It is useless to go around it. PlayStation Vita, since the day of its release, has been faced with a huge obstacle that still fails to overcome: to convince players and establish itself as an alternative game system to the hegemony of Nintendo that with its 3DS is more and more launched to conquer the mobile entertainment market. In truth in Japan, the motherland of the Sony console, things have begun to change thanks to a price-cut operated to push the sales of the console capable of quadrupling them and above all with the arrival in the stores of Soul sacrifice, the flagship title of this videogame season on which a heavy sword of Damocles hangs, feed the hungry gamers kept on a stint over the months. Soul Sacrifice, in addition to the onerous task of giving a blow to life to the switched off softeca of the handled Sony, also marks the return to the scene of Keiji Inafune, an iconic figure of Japanese game design and responsible for some series that have marked the history of the video game giving birth to titles such as Mega Man, Onimusha and Dead Rising as well as having participated in the most important Capcom productions. As unfortunately often happens, dear Inafune - after an honored career made mostly of successes - found himself engulfed by an increasingly indigestible market for news and changes, so much so as to force him to a period of rest that served him for reorganize his working life, so as to experiment with new projects in the mobile field, and then return to his old love on consoles with this first (under his new software house Comcept Inc.), an ambitious project.
Once upon a time
We can classify Soul Sacrifice as an action-RPG although the style of the game goes far beyond simple definition, winking at a title that now as never before seems to be enjoying a lot of support not only in Japan but also in the West, or Monster Hunter. Over the years, many have followed the path taken by Capcom, with more or less inspired and successful clones, often with convincing results (see the God Eater series) at other times with more unsuccessful experiments (Lord of Arcana above all) . Soul Sacrifice tests its structure, proposing hunting trips, where the target will not be dragons and similar but terrible mutants transformed by magic into griffins, harpies or wild cerberus bearers of death. Each enemy contains within itself a sad story, a troubled and depressing past that led them to welcome the darkness in their hearts causing it to change rapidly. Broken loves, trampled pride, dissolute friendships. Behind every mindful bond of a dissolute time there is a sacrifice, the fil rouge of the whole story, which begins with our protagonist who finds himself imprisoned without a reason and ready to die at the hands of a dark mad wizard, Magusar. Having come into possession of a magical enchanted tome known as Librom, it will be our pleasure to bring to light the old memories of the previous owner, which will reveal the reasons that led Magusar to madness, while trying to save our precious life. The story that will be told by Librom, however, will be influenced by our choices as well as by the altered memories of the previous owner, reliving on our skin flashbacks of a past and consumed life. Each page of Librom will reveal to us a piece of Magusar's life and only by living it on our skin will we be able to grow and empower ourselves to try to defeat him in exchange for our freedom. Reliving the confusing stories will allow us to assimilate new powers and abilities that will merge into our body, becoming part of it. But not only this, defeating an enemy also means absorbing his feelings, which will indissolubly alter our perception of the whole story, often making things seem for what they really are not. The sacrifice is constant, in every battle, every enemy we face will lead us to make a choice. Life or death, forgiveness or eternal damnation, free will will be put to the test by putting us in front of choices that will lead to some repercussions and that will largely influence the course of history, in some cases rewriting it.
Sacrifice my soul
Not only, saving or sacrificing a dying enemy will also serve our growth, making us stronger from time to time and ever closer to the final battle with Magusar. By choosing to save the life of one of our victims, in exchange for part of our energy, we will increase the Life bar (and at the same time the defense of the character) making our character more resistant. At the same time, the sacrifice will result in an increase in the Magic bar (and in the attack value), which will strengthen us and make the fights less hard. Thanks to these choices we will be able to decide how to evolve our hero, opting for balanced growth rather than enhancing one of the two characteristics. Since sacrifice is the main theme of the game, this is also well rooted in the gameplay and influences and outlines the combat and enhancement system of our character. For the fights, it will not be possible to rely on the classic equipment typical of the rolistic genre, such as armor, swords or anything else but to Offers, particular objects that if used at the right time will infuse us with new powers, allowing us to evoke weapons, protections or spells. We will be able to bring up to a maximum of six with us, guaranteeing us the ability to deeply customize our set. However, this places limits on the player, as each offer will have a specific number of uses, after which it will be damaged thus losing its effectiveness. However, they can be recharged by searching for new offers scattered in the various game areas and which will allow us to continue the battle. The combat structure pushes the player to carry out grueling crafting sessions wild, essential to be able to create new ones and enhance the most useful ones. Improving an attack power guarantees us success against the most imposing and fierce enemies while defeating them means having access to new materials that will guarantee us new powers, creating a vicious circle that pushes the player to repeat the same missions over and over again in order to get the item he needs.
One story, many lives
During our missions we will not be alone, as it is during the main story or the numerous secondary missions (which we will talk about shortly) we will be accompanied by Magusar himself or by some companions who will provide us with a hand in our battles. Even our fellow adventurers will not be exempt from the system of sacrifice and if by chance they fall on the field we can choose their fate, death or salvation and the choice of one of the two will have advantages and disadvantages. Saving him, as you have well understood, we will use part of our vital energy to put him back on track and return to fight. The choice of letting him die is more interesting and strategic. By sacrificing it, our friend will sacrifice himself for a just cause, using a final technique that will cause serious damage across the entire playing area to all enemies present. Once he has passed away, he will become a spirit that with his power can momentarily increase our attack or enemy defense. Behind this move there is a lot of strategy and it will be essential to understand depending on the occasion whether it will be more essential to have a friend by our side or to use his destructive power when he is at the end of his life. Obviously, if we fall, our fate will also be bound by this choice, with the only difference that the life of our warrior will be in the hands of the game's AI. As mentioned, Soul Sacrifice, in addition to the Story mode, boasts a substantial section of secondary missions called Patti di Avalon and which within it collects dozens of secondary missions that will gradually be unlocked upon completion of the previous ones and which will be essential for growth and formation of our character. Inside there is also Amici Stregoni, a series of stories linked to some characters who live in the curious and sinister world of Soul Sacrifice. Completing these missions will allow us, in addition to obtaining new Offers, to enlist allies to take with us and based on our choices we will be able to improve the affinity that binds us to them with repercussions on their actions in the field, while if we commit something contrary to theirs ideas (for example saving a victim, while they were ready to kill her) may decide to abandon us. The same in case of death, we will permanently lose support, unless we decide to use the Tears of Libron a special object of exchange that will serve to restore the destroyed objects, restore a fallen friend to life or re-establish a bond. The Tears will be given in very small quantities and the only way to always have them available will be to continue to face new missions.
In addition to the Offers, we will be able to customize the game experience by infusing our right arm with some magical seals, which will improve various characteristics such as attack or defense, the use of magic or the recovery of life, thus obtaining passive abilities that they will be of great help during the fights. Dark Rituals are also fundamental, special moves that can be activated when our vitality reaches critical levels allowing us to unleash all our power in a desperate act capable of saving our life. Each ritual will sacrifice a part of our body causing malus (which will remain active until the Tears of Libron are used. For example, the first ritual we will find in the game, Inferno, will cause powerful burns on our body, halving the defense up to when everything is not restored. This expedient ensures that the special technique is not abused, forcing the player to make choices again, which only with the game experience will prove to be successful or not. fast and frenetic, with the ability to switch from one type of attack to another simply by selecting it from one of the three dedicated keys (Circle, Triangle and Square) while X is intended for the use of dodging, an evasive maneuver that on more than one occasion it will save our lives. We will then have to pay close attention to the conduct of the boss fights, which will consume the patience of every player, especially at the levels. the higher ones where the challenge will intensify. Know your enemy, his attack patterns and cooldown times, avoiding becoming slaughterhouse fodder by making the wrong move.
After having outlined what Soul Sacrifice's game mechanics are, let's talk about what's wrong. Soul Sacrifice manages to take inspiration from Monster Hunter, succeeding perfectly in the task of channeling itself into an original path with a well-structured gameplay that however needs dedication to be assimilated and at the same time enjoy it. Although we are facing a good title, it remains a product not open to everyone, intended for users receptive to this type of games. The continuous crafting, the incessant repetition of the same missions and a difficulty calibrated on levels that are not exactly accessible, due to the fact that if you do not have the right means it is impossible to obtain results, are elements that can discourage certain players who are looking for a portable console. a title more at hand. Even on a playful level, it lacks a completeness that a mature title like Monster Hunter can boast, a factor that negatively reflects on a certain repetitiveness in which you risk ending up after a few hours of play due to the lack of variety among the enemies we will encounter. Even the missions, albeit telling in a sublime way and supported by a convincing and nuanced story, suffer from an exhausting linearity, which cuts the legs to the exploration of the various areas, catapulting the player immediately against the target of the moment, which translates into recovering some particular object, killing a certain boss or a little more. The online situation is better, where the difficulty of the missions will undergo a surge based on the number of participants (up to a maximum of 4) making things interesting by necessarily having to collaborate more wisely, which is lost offline having to do with a AI not too responsive or collaborative. In fact, one feels the lack of being able to issue even simple commands such as sending allies to attack or retreating to defense which would certainly have helped in the construction of various attack strategies and avoided being in disadvantage situations due to a ' intelligence dancer. Always online gives its best the control system based on the Offers, which allows greater freedom of customization by giving the player the possibility to specialize towards certain types of offers, for example by focusing on support rather than naked and raw attack. Character growth through sacrifices is less functional, as each killed enemy can be killed or saved by only one player, which translates, especially if you find yourself playing with strangers in a race to grab the experience of others in order to speed up the level up process.
The aesthetics of evil
Graphically Soul Sacrifice alternates a sui generis artistic direction as opposed to a technical realization that is not always convincing. The work carried out for the game's settings, the huge and bare arenas in which influences ranging from Greek and Gothic alternate, with stages set in decadent cathedrals, dreamlike frozen deserts or lush forests are functional and essential. The tight level design work, however, is gratified by the generating atmosphere that reigns throughout the production, by the sense of desolation and decadence that will accompany us from the first minutes of Soul Sacrifice to the inevitable epilogue. The creation of Inafune is embellished with a design of the characters that makes us turn a blind eye to everything else, with majestic and well-made enemies, monstrosities that well reflect the theme of pain and sacrifice, the perfect synthesis of a sick world in which the salvation seems a utopia. Everything comes to life and comes alive on the screen in a fascinating way, despite the potential of the console not being affected in the least, guaranteeing excellent fluidity at any stage.
The soundtrack instead gives applause signed by Yasunori Mitsuda and Wataru Hokoyama who compose a majestic work that closes the circle of the entire production with literally thrilling orchestrated and sung songs and capable of transporting the player into the dark world of Soul Sacrifice.
✓ Numerous single and multiplayer missions
✓ Customizable combat system
✓ Sumptuous soundtrack x Technical realization uncertain
x Too linear
x AI sometimes problematic
x Not suitable for everyone