many non-story battles outside of getting some new spells and grinding a few levels. The battles can still provide plenty of entertainment, especially when played in multiplayer with friends, but it doesn't have the same lasting appeal as the Monster Hunter series whose appeal it tries to copy.

   Other than the previously mentioned lack of variety with monsters, there is little to complain about in terms of graphics. The arenas are rich with detail and background scenery, which help to emphasize the game's dark world. Enemy attacks and spells look great and show the power of this world's magic. Sounds match up effectively with these attacks, making each spell sound appropriate to both its type and its element. Music helps provide an epic feel to the game's battles, with a number of memorable sweeping scores to help add drama to battle. Soft orchestral scores are used during the more somber sequences, but these end up being forgettable and repetitive in sharp contrast to battle.  Overall, the audio/video package makes effective use of the Vita's power.

   Soul Sacrifice is a noble first effort from Inafune and company to fill the Monster Hunter void, but it can't quite match the addictive depth of that series. The combat is fun and challenging, but a lack of variety hurts it a great deal. The story is engrossing and paints a fascinating world, but often feels disconnected from the actual gameplay. The game doesn't provide much incentive to grind through lots of battles, but a sharp difficulty curve in single player necessitates just this to level up. This is a game of contradictions, about sacrificing and saving, but unfortunately this extends to the very core of the game itself. Every great element of the game is hampered in some way, as if the developers had to sacrifice some potential to make the game happen. Soul Sacrifice is a fine game, but it could have been brilliant.

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