Marvelous AQL’s and SCE Japan Studio’s Soul Sacrifice for the Playstation Vita is a grim tale of sorcery and woe that forces you to make decisions more often than is comfortable – which makes the game even more intriguing and challenging. With a heavy story mode, a pile of cool characters and a solid combat mechanic, Soul Sacrifice is a great deal of fun, if not slightly depressing (due to the nature of the plot) and repetitive (game-play).
You begin the game imprisoned in a cage made from prisoners1, awaiting your doom at the hands of the supreme Sorcerer: Magusar. In a very short time, you witness exactly what Magusar does to those who oppose him (read: everyone) as he disposes of a fellow inmate with ease. Just prior to his death, the now-deceased prisoner actually displayed some powerful magic, defeating some of the prison guards quite handily before capturing the attention of the big cheese. The source of his magic makes itself apparent when you are alone once more: a magical book.
This grim grimoire, named Librom, is a sentient book that contains the story of Magusar’s former partner. What is interesting about this book (other than the fact that it can talk) is that it tells the story through experience, and you fully relive the story of the nameless sorcerer through magic. What’s more is that these experiences stick with you once you close the book – so all of the magic that you have witnessed in the book becomes yours to command. It’s definitely a different way to experience a quest-based game. There are no maps, or wandering around; instead, practically everything is contained in the book (including character customization and other neat elements). At any time of your choosing you can opt to fight Magusar – but it’s best to build up your skills before attempting this feat.
The Sorcerers take on the archfiend of Holland.
As you “read”, you discover what it means to be a Sorcerer. The ultimate in law enforcement, the Sorcerers exist to rid the world of evil – and believe me, there is plenty of it! The land is literally crawling with possessed creatures (which were formerly humans and animals), all of which are documented in Librom. As you play, you have to make choices; decisions like whether you will save a fallen enemy to gain health or sacrifice them to gain magical power. The decision is not always as clear as you might think, causing you some mental anguish in the quest to make the best possible decision that you can. The overall effect of these choices on the story is not usually an issue – it’s the immediate effect on your stats that will probably bother the player the most. Just make sure that you take some time to evaluate if you are making the right decision.
Combat is actually quite interesting. Presented in 3rd-person view, your character (customized to your liking as you unlock options in Librom) has the ability to cast spells using one of six “spell offerings”. These offerings are configured before the fights, and each one imparts a different ability (melee weapons, ranged attacks, healing, summoning, etc.), some of which can be used as chain attacks while others can be charged up and released. Offerings have a limited charge which, once depleted, causes them to break – and the only way you can restore them back to working condition is to use Librom’s tears (which are composed of Lacrima and are a reward for completing quests). Luckily, there are ways around this damage effect. The player can utilize in-level recharge pools to add charges to their offerings. They can also find little nooks that allow for the creation of armor, weapons, and even healing! All of these “stations” are tough to see – luckily, you have the ability to see them using a special kind of vision (activated with the D-Pad), which grants you sight beyond normal human sight at the expense of not being able to defend yourself while it is engaged.
This guy has a bone to pick with you.
While these offerings are handy against the average minions, they require judicious use against the bosses. The archfiends are powerful creatures – the stuff of nightmares that are a pain in the butt to kill. If you’re really in a corner with your back up against the wall, you can choose to actually sacrifice part of your body to release a massively damaging spell. While this does a lot of damage, you will have to temporarily (for the rest of the fight) live with some kind of handicap depending on what part you sacrificed. Again, Lacrima can help heal you – but only after you complete the level – and the amount of Lacrima required to restore you increases every single time you sacrifice a part of yourself. When playing with others you can actually choose to sacrifice an ally (or be sacrificed yourself) for the greater good of the team. As a “dead” being, you have the luxury of seeing just how much health people have left (numerically); you can also increase the power of your allies, or remove defense from the enemy, all by simply touching the screen.
The give-and-take of the game is one of the coolest mechanics that I have seen for any title. Above and beyond sacrificing your enemy, the game is full of decision points that will affect how everything plays out. For instance, duplicate offerings can be sacrificed to increase the number of charges on the remaining item. However, because offerings can be combined to create new advanced offerings, you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you gave up too many duplicate items. Also, the sacrifice/saving of an ally (or of yourself) is no easy decision. Saving their life will bring them back – but will this temporary reprieve be enough to turn the tide? Will it be less valuable than the incredible amount of magic gained when sacrificing another sorcerer? Again, these are the decisions that will move you to victory or haunt you for the rest of the game.
Air Monster: the only way to fly.
The graphics and animation are quite impressive on the Vita. Make no mistake: the visuals are gloomy and mostly depressing – but that’s the style of the game. A great deal of thought (or drugs) has gone into the creation of the enemies – especially the archfiends. Seriously, these beasts are the stuff of nightmares, and they will haunt your dreams long after you have finished playing. Audio is also fantastic, and follows the visual action to the letter. Even the voice casting is well done. Each archfiend is distinct, as are the monsters in the different areas. I admire the developer for putting so much into the aesthetics.
This game has the potential to take a long time to complete due to the potentially steep learning curve due to the game being quite different from many others. Aside from the potential difficulty, more play-time can be added by attempting the side missions (called Avalon Pact missions), if you feel like you need to enhance your sorcerer a little; this mode can be done alone or with help. While multi-player is considered a welcome feature, I find that it just turns into a game of Gauntlet, where everyone has their own agenda. Really, it is a game that will require some mental preparation from the player who attempts it. I think it’s a pretty fascinating story that is presented very well, even if it is fairly grim most of the time. The overall package that is the game is compelling enough to banish the repetitive nature of the grinding from your mind. If you have a Vita and a sense of adventure, I would recommend that you pick up this title.