It’s hard to disassociate Keiji Inafune as a game creator known for anything other than his many works at Capcom such as Mega Man and Dead Rising. Especially not after their public separation and Capcom’s handling of the very same game titles which Inafune’s name is basically synonymous with. So when it was announced that Inafune was developing a Monster Hunter-esque game for the PS Vita, people became interested. However, given my personal dissuasion towards the monster hunting genre as well as my inability to beat any Mega Man game that didn’t involve battle networks, I quickly forgot of the game’s existence.
Flash forward to Soul Sacrifice’s release and I want to tell you why Soul Sacrifice is a game that literally blindsided me like no other game in recent memory.
It starts out with your nameless, faceless protagonist in a cell, ready to be sacrificed to an all-powerful, and completely insane magician who goes by the name Magusar. The game then proceeds with you traveling through the pages of a journal you acquire after certain events, going deeper and deeper into the memories of the book’s previous owner(s). It ends with you discovering the secret history within the pages of the book, of Magusar, and yourself.
You know the game certainly wasn’t appealing to myself when I first heard about it. Monster Hunter games are usually such that they are best enjoyed with other people, but what if you can’t find someone else? The gameplay is usually one of constant grinding, weapon creation, treasure hunting. The staples of those games are the meat of the adventure with narrative falling by the wayside and those types of games are already alienating with its almost mandatory need for friends and partners.
So imagine my surprise when Soul Sacrifice forgoes all of the pillars of the genre and delivers a Vita game that takes the best of the mon-hun genre (namely the bursts of gameplay and mission structure perfect for portable gaming) with the added inclusion of a solid single-player experience that offers a story that isn’t only fun and engaging, but fairly emotional as well.
I think when I tell people they should buy a game it’s because it has a story that is worth being told and Soul Sacrifice definitely has that story. The idea behind sacrifice and what it really means in the face of a crumbling self-control. About the corruption of a mind and body and perhaps its redemption. It’s a story that surprised me with how gentle it could be at times while reminding me the sort of cruel world the characters inhabit. Loads and loads of unlockable story material needs to be unearthed to get a full picture, but they help build the narrative and illustrate various aspects of the world, creatures, and characters.
Additionally, the game is perfectly playable all by yourself. Online wasn’t available while I was playing through my copy but I managed, not only to take on the stunningly designed large monsters myself, but enjoyed doing so.
This is in part for two reasons. During the solo story mode, there are various AI characters you play alongside with throughout your adventure. These characters aren’t there for the sake of curving difficulty but instead act as your partners and as characters in an inter-connected narrative web. What basically happens is you grow an attachment to these characters that the sense of camaraderie is created without the need for additional players.
Second is that the magic based gameplay is pretty damn fun. The game is basically tied to a regenerative system of MP and environment based abilities. One arms themselves with the various spells (ranging from swords created out of elements, to long-ranged homing strikes) while simultaneously explores the arena to regenerate their MP or pick up various items and other, area specific magic attacks. Essentially this has you running around the arena in a constant switch between attacking and item-gathering all while fighting a boss. Item creation is more like magic fusing creating new spells out of older ones but this is done in a pre-battle loading phase. Basically it’s a streamlined version of the monster hunter genre that’s suitable for both solo and multiplayer experiences, giving you all the best while trimming away the unnecessary.
At the center of Soul Sacrifice‘s battle system, is the decision to either save or sacrifice those you defeat. As a mage, your duty is to accept hit jobs, almost as demon mercenaries, and murder creatures in cold blood. However, these creatures will cry, and beg, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re willing to sacrifice lost souls, some of which will weigh quite heavily on your conscience.
Did I mention how beautiful the game is? Graphically it’s one of the best on the console with large creatures rendered in great detail. The smaller creature design does become repetitive at points but it’s the boss creatures and environments where the designers really shine. Large, macabre characters fought in stages that are as grand and detailed as they are. From open aired ruins to crumbling cathedrals, the game is a visual treat.
The soundtrack is just as amazing. Perfectly fitting the dark, atmospheric, and in some cases operatic situations in the game. I sometimes just leave the game on some of the menu screens just to keep listening to the soundtrack. I wouldn’t expect less from Yasunori Mitsuda, the person behind the soundtrack for Chrono Trigger.
Character customization for its part is also fun to mess around with. Variety of clothing, spells, and other miscellaneous details makes character creation simply an enjoyable aspect of the game, one that you can change at any time. Your appearance isn’t permanent meaning you can switch between genders and character types as it portrays a version of you that you wish to be portrayed as (explained in the story). Obviously they publisher is withholding more outfits in what I assume are going to be DLC but for the most part it’s a fun experience rather than a stressful one.
The game isn’t without its faults of course. The difficulty curve spikes without sufficient grinding and sometimes it does feel like the odds are unfairly stacked against you as regenerative health and MP lack around the latter halves of battle. The battle can drag depending on these factors, which sometimes, devolve into desperate runs to stay barely alive while getting in quick hits hoping to take down large creatures. Additionally, and this is more a fault with the monster-hunting genre itself, is that missions can basically be the same thing after awhile with having to defeat the next group of monsters, or single boss, or certain item hunting. Alas, this aspect is natural to the genre as bullets are to first person shooters.
If you’re a Vita owner, there haven’t been a lot of good news in your horizon as of late but know that if you had any doubt regarding Soul Sacrifice, don’t. It’s an amazing game that delivers many of the promises the Vita offered. A console experience designed for a portable system; and an emotional narrative delivered as one would reading a journal: Page by page, slowly unraveling a mysterious, tragic past.
[+Beautifully grotesque design][+Soundtrack creates a dark, rich atmosphere][+Great solo-player campaign, rare for the genre][+A wonderful story filled with memorable characters in a narrative rich world][+Full of surprises][+A great additon to the Vita library regardless of gamer][-Difficulty spikes come out of nowhere and can halt progress][-Sometimes feels like health and weapons are on low supply][-Repetitive grunt monsters and missions]