There comes a time in the life of every video game system when a game comes out that perfectly reflects the system, it’s capabilities, and the players who use it. For the PlayStation Vita that title has yet to completely surface.
In the meantime, there have been some incredible games released. Excellent ports of Tecmo-Koei franchises (Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive), an inspired Assassin’s Creed title from Ubisoft, and even great first party games, like the launch-window Uncharted: Golden Abyss and the more recent Gravity Rush. PS Vita owners have been waiting for the next great IP to hit their beloved handheld and that time has finally come.
Soul Sacrifice, by Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA), is not only one of the best games for the PS Vita, it’s one of the best games on the market today. Soul Sacrifice takes the hint of other formulas in other games and then dramatically warps it into a twisted tale of sorcerers and monsters, redemption and sacrifice.
The story of Soul Sacrifice begins with an imprisoned slave (the player, of course), watching his fellow prisoners be slaughtered for fun by a powerful sorcerer named Magusar. The last slave to be taken and killed left a mysterious book behind that happens to talk, is bound of human flesh, and even has a demonic face on its cover; standard fare for this genre. This forbidden book is called Librom, and within its pages contains the story of Magusar’s rise to power and also, the key to his defeat. The prisoner, whose attributes are created from scratch, befriends the book (just go with it) and then has to read and relive the stories and chapters of Magusar’s life to understand and ultimately destroy his captor.
Soul Sacrifice’s story mode is broken down into five events in Magusar’s life, each telling the tale of how he became corrupted while also giving the game’s world some background. Each event has between four-to-six chapters for a total of 26 missions. Some missions are simple “hunt and kill X number of goblins,” and some require a killing of a much larger monster.
These abominations are hunted by sorcerers tasked with this important task in such a bizarre world. Each sorcerer has a limited number of spell types called offerings that they can take on a mission (six, mapped to face buttons), and each offering has a finite number of uses before it expires.
Luckily offering refill spots appear in each level, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Some offerings are incredibly powerful, including summoning spells, and they can only be used once per battle. Every offering can be renewed at the cost of Lacrima, a mysterious substance that Librom, the forbidden book, cries out in tear form. This sounds ludicrous in written form, but works well within the game.
If a player collects enough of the same type of spells, they can be “boosted” which combines them for stronger versions of that spell. You can also fuse spells to create entirely new offerings. As the game progresses, new and more powerful offerings are found via monster drops, level mining, and end-mission rewards based on success rate. This gives incentive to play levels over and over, and kill over and over.
The rub of the game is that each time a sorcerer kills something, he or she has to choose to sacrifice or save it. Sacrificing gives the player more spell casting power while saving gives the player more life. With each kill, the sorcerer also begins to corrupt and will eventually turn into a monster themselves. Hunting and killing a corrupted sorcerer represents the bigger “boss” battles in each event/chapter. This design presents a balance to character building. Do you sacrifice to become all-powerful, or do you save to become stronger and divine? The choice belongs to the player in every facet of Soul Sacrifice.
Also, at any time, the player can choose to fight Magusar – even from the very beginning of the game. Of course, unless you have lived his story and strengthened up by your sacrificing and saving, you will be destroyed in a spectacular fashion. Magusar is incredibly powerful, and that gives the player incentive to play and re-play each chapter to grind for higher levels. Even after completing the 26 chapters, players may not be strong enough to defeat Magusar and that gives Soul Sacrifice a steady stream of replay incentive.
In addition to the story mode, there are also side missions called Avalon Pacts that allow the player to level up and collect rare offerings. There are Extermination Pacts, which speak for themselves, and Exploration Pacts, which allows the player to collect gems, trinkets, and rare offerings.
These side missions allow an AI controlled sorcerer to assist. If the fellow sorcerer falls in battle, the player can choose to save and sacrifice them for a powerful boot to offensive skills or to regain precious life. If a fellow sorcerer is sacrificed too often, they will leave your employ and never return. It’s best to balance this out accordingly. These Avalon Pacts are pretty extensive in number and add to the already stout content of the game as a whole.
Soul Sacrifice also has an incredibly robust multiplayer element. Two to four players can join together both locally or online and battle monsters together. A good online group will be balanced with healers and spellcasters, and the battles can get pretty intense. In fact, the online/multiplayer battles really highlight one of the best parts of Soul Sacrifice: the monster design.
The monster design is truly twisted. It may say in the pre-mission briefing that you are exterminating a “fairy,” but what you are actually battling is a winged nightmare creation that literally pulses with ooze and horror. I fought a thing called a “Carnivorous Slime” that filled up my entire screen and had a huge dinner fork sticking out of its neck. Ogres are huge, possessed cats, and the harpy, which should be a bird with a human face, ends up being something terrifyingly more.
This presentation goes for everything in Soul Sacrifice. The level designs are twisted horror-laden locales with destruction everywhere and mysterious writing flowing in the dark skies above. This is a world where corruption rules and the designers really nailed that.
The rest of the package is rounded out in great voice acting, especially from Librom, the forbidden book, and in the music. The songs are haunting arias and orchestrated mood setters. Many times I’ve found myself humming along while battling Soul Sacrifice’s ridiculous creations.
There is ample trophy support and the LiveArea has the Owner’s Manual and links to the game’s website, and the PlayStation store to purchase new DLC, which Sony promises to deliver in the guise of new outfits sets and side chapters/missions.
Soul Sacrifice is an incredible game, and a very good reason to own a PS Vita system. It is a nightmarish journey through the history of a tyrannical sorcerer filled with loss, betrayal, and sacrifice. The developers have crammed a ton of content into the game and there is always a mission to be played, even to just pass the time as most missions take between two and fifteen minutes. While there isn’t a rare costume/armor collecting component, there is a chance to find and use powerful offerings, which will bring players back time and time again, and the online multiplayer creates a group hunting dynamic that gives the game a life long after the story mode is completed and Magusar is finally defeated.
Soul Sacrifice was reviewed on PS Vita and was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment America for this review. It is exclusive to PS Vita.
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