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Soul Sacrifice
Graphics: 7.4
Gameplay: 8
Sound: 7.5
Control: 7.6
Replay Value: 8.3
Rating: 7.7
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCE Japan Studio/Comcept
Number Of Players: 1-4

Soul Sacrifice is aptly named. The implications of that title, from a literal standpoint, encompass darkness and feelings of tension and foreboding. Indeed, the game embraces freedom of choice and exploration, while continually providing the player with a highly immersive yet oddly oppressive atmosphere. With some really fantastic and unique artistry, a solid gameplay mechanic and an engaging environment, the newest big title for the PlayStation Vita has a lot going for it. Will you save or sacrifice?

If you’re looking for an original visual presentation with lots of style and charisma, you will appreciate the graphical palette. It’s dark but still very well designed; although I think the excellent enemy design overshadows the backgrounds, which aren’t as meticulously detailed. The special effects are pretty impressive, though, and the general world construction is great. And I don’t know about anyone else, but certain aspects of the graphical display remind me of Nier. Is it just me or is anyone else sensing that? A sort of understated, almost muted (i.e., not CGI-level quality) atmosphere that still sucks you in…?

Much like the gameplay, the sound has the tendency to seem somewhat repetitive. But that doesn’t mean the quality suffers. The score stands out as a definite highlight, as the carefully selected tracks infuse each quest with significant flavor and attitude. The audio effects are good, too, and the Vita easily handles the occasionally complex mix of music and effects. I am a big advocate of music and background effects that constantly enhance the experience, and Soul Sacrifice does a good job on all fronts. The voice performances are also better than anticipated; it’s hard not to grin at some of Librom’s sarcastic, snarky quips.

At the start of your harrowing journey, you’re imprisoned in a cage. Your future isn’t exactly bright, as you’re about to be sacrificed by the master sorcerer, Magusar. But thankfully, you’re granted an odd, fantastical ally: It’s the aforementioned Librom, a mysterious book that has emerged from the remains of a recent sacrifice victim. He ushers you into the past and you see the rise of Magusar first-hand. Essentially, Librom acts as the game’s main hub, which is a little difficult to get accustomed to. Those expecting an overworld of some kind will be disappointed and at first, I admittedly found it a little disconcerting. To some extent, anyway.

Reliving a sorcerer’s life isn’t all that complicated, as it turns out. You’re out to defeat your enemies and either sacrifice or save their souls. The expansive landscape includes a wide variety of locales, including freaky, dank caves and wide stretches of barren wasteland. As you might expect, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time questing, ala Monster Hunter. There are tons of missions and each quest has a set conditions that you must satisfy. Some want you to locate a special hidden treasure, while others are more aggressive and task you with taking down a particularly difficult foe. No matter what, though, you’ll probably be facing plenty of enemies, which will demand your attention.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at any point, you can undertake optional missions called Avalon Pact missions. But here’s where we come to one of my only major gripes: These Pact missions are just plain boring. They’re supposedly optional but the stiff difficulty of many campaign quests make the Avalon Pact missions necessary. It isn’t necessary to do all of them, but you’ll almost certainly have to do at least some of them. And because they’re so tedious and repetitive, especially during your first few hours of game time, you get a bad taste in your mouth almost immediately. In fact, I was starting to tire of playing because of these so-called “optional” endeavors. They were just wearing on me.

But thankfully, I kept playing and started to focus more on the surprisingly well-told and even emotional stories that accompany several of the missions. Plus, I started to delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of the gameplay itself, and I’m glad I did. There’s really a lot to consider and enjoy— you will embark on each mission with six chosen skills. These can be magic-based or combat-based (melee or ranged) and at first, it’s pretty straightforward because your options are minimal. But it doesn’t take long to earn new skills – called Offerings – and this is where the game starts to shine. Soon, you’ll be healing your party and even halting time!

Of course, these special abilities can’t be abused. You can only use them a set number of times and when they’re gone, they’re gone. You have to sacrifice enemies or take advantage of an environmental pool to replenish the lost Offerings. Otherwise, you could be in a whole heap of trouble. The key is to be strategic and plan ahead and of course, this appeals to my micromanaging, meticulous nature. Your plan of attack must be carefully considered; otherwise, you’ll suffer the consequences. And this fits in very well with the underlying theme in the game, which is that your decisions almost always have significant repercussions.

Saving or sacrificing isn’t quite as simple as you might think. You can choose to boost either your stamina or strength and of course, like everything else in this game, that requires a balanced approach. Sacrifices can restore a little of your Offerings, as mentioned above, while saving souls gives back a bit of health. This feeds into the overall depth of the game, but I do wish we could’ve had the full role-playing experience. What I mean is that we don’t really have equipment (a staple of the RPG genre); instead, we equip Sigils, each of which has two conditions attached to it. Still, more depth is found here, as the second condition must be unlocked…

The game moves well and the action is always entertaining. It can get very repetitive, though, and the developers didn’t do enough with some of the stories. On top of which, the repetition increases when you have to go through old missions just to grab stuff you missed. There’s quite simply too much backtracking and running around for the sake of getting stronger, and none of that feels especially inspired. However, I freely admit that this just isn’t my thing; some who really adore the gameplay might not find it quite as repetitive. Of course, that doesn’t stop some of the characters from being uninteresting and the stories from failing to deliver.

Soul Sacrifice is a game that rewards the patient and those who enjoy wide open worlds with lots to do. If you don’t mind putting those stories aside for the sake of more action, and you can tolerate the tediousness of some of the optional missions, you’re good to go. Once you’ve got a firm handle on things, the game really opens up and allows you to enjoy most every encounter. The best part is the choices you have to make, as they absolutely have an impact, and you will always be forced to think. A lot of games claim to do this but very few do it well enough to matter. Vita owners of a certain persuasion should definitely give Soul Sacrifice a try.

The Good: Large, well designed environment. Immersive and unique atmosphere. Control is solid. Action elements are nicely implemented and entertaining. Important decisions are the highlight. A few interesting side stories.

The Bad: Can be extremely repetitive. Too many plots are found lacking. Somewhat prohibitive and confusing at first. Minor glitches here and there.

The Ugly: “Oh great, another one of these types of quests…”

5/23/2013   Ben Dutka