Soul Sacrifice: 15 Hours and Counting
If the first 15 hours of Soul Sacrifice have taught me anything, it’s that this PS Vita game is deep. If you’re outside of Japan, you really only have access to one other game in the Monster Hunter-like genre on Vita – Ragnarok Odyssey – and Soul Sacrifice bests it in just about every conceivable way. Sure, Soul Sacrifice suffers from bouts of repetition, like any game that requires endless amounts of fighting on familiar maps battling enemies that are, at times, mere palette-swaps of each other. But it’s the game’s peripheral depth that’s kept me intrigued so far, and this depth might just turn out to be its hallmark.
At the outset of Soul Sacrifice, your fully customizable character is the prisoner of a mage named Magusar, and the end goal of the game is to do battle with him. By reading about and living through an extensive series of events in a talking journal known as Librom – a book that just so happens to co-exist in your very decrepit cell – you can gain strength, weapons and items. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll get context for the events that led to your current plight.
Events in the past aren’t limited simply to the written word, however. You, along with other characters you meet along the way, relive these events, fighting devious monsters and other enemies as you gain strength to one day face off with Magusar himself. Better yet, the crux of Soul Sacrifice – as suggested by its title – is that your strength comes at a cost. It’s a clever feature that differentiates the game from its contemporaries and fits in nicely with its overarching story, which is both thoroughly-told and easily skippable, if you’re not into the whole exposition thing. Sacrifice is also decidedly non-linear, giving you a lot of different story branches to explore at your leisure.
What kind of sacrifices are we talking about? Two kinds. The first, more easily-understood type is one that you’ll encounter constantly. When you fell a devious foe, you’ll be given the opportunity to gain that enemy’s strength in either magic or life. Sometimes, choosing one or the other has no net negatives, but other times, the choice is more difficult. Sometimes, to gain extra life, you have to sacrifice some of your magic, or vice-versa. Both my magic and life levels are at 20 right now; the game allows you to get to a combined 100 between the two, meaning you can split it 50/50 or do any other pairing that adds up to that number.
The second kind of sacrifices are the outrageous Black Rites. These Rites have real consequences for exploiting their substantial power. For instance, unleashing the Infernus Black Rite will surround your enemies in flames, doing extreme damage and likely killing anything in its path. In return, you’ll be set permanently aflame, suffering from a 50 percent reduction in defense until you cure yourself from the Rite’s devious effect. Doing so requires the use of a precious currency known as Lacrima, ensuring that you don’t spam Black Rites and encouraging you to only use them when your back’s against the wall.
Players have more customization to look forward to as well. Your satchel allows you to equip sets of weapons – known as Offerings – that you find after battle. Offerings can be fused together to make newer, stronger ones, and each one can also be augmented to up the amount of times each Offering can be cast in battle. Players can also equip items known as Sigils on their right arm to buff out their stats, and even bring other mages – known as Allies – to battle to help you fend off evil.
Unlike Ragnarok Odyssey, which was shallow, finicky and downright boring, Soul Sacrifice has presentational grit and a rather detailed storyline to partner up with its core emphasis on third-person, action-oriented combat. Whenever anything feels too grindy or repetitive, something fresh steps in to alleviate the situation, whether it’s an unexpected text-based cutscene or the acquisition of a new weapon that piques your interest. After 15 hours, it’s fun, rewarding and even a little addicting. It has its flaws – I’ll go over them in my review next week – but my overall impression of the game is positive, and it’s a game content-hungry Vita fans will want to keep their eye on.
Soul Sacrifice doesn’t strike me as the be-all, end-all of Vita experiences by any stretch of the imagination — at least not so far — but there’s something undeniably special about it.
Colin Moriarty is an IGN PlayStation editor. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN and learn just how sad the life of a New York Islanders and New York Jets fan can be.