Soul Sacrifice’s penchant for mindful action distracts from its occasionally repetitive quests.

The Good

  • Forces you to make interesting decisions
  • The original and gloomy visual style stands out
  • A plethora of intriguing characters and side stories.

The Bad

  • Repetitive mission challenges
  • The main storyline falls flat in the middle.

Many games require decision making, but Soul Sacrifice emphasizes choice more than most. Everything, from the abilities you possess to the monsters you battle, is subject to choice: to save or to sacrifice? This notion is ingrained in both story and character progression, presenting you with limitations and dilemmas that make this grim monster-hunting game very appealing. Decision making alone isn’t the only reason to give Soul Sacrifice a try. It’s rich with evocative characters, has creatively fiendish enemy designs, and is coated with an effective layer of gloom and doom. Pleasingly, the captivating presentation and narration overshadow the game’s repetitive tendencies, and the weight of every decision makes the otherwise straightforward action a truly thought-provoking affair.

This flesh-chucking monstrosity is but a taste of the horrors within.

This flesh-chucking monstrosity is but a taste of the horrors within.

Before your journey begins, you’re locked away in a cage made from flesh and bone, awaiting sacrifice at the hand of the ultimate sorcerer, Magusar. A mysterious book, the chatty Librom, emerges from the remains of the sorcerer’s last victim. Part necronomicon and part snarky companion, Librom is your portal to the past of Magusar’s former partner, and through it, you experience Magusar’s rise to power. As the game’s quest hub, customization menu, and glossary, it’s an inventive approach that suits a portable game quite well. The lack of an overworld is odd at first, but since you’re a prisoner, it makes sense in context.

While reliving the life of a sorcerer once sworn to hunt possessed humans and animals, your primary charge is simple: defeat and sacrifice your enemies in order to rid the land of foul beasts. You trudge through rotten wastelands to frozen caves, casting spells, pummeling enemies, and dodging incoming attacks while managing your limited pool of resources. Every mission has clear-cut conditions; you must defeat a set number of common enemies, locate hidden items, or topple horrific archfiend juggernauts. In order to surmount the often difficult campaign missions, you’re often forced to beef up your character by undertaking optional Avalon Pact missions. This is unfortunate, since most Avalon Pact missions lack challenge or variety, especially in the first half of the game. It’s a blessing, then, that there are so many interesting side stories peppered throughout to distract you from the repetition at hand.

You head into every mission with a set of six abilities, or offerings, ranging from melee weapons to summon spells. You start with a small selection, but every mission rewards victory with new offerings based on your performance. An offering can turn your arm to stone, heal your party, trap your enemy, and even stop time. Without a stock of offerings, all you can do is run. Offerings can be used only a certain number of times during the course of a single quest, though sacrificing enemies and tapping into one-time-use environmental pools lets you replenish an individual offering’s cast count. If, however, you get sloppy and sacrifice all of a particular offering during the course of a mission, you must wait until the end before replenishing your ability to use it.

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

Coordinating the relationship between your various offerings is critical during the challenging archfiend battles, and losing access to just one is often enough to tip the scales in your enemies’ favor. You could carry more than one of a particular offering into battle, but it’s better to diversify your capabilities. Thankfully when you possess multiples of a single offering, you can sacrifice the extras to boost the cast count of another. Like most actions in Soul Sacrifice, this action carries ramifications. The decision to boost an offering’s cast count diminishes your resources for fusion, a process that lets you create completely new and advanced offerings. Fusing offerings isn’t critical to success, but it gives you a chance to delve a little deeper into the elemental variations for most of your existing inventory.

Once an enemy is defeated, it’s up to you to choose whether to save or sacrifice its soul, permanently boosting either your stamina or strength stat, respectively. Souls also act as replenishments during battle: sacrifices refill some of your offerings, and saved souls restore a bit of health. The decision usually comes down to your needs at the time, but the smart player will take the time to coordinate their decisions. Since your choices effect skill levels, you may find that too many snap decisions shape your character’s traits in ways you never intended. However, outside of a few pivotal instances, your decision bears little weight on the story at large.

While you don’t have equipment in the traditional sense, you can equip sigils, which are symbols carved into your right arm. When you defeat enemies and absorb their soul shards, new sigils are unlocked. Each sigil has two conditions attached, but the second becomes active only when you’ve struck the proper balance between sacrificing and saving your enemies, reflected by the affinity of your arm, and determined by your tendency to save or sacrifice.

Maybe if I play dead, the centaur-carriage will leave me alone.

Maybe if I play dead, the centaur-carriage will leave me alone.

Like gathering new offerings for fusion, you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to grind through old missions to acquire the right ingredients to produce a new sigil. That’s not so bad, but limiting certain abilities to your arm’s affinity seems unfair given how it’s managed. You have to spend resources on lowering your life or magic levels, and then replay missions in order level up the opposite levels. Sacrificing items and resources is one thing, but asking the player to sacrifice hours of hard work takes the notion of sacrifice a bit too far for the game’s own good, especially when you consider the repetitive nature of most missions.

Soul Sacrifice’s penchant for mindful action distracts from its occasionally repetitive quests.

By Peter Brown