Having spent the better part of the past year arguing with myself, as I explained in my preview
of Soul Sacrifice last week, I think that I managed to get my perspective in check prior to heading into the final version of the game. The game has had my attention from the start but I have always had this fear that the concept could go incredibly wrong. It is just so “out there” that I fear it will get lost in trying to shock people instead of living up to its potential. Sure, in the grand scheme of things it is likely going to garner the label as a mature Monster Hunter clone, but now that I can call myself a veteran of both series, I propose that we re-label Monster Hunter as less-violent Soul Sacrifice clone. Make no mistake: this is a very strange game. It’s odd, violent, and downright wacky at times (for lack of a better term). As strange as that sounds, all of those things work in its favor at creating an addicting and engulfing experience that will have you burning away hours on the clock without realizing it.
You play a nameless & faceless individual, or at least begin as one, stuck in what appears to be something akin to purgatory. Your end is near, that much you know, but how and when is up to you. After witnessing the horrific death of another poor soul you will soon meet a devilish book by the name of Librom. Yes, you meet a living, breathing book who is as intriguing as it is annoying. Your fate will soon be decided by an mysterious sorcerer known as Magusar and Librom holds the key to his mysterious path. The chances of surviving what is coming to you are very slim, but what chances there are lie within the pages of this twisted book.
Librom challenges you to study his pages and learn everything that you can about the mad sorcerer Magusar for the slight glimmer of hope that you can live through the experience. With the knowledge of his life comes power, and if you are lucky, that power may be enough to save your soul. It isn’t a pretty trip though as you will do more than just “read” the tales within the compendium of Magusar’s life, but you will partake in them. You will relive his story and the journeys surrounding his life and will soon discover that you aren’t just learning about him, but rewriting his history as your own.
As I said, it is really off the wall, but it works better than I could have ever hoped. It is really hard to explain more about the story without giving away too much and ruining it, which I fear I have already done in some senses. The true joy however is found in the journey to discovering the truth within the pages and that is presented in a manner similar to a combination of two Capcom classics: Monster Hunter (MH) and Devil May Cry (DMC). The bulk of your time will be spent partaking in missions that make up the various chapters of the sorcerer’s life. While a majority of them consists of battles, there are a few gathering quests given as well, but those are very brief and always lead up to a bigger battle mission as a result. The focus here is action, which is something that gives it an edge up on Monster Hunter in my opinion. this is where I draw the parallels to DMC; you battles are fast paced and sometimes over the top. The more adept you become to fighting, the better you will fare and the more you will be rewarded.
The concept of sacrificing is used heavily throughout the game. All of the power that lies in your sorcerer’s hands comes from taking the life of other objects and / or beings. Nothing comes without paying a price. Items are sacrificed to transform them into weapons and lives are sacrificed in order to transform them into power. You can only use an item so many times in a battle before it disappears. For example, perhaps you have harvested a certain type of tree root that gives you the ability to shoot a fireball. You can only summon that ability at the expense of the item’s “life" so many times before it disappears permanently.
There are ways around this. As long as you don’t completely destroy an item on a mission, its full life force will be restored upon completion of the quest. However, this doesn’t help you when you are two minutes into battling a giant cyclops and your favorite ability is on the verge of wasting away and you have barely put a chip into his armor. You can make other offerings to the “forces that be” to restore life into your items such as sacrificing enemy lives or finding mystic areas on the map that can grant new life to things (and people). Most of it comes from sacrificing the monsters you defeat though, which encourages you to battle your way through the hordes of creatures at an incredible pacing. Their death is the key to your survival. Lives can be saved too, for the sake of extending your own life (replenishing your health), but that also comes at the expense of a bit of power. Everything is give and take, and you must be mindful of that every step of the way, or at least you’re supposed to be. This is the one aspect of the game that I take the most issue with.
While the idea of choosing to sacrifice or save your enemies is a novel concept, you aren’t really given much of a choice most of the time story-wise. You can do it either way you to choose in order to influence the development of your character’s power, but the storyline itself requires you to do one or the other at times in order to progress things along. Add that to the fact that you are given a way to circumvent the residual effects most of the time using the in-game currency known as Lacrima and you find the concept defeating its own purpose. It is an odd contradiction of the game’s foundation which sends mixed messages to the player. While this doesn’t ruin the experience, it does have me questioning why there is any need to save anyone outside of the required missions.
I hope that you didn’t read into that complaint or as a severe criticism of the game. While it is meant to question the creative direction of the story, it in no manner impacts the incredible gameplay experience that accompanies the game. While it contradicts itself in terms of sacrificing weapons, it nails the concept when it comes to dealing with the lives of your character and your companions. The same save / sacrifice option exists when a member of your party is taken down on the field. Sure, you can save them and grant them a health bonus to get them back into the mix, but where is the fun in that? As I said, true power is found in sacrificing and doing to to a player upon their death will grant you immense power for a period of time. In addition to launching an incredible attack on all enemies on the screen, the now-dead player will gain the ability to roam around the battlefield as a spirit and influence the battle from the great beyond. When in Spirit form, players can tap on both the enemies and their compatriots using the Vita's touch screen and either lower the defenses or raise the attack accordingly. It is a great concept that not only proves that death isn't the end of the game, but it also keeps people involved every step of the way. Players can even earn special rewards after a battle for allowing their selves to be sacrificed.
There is a heavy, repetitive nature to the experience. When you combine that with the addicting gameplay it really transcends itself into an original experience that steps out of the MH shadow. This is a result of both the expanded lore of the world within the game and the bevy of content scattered throughout. There is so much to do in this world that it can be overwhelming, however it is given to you with incredible pacing that keeps you coming back for more, hour after hour after hour. Just when things start to feel “old”, something new gets thrown your way, even if it isn’t always obvious. The game jumps right into the combat which will hook you from the start. I can’t tell you how many times I played through the initial mission both for the fun of fighting and garnering every little bit of power I could to feed my character’s abilities. The game wants you to do this and you are rewarded for doing it too with additional items and power / experience. It isn’t until you begin flipping through Librom’s pages, which you can do at will, that you will discover that your various accomplishments have opened up new sections of the lore or opened up new options for your game. This can be a new class of weapon, the introduction of weapon fusion, entirely new chapters of his life, or even new customization options for your character.
Things start out very differently then they will end up. Your first few battles will consist of nothing more than you slashing and dodging your way around hordes of enemies. A few hours later you’ll be launching insane magic attacks from a distance, setting traps for the monsters in your way, summoning creatures to fight on your side, and even constructing parties of both AI controlled- and human-controlled players to accompany you on your adventure (online). This is the joy of the experience. You can find things, or sections, that will hook you on their set of missions alone. They alone will occupy you for hours on end and once they have been beat for the umpteenth time, you will realize that you have simply opened up more for you to explore elsewhere.
It is important to note that Soul Sacrifice has a decent learning curve which I fear may turn some gamers off before they have a chance to get hooked. This is a deep, deep experience with a ton to see and learn; unfortunately, it is up to you to seek it all out as it won’t be laid out and fed to you like other games do. Personally, I felt this fit right into the game’s concept and presentation as you are encouraged to explore the world within Librom but I know that other gamers may not appreciate it as I have. It isn’t anywhere near as complicated as MH, but you will definitely have to put in your time replaying a mission or two before things begin to click. I love that fact, but you may not, so be warned.
There is no doubt in my mind that Soul Sacrifice is an epic adventure for the Vita. The only question is whether or not you are willing to seek out that adventure for yourself. As I said earlier, the game doesn’t hand-feed you the experience, it is up to you to find it for yourself. That is the game’s biggest downfall; it leaves too much up to the player and some might not put in the effort necessary to reap the rewards. There is a ton of content here in the form of the various chapters and adventures of the chronicle as well as all of the weapons and powers. The game embraces its presentation style in terms of leaving it up to you to discover it within Librom’s pages so you will get what you put into this world. For me that happens to be an incredibly rewarding experience that even after 30+ hours shows no sign of slowing down. I want to experience it over and over and you likely will too. This is definitely an experience worth sacrificing your time and money towards