Format: PS Vita
Developer: SCE Japan Studio
This is our concluding part of our Soul Sacrifice review. If you’d like to catch up on the basic game mechanics and the single player experience, you can read Part 1 here. Ok, up to date? This could go either way right? The remainder of my review is going to focus on the online multiplayer side of the game.
A range of options allows you to set up public or password protected games with invites via the Vita’s messaging system being a simple if slightly clunky affair. You can label your room to give other players an indication of which chapters you’re playing and if you prefer saving or sacrificing bosses. There were a healthy number of players online during the launch weekend, meaning I never had to wait long for players to join. Although it’s often worth waiting until you have a full group of four to take on some of the boss battles.
The lobby screen shows other player’s levels, giving you an indication on how choices may go when saving/sacrificing. Unless you’re hosting you can only see a brief description of the currently selected quest, if you are hosting though you have the advantage of choosing the quest and being able to see what loot is awarded upon completion.
Once everyone has finished tinkering with the offerings (spells/skills) loadouts you hit the ‘ready’ option. The host can’t begin the round until everyone is ready, but people seem quite considerate and aren’t spending ages fusing items and exploring combinations and holding the group up for long. Personally, I like to acquire a fat bunch of new offerings then go offline to experiment with them on my own time.
Anyway, onto the battlefield. Loading times are refreshingly brief, matches seem to be lag free and I only had one dropped connection when hosting over the whole weekend. If the host does leave, you’re not booted back to the main menu, a new host is chosen from the group, allowing the remaining players to stick together. Simple touches, but very effective at keeping you playing.
Playing with other players certainly revitalised my enthusiasm for the game’s combat, which I was finding a bit on the dull side offline. Once you start seeing the other players’ spells that are out there, you’ll want them too. Many of them will be within your grasp if you’re of a similar level; it’s just a case of boosting and fusing the right items.
If you’re undertaking a quest that only requires a number of smaller enemies to be exterminated, everyone pretty much works solo. An early etiquette seems to be developing amongst players where if one player has obviously done the most damage in taking a small enemy down, the other one won’t try to steal the XP by absorbing/absolving the soul right from under their nose. It’s finders keepers if they run off and ignore it though.
Bosses, or Archfiends as they’re known in Soul Sacrifice, are incredibly tough on your own, but when challenged with a group you can tell this is how the game was meant to be played. To be honest, there’s not so much ‘teamwork’ going on here so far, you’re all just attacking it at the same time. It feels very basic when compared to say Dragon’s Dogma, which had allies climbing all over the larger creatures to strategically stab them up. As mentioned in Part 1 of my review, bosses do have weak spots, but the weapon targeting is often too vague to take advantage of it.
Sometimes the more grandiose spells can be a huge pain in the arse for other players. While these spells never inflict damage on teammates, they will often send them flying. The early jack-o-lantern rolling ball of flame is an early example and you’ll learn to hate the massive stone golem (see above image) torsos that can be summoned to hammer the ground in front of them for what seems like forever. I accidentally set one off just as we killed a boss, and we had to wait for about 45 seconds before we could get near the remains to claim our prize. Sorry everyone.
It’s going to take a while for players to level up enough to unlock the serious buffers that can protect a team and even status attacks (such as temporary freezing) are a rare sight so far. For the seriously tough fights later on in the lengthy list of Avalon Pacts players will need to work together and pre-plan their spells loadouts, but I can see the game building a faithful following, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
One element I was keen to try out online that I couldn’t make sense of in single-player was sacrificing yourself or teammates. So in the lobby I explained to my team that I wanted to be sacrificed if the opportunity came up. Fortunately, the Cyclops in the next stage was all too keen to oblige in his side of the bargain.
So our very own news editor Jon Lester did the deed for me, unleashing something a lit bit nasty. Nasty like a stage-wide burst of spiky vines erupting from my corpse and from the earth everywhere, dealing massive damage to all enemies. After this, you’re left as a spectral form to float around the stage. Other players can barely see you, but you can still influence that battle. Tap players on the Vita’s screen to boost their attacks or tap the enemy to lower its defence.
It’s slightly unclear to see if you’re having a genuine impact in ghost form, but more useful is the appearance of an actual health bar above enemies which finally lets you see how close to victory you are. With ally sacrificing being so useful it’s a surprise players don’t use it more often. They have the choice to save or sacrifice you when you’re downed and you can indicate which you’d prefer and so far players have proved to be remarkable unselfish if you want to be revived via them donating a chunk of their health.
Going down the Martyr route also gives you an additional loot award, although so far, it’s not been anything unique. It’s horribly unclear if you earn any XP this way either. XP sharing is also somewhat unclear generally after archfiend fights. With some players wanting to save and others wanting to sacrifice, it can go either way, with varying opinions floating around the net. Getting there first, number of ‘votes’, it’s a real crapshoot. You’re supposed to get XP even if the decision goes against you, meaning your Souls bar may rise even though you wanted Life. Sometimes though, I noticed I got neither. Why? Who knows? Nobody apparently.
Choosing to save/sacrifice certain bosses unlocks different mission paths amongst the lengthy Avalon Pacts chapters. Unsurprisingly it’s just as vague as the rest of the game and can be a real pain when everyone just wants to sacrifice everything in sight.
That’s one of the main problems I have with Soul Sacrifice, there’s just so many areas that nobody seems to have a clue about. Some may see this as a positive, but it just seems so random in places that you get a feeling something’s a little bit broken somewhere.
I’m starting to see the range of combat options open up much more than in the single-player, but the stiff controls and slow changeover between offerings is obviously still there. Also, the lock-on feature really needs fixing, as it’s too fond on focussing on an enemy miles away compared to the one vomiting poison on your face.
So, as I end my review I have to admit that the multiplayer, despite its kinks, has turned it around for Soul Sacrifice. Despite having a stronger player now, I don’t see myself going back to the miserable single-player game, but there are loads of multiplayer quests to take on. Once the XP system starts to show some signs of consistency -or I get my head around it- I think I’ll even come back for more.
- So many quests
- Smooth online multiplayer action
- Impressive depth of spells and skills
- Typically ugly, brown game
- Almost everything is poorly explained
- Unlovable single player experience
The Short Version: Too hardcore and vague to be a true system seller outside of Japan, but it’s something for the underfed RPG Vita faithful. Although, you should only invest if you’re planning to play online. The community is still growing, along with the wiki sites that attempt to explain the game, but there’s potential for this to gets its deformed hooks into you.