Not too long after the PlayStation Vita launched around the world, Sony held a special event in which it formally announced upcoming projects from a variety of sources. One of them would be headed by the lead producer of Mega Man, Onimusha, and other games at Capcom before his recent departure: Keiji Inafune. That game, Soul Sacrifice, has remained one of the biggest exclusive projects on the system, and now that I had time to play some of it at Sony’s New York Comic Con booth, I can see why many are watching and waiting for its release.
Soul Sacrifice follows the life of a young slave whose master, a powerful sorcerer, has locked him away, preparing him for a sacrifice. While imprisoned, the slave encounters a demonic being in the form of a book, allowing the slave to read through the many fights between the sorcerer and a multitude of mutated beasts. All the while, the slave enters the book, gaining the powers and experience from those fights as he reads onward. It is not long before he and the player both realize that these monsters used to be humans themselves, twisted and distorted by their inner desires and the magic they encountered. In the end, the slave must decide whether to free their souls from their curses or sacrifice them for his own gain to eventually face the sorcerer himself…but at what cost?
Soul Sacrifice is an action adventure title in which the player, along with any helper characters, is tasked to complete missions and face-off against giant monstrosities, ranging from a grotesque Harpy to a massive golem of flesh. In my playtime with the game, I was sent out to a desolate city to end the life of a Cerberus knight of sorts; originally this knight and his two hounds fought to protect his land but shifted to this form in order to protect the land from anyone, friend or foe. Before I could encounter the target, however, I needed to venture through the environment to find him, and a multitude of other beings emerged to fight me in the meantime. These smaller monsters can be quite helpful in their own right; upon defeating them, you can choose to free their souls for health or sacrifice them for attack boosts. What a way to start the adventure, to have an appetizer of lesser souls before feasting on the main course!
Some might say the “hunt down one giant beast” gameplay is a bit similar to Monster Hunter, and I would agree, save for a few immediate differences. Rather than select a weapon class, an armor set, and a large stock of items, Soul Sacrifice sets up players with particular spells, and as more spells are used, the sorcerer mutates and grows stronger. When the demo started, an attendant assigned six spells for me to use in-game; knowing what these spells actually did was not entirely possible, as the demo was entirely in Japanese. It would take some guess-and-checking to figure out that one set of three spells dedicated themselves to offensive attacks and the other set was for self-modification. One spell turned my arm into an armored ice fist, with which I could not only punch but also use to shoot ice gusts toward my enemies. Another spell in particular spawned a monstrous plant being to fight alongside me, but I was not even aware it was my monster and proceeded to attack it in the process. I will make sure not to do that again. When in need of health or other attribute boosts, I was able to swap to the other set of three spells, healing myself or speeding up my attacks where possible.
My short experience before the three-headed knight had helped me out, but certainly not enough to survive the fight. Soul Sacrifice provides players with the ability to lock-on enemies and move the camera easily with the right thumbstick, something I found very useful in the state of frenzied battle. Dodging attacks seemed harder than anticipated, and being the only one fighting the monster at the time, it was easy to be beaten into submission hastily. As in all Monster Hunter-esque games, healing takes valuable time, and before long, the monster would be atop anyone healing not behind cover. This brought about another difference with Monster Hunter: rather than fail you on a time limit, Soul Sacrifice fails you the moment you fall in battle.
Soul Sacrifice is grotesque but beautiful, and it looks very smooth on the Vita’s screen. I did not see any unnecessary need to use the Vita’s extra features, although I might be a bit early to say that. Furthermore, the game does offer up to four players to cooperate in these missions, although the group needs to agree on whether to sacrifice the soul or free it at the end. Keiji Inafune has said this adds another gameplay element into the mix, but I am unaware as to what that element is at the moment.
From my short experience, I found it easy to jump into and hard to master, and the multitude of spells and monsters should make this game far from boring in the long-run. I just hope that the next time I see it in my hands I can understand what spells I am actually using!
Soul Sacrifice releases for PlayStation Vita early next year in Japan, and hopefully it will see worldwide release by the end of 2013.