A Soulless Experience
Soulvars is a turn-based RPG developed by ginolabo with a focus on pixel art animation along with a skill swapping concept when equipping gear with specific abilities known as Soul Drivers. The creative combat mechanic that skill swapping offers is, unfortunately, the only meaningful source of entertainment value this game offers.
Soulvars’ premise centers on Soulbearers fighting against other Soulbearers and closing gates that pop up throughout the city in order to stop a monster invasion from those gates. Soulbearers use Soul Drivers, special gear, that allow them to use unique abilities in battle. That’s about the gist of the story. Yakumo is the primary protagonist, and though he is joined by others, they appear and disappear suddenly enough to leave players feeling empty as it relates to story building and characterization.
The plot won’t entice any players to become invested with what’s going on in the world or why they should care at all. What makes the story even more soulless is the dialogue between characters, which is confusing and hard to follow. Oftentimes a character says something to another without any needed context to be able to understand what is going on. Curiously, the dialogue appears in individual words and phrases rather than full sentences making it hard to figure out what is transpiring. Character dialogue lacks context to flow well, and seems random and disassociated from the plot.
With the dialogue already making things unclear, Soulvars doesn’t do a great job of navigating players toward their next objective. When players view their map, sometimes a helpful exclamation point indicates a new area, but this doesn’t mean that is where players should go next. One part in the game sees a character mentioning gates opening everywhere, which is supposed to clue players into searching for the gates across the city. However, the game doesn’t provide any hints to where those gates might have opened, making for a frustrating wild search as it is only once a player enters an area and checks the map that any of the symbols for the gates appear. Even when there are icons denoting where to go, the information given is minimal and not very player friendly.
Soulvars‘ combat is decidedly its best feature. The turn-based combat’s most interesting mechanic focuses on using skills called soulbits housed in weapons. Swapping skills and using them in a timely fashion adds a strategic element to the solid combat. It’s satisfying to hit the right combos to slay a monster. If players do find their characters’ HP reaching critical levels, they can activate an ability called Alternation. Alternation increases a character’s stats and will restore HP to max when in critical condition. Once Alternation is triggered, players can control their characters in this form until they use their special ability or the battle ends.
Unfortunately, Alternation requires a three-hour (in-game) wait before it can be used again. Alternation can turn the tide of battle, but due to its cooldown players who rely on it too much will be in for a world of hurt. However, a simple workaround for this is to go back to the world map and advance time manually. There doesn’t seem to be any repercussions to doing this, at least none that are communicated or noticeable.
Players who aren’t swapping their Soul Drivers will find the game challenging towards the end. There are several boss battles that can take multiple turns and so having the right number of skills available with increased stats will keep characters alive. Soul Drivers require syncing from 0 to 100% to obtain their skills. This is done through constant battling, which can feel like a grind because only a small percentage is awarded to Soul Drivers equipped and it can take a long while for the player to max it out. It’s an interesting way to earn skills, but can immediately become a drag for players that don’t like to do random battles over and over again.
Sometimes the game will generate optional gates that host multiple swarms of enemies that players have to defeat to close the gate. It’s not immediately obvious that these are optional, but players can skip them by simply moving to the next screen. The random encounter rate is not egregiously high, but the battles come thick enough that some players might be frustrated by them.
The pixelated art design of the characters provides a retro aesthetic appeal. The UI’s small font at the bottom of the screen for menu options can cause players to miss functionality commands like “Info” where players can learn about an ability or “Item” for players to access the inventory. The game’s battles are also accompanied by sleek keyboard synth music that helps sets the mood with keeping the battles engaging. Music ranges from a soft medley when traversing an area and switches to an edgy fast tempo for battles. It evokes a dramatic effect when in a boss battle.
Soulvars will hold limited appeal to turn-based RPG fans. Those looking for a compelling plot and lovable characters will likely want to search elsewhere. The battle system is good enough to entertain players, but offers little to compel them to return to the game once it is beaten as the replay value is nearly zero. Unfortunately, its soulless plot and characterization make it a grind to get through.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Skill swapping mechanic adds interesting layer of strategy
Enjoyable combat music
Lack of engaging plot
No character development and unclear dialogue
Soul Driver synch combat system is a grind to increase stats