Kenji Inafune, known worldwide for his work with Capcom on Mega Man and Dead Rising series, turns his attention to the world of action-RPGs for Marvelous AQL's latest project, Soul Sacrifice. With its bold style and action-packed magical combat, Soul Sacrifice has been at the forefront of a mini Vita-revival in Japan since its release earlier in March and Sony will be hoping the same applies in the West. One thing is for sure, those eager for some chaotic spell slinging action aren't going to be found wanting here.
"Soul Sacrifice has no qualms about getting dirty and the same applies for getting bloody."
The game's premise sees players taking on the role of a prisoner locked in a cage by an evil sorcerer. With the player soon to be sacrificed to help the sorcerer's bidding, a demonic book appears before them and allows the player to enter its pages. These pages contain stories and depictions of previous battles between sorcerers and their monstrous opponents, and the book allows players to transport themselves into these battles, gaining new power with each one experienced.
Players start out with the usual character creation, including choosing the name, gender, face, hairstyle, and clothing, however, all of these can be changed at any time using the game's customisation options. Customisation is well entrenched in the core of Soul Sacrifice, with players foregoing physical weapons and instead equipping up to six spells from a vast unlockable selection. After being unlocked, spells can then also be enhanced using resources gathered from the game's various missions, changing into more powerful forms. Spell selection can be crucial, as each spell and enemy has their own elemental attributes, and running in with an ineffective spell set-up could mean certain doom. There is a great amount of variation between the spells, with some very impressive visual and sound effects helping to make players feel in control of some very destructive magical power.
In addition to the usual functions of weaponry being transferred to casting, those usually reserved for armour have been given to various seals that the player character embeds into their arm. These seals help strengthen various aspects and are fairly key to assisting in the type of role the player wants to undertake in battle, be it focusing on being being more defensive and protected, or on causing as much damage as possible. The overall character progession is split into two levels, a Life level and a Magic level, with more Life levels allowing for a more defensive build and more Magic levels resulting in more offensive power. As with the other options, the Life-Magic level balance can be adjusted should the player wish to alter their fighting style.
The general mission, enemy hunting, and reward and looting aspects lump Soul Sacrifice in with the sub-genre of action-RPGs including games like Monster Hunter, Ragnarok Odyssey, and Gods Eater, but there are more than enough distinguishing parts to stand Soul Sacrifice apart. For a start, players cannot afford to be constantly on the offensive due to their chracter's limited amount of spell power. Once the player character uses enough of their power, spells will start to use up health or even break and become unusable. A sacrificial decision plays a key part here, as players have a choice when they wander up to a downed enemy, or even a critically injured ally, whether to save them or sacrifice them. Saving the enemy results in restoring health, but sacrificing them causes spell power to be replenished and the drain on health to be negated until it runs out again and allows the player to stay more offensive in the fight. The decision also impacts character growth with an additional contribution to the player's Life or Magic level, but outside of the immediate gameplay impact there appears to be little else in way of consequences stemming from this decision. Players will need to be quick enough to keep up the fast action, but also require a good level of forethought about which spells to use and making each power-burning shot as useful as possible.
Soul Sacrifice has no qualms about getting dirty and the same applies for getting bloody, with the red stuff happily splattering the screen whenever possible. Although the world itself may be lonely and unwelcoming, the overall presentation looks excellent and still impressively vibrant, with very effective usage of the demonic book to present the stories contained and keep players engaged in the setting. The game is scored by Yasunori Mitsuda, with collaboration from Wataru Hokoyama, so the music front should be in good hands, and samples available indicate this is very much the case, generating some brilliant and haunting atmosphere.
The game does have NPCs that can come along in some of the single-player story missions, which can include previously defeated opponents players chose to save previously. However, a lot of players are going to be understandably keener to play with friends using the online multiplayer, and Soul Sacrifice should lend itself very well towards the multiplayer aspect. Players can join with up to three others in missions and though players will find bosses scaled up substantially in terms of power and health, ensuring that a tough battle awaits to matter what, there looks to be a lot of enjoyment to be had from the multiplayer, especially on those occasions when the party is on the same wavelength.
The single player presentation looks fascinating, although the overall longevity of the game will likely come to down to how the multiplayer holds up, but judging from the reception in Japan things look encouraging on that front. Either way RPGamers can look forward to some flinging some high-powered spells at their enemies very soon. Soul Sacrifice is due out exclusively on PlayStation Vita in both physical and downloadable format on April 30, 2013 in North America, with a European release following immediately after on May 1, 2013.