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Soul Sacrifice: can it help Sony sell Vita?

Tuesday, 30th April 2013 08:05 GMT By Dave Cook

Soul Sacrifice is out today in the States. Dave Cook plays the final PS Vita code and asks whether or not it’s the system seller Sony’s handheld has been crying out for.

Soul Sacrifice

Developed by Sony Japan Studio, Soul Sacrifice was conceptualised and designed by ex-Capcom designer Keiji Inafune.

The game is a PS Vita-exclusive and launches today, April 30 across North America, and from May 3 across Europe.

Soul Sacrifice will include a post-launch run of free and paid DLC. We reported on the first pack due to hit Japan here.

The European edition features a reversible cover, and you can see both designs right here.

Sony has needed a game like Soul Sacrifice on PS Vita for some time.

There has been severe drought of full price games on the handheld worth your time or money. The killer IP simply hasn’t been there, but thanks to Keiji Inafune’s superb effort you now have a reason to return.

Before I got to try the game for myself I often described it to people as “Monster Hunter meets Dark Souls”. While it bears many aesthetic and mechanical similarities to both franchises, slotting it so neatly into another game’s shoes is to do it a grave disservice.

That’s because it’s wildly inventive, fits snugly into the portable mind-set, and offers content spanning hundreds of hours to digest at your leisure. But will it actually manage to shift PS Vita consoles for Sony at a time where it really needs to, well, shift consoles?

This all depends on you.

See, as I pointed out in my Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate ‘A Noob’s Journey’ blog series, games with large worlds and complex mechanics can prove intimidating, and yes, Soul Sacrifice is both massive and complicated at the outset.

I’m aware that Inafune wasn’t director on the Monster Hunter series while at Capcom, but Soul Sacrifice also has potential to hit newcomers with a similar wall of information and mechanics that feel intimidating at the start. After the first hour you’ll be absolutely fine though, thanks to the bite-sized nature of missions and the ability to retry them as you see fit, just like Monster Hunter.

Soul Sacrifice opens with your character locked in a cage, awaiting death at the hands of the mysterious Magusar. You find a living book called Librom under a pile of bones, and by reading its pages you can piece together the past of fallen mages, then claim their power for yourself. Once strong enough you can fight your captor and escape the prison.

Each mission is short, and tasks you with battling a range of ferocious beasts in exchange for items, sometimes alongside AI companions. Afterwards you can choose to go to the next chapter, kit out your character and allies, or read previous chapters again to farm items. Again, all of this is very similar to Monster Hunter in how it handles.

But where Soul Sacrifice deviates from Capcom’s series is that items aren’t used for crafting, or sold in stores. Instead, they are used as ‘offerings’ by your mage and turned into devastating weapons. Confused? Yep, I was as well when I first started playing, but I’ll try my best to break it down.

Your mage has two sets of three item slots, almost like load-outs in a shooter. Let’s say you have five ‘Swordsman Icebrand’ items – which are essentially icy shards – you can offer these in battle to summon a frozen blade that lets your mage unleash fast, elemental swords strikes.

Over time the spell will wear off, leaving you weapon-less, so then you might offer up an Iron Pinwheel instead, giving you a set of ethereal, spinning blades to hurl at enemies from a distance. Healing Seeds can be turned into a health spell, while Sanguine Salvos essentially turn your hand into a machine gun, and so on.

So basically you’re sacrificing items to create weapons for a short time. However, if you farm enough of the same item, they can be combined to create weapons that stick around for longer, hit harder and can be summoned more times in one stage. Grinding enough items to make top tier weapons, shields or spells can take ages though, and might put some people off.

The theme of offering sacrifices goes even deeper though, as each demonic enemy you face is actually something less fearful underneath. Giant diseased rats are actually a mutated swarm of smaller, harmless rodents for example.

In one boss battle you face off against a giant Harpy, which in reality is a possessed woman underneath. Once defeated its up to you to pass judgement on her by saving or sacrificing her soul. The former will give you health and go towards levelling up your life bar, while the latter will boost and level up your magic power.

The choice of redeeming or sacrificing the souls of enemies makes for a neat levelling mechanic, and in some cases your choice can come back to either bite or aid you later on in the game. Then there’s the ‘Black Rite’ system, which becomes available whenever your mage is close to death.

The first Black Rite unlocked sees your mage sacrificing their own skin to turn them into a bloody, walking fireball in exchange for half of your defence stat. So not only are you stripping off your character’s skin in exchange for immense power, you are also severely weakened against attacks.

You can repair your body using a substance called Lacrima that is secreted from Librom’s eye every so often. Don’t call them tears though, he doesn’t like that one bit. Given how infrequently the liquid appears as you progress further, you may be at a disadvantage for some time. There’s always a tangible trade-off at play.

Disturbingly, you can also sacrifice your eyes and suffer a dampened cone of vision, and even carve sigils into your right arm that bestow your mage with a wide range of stat buffs and long-term effects. Useful yes, but again, you’re still giving up your character’s body in exchange for power.

Sacrifice, balance, loss and redemption are all themes that not only work their way into the game’s harrowing plot, but into the game’s combat and progression mechanics too. You’re made aware from the start that eventually, all mages have to pay a terrible price for the ability to wield magic.

It’s both sinister and challenging, which is where the Dark Souls references come into play. Although it’s not as brutal as From Software’s gauntlet, Soul Sacrifice does have a similar tone and art direction. You get the feeling all the way through that something dark lurks beneath the cracks, and that no matter what you do your character is doomed from the start.

But this is the big question throughout. Will you beat the odds of all the fallen sorcerers that sacrificed their lives, bodies and sanity before, only to escape Magusar’s prison, or will you end up a warped husk, contorted and mutilated by magical power?

I haven’t finished it so I don’t know yet, but I can tell you this, the question is driving me on happily. So to this end will Soul Sacrifice help shift PS Vita consoles for Sony? Well, it’s a hardcore game in many respects, but much like Ni No Kuni and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate 3 before it, this could be considered a gateway drug to the RPG genre, given its action focus.

I think first impressions will see many PS Vita owners writing Soul Sacrifice off as either too dark, hardcore or ‘Japanese’ for them to stomach, and to those people I’d recommend trying the demo first. You have nothing to lose, and potentially a lot to gain.

To those who don’t own a PS Vita already, if you like deep RPGs, Dark Souls, or Monster Hunter then I’d say that you may want to buy a console to experience it for yourself, or try a friend’s copy first if you can. I genuinely feel like this is the first Vita game in a long time to get me properly hooked and invested.

The concern is that it’s not ‘mainstream’ enough to see PS Vita sales rocket across the board, but I think a small, dedicated pool of gamers are going to find a new addiction this summer, and one they might not be able to shake until the next generation comes knocking. It’s seriously that big, refreshing and worthwhile.

Now then, what do you think based on what you’ve seen so far? Let us know below.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this article Sony sent Dave a copy of Soul Sacrifice on PS Vita. No merchandise or advertising was offered or accepted.

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31 Comments

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  1. Lengendaryboss

    Impressive Read Dave although unfortunately i think this game’s fate is sealed as amazing as the demo is its just that i don’t see a big success for this game, which is really sad.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 that’s how I feel too. I want it to do very well, but it’s perhaps too niche to warrant major success. If it wasn’t for me still working on my new flat I’d be playing it right now.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. SameeR_Fisher

    Pretty cool Dave, it seems like a great game, a shame that I don’t have a Vita

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 that’s the key problem isn’t it? Such a barrier to a potentially wide audience. I’d love to see a PS3 port.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Lengendaryboss

    @Dave
    Thus killing reasons to get a PS Vita. But i would love to see an open world sequel on PS3 and PS Vita, that will definitely show potential.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. redwood

    impressive read man!!! :) I don’t have psV but will get sS when i get it..

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Dragon246

    @LB,
    Open world doesn’t really work well in these games imo, since anyways everyone will make a beeline to the enemy, so MH or GE like big arenas are mostly a waste of resources.

    About sales, I don’t think even Sony is expecting much from western sales, neither will it attract a significant audience outside current Vita owners.
    But, mind you, Sony and Inafune are happy with sales, and it is selling very well for a new IP in Japan. Here is an interesting read-
    http://www.siliconera.com/2013/04/29/keiji-inafune-talks-about-soul-sacrifice-kaio-king-of-pirates-and-comcepts-other-projects/

    @Dave,
    Have you tried those 5-10 star boss battles? Games like these are generally even more difficult as many monsters are borderline impossible to defeat solo, in MH and GE.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. friendlydave

    Can not wait for this to arrive on Friday. It looks and sounds great!

    Between this and Dark Arisen I’m glad we get an extra day this weekend :D

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Greek God

    I played the demo already over 35h lol
    And i dont even like MH

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Dragon246

    @9,
    The level 20 cap sucks doesn’t it? :(

    #10 1 year ago
  11. monkeygourmet

    The demo has ‘killed’ this for me… :(

    Far too generous that I can’t justify buying this with all the other games im juggling at the moment!

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Goffee

    Has anyone seen any advertising for this at all outside Sony’s blog (I don’t read PS mags any more but guess there’s some there) – outside of the converted is Sony trying to sell this to anyone?

    Considering year old Virtua Tennis is currently top of the chart, the Vita is pretty much toast in the UK any way.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Greek God

    10@
    agree but atleast we can farm some spells in the demo and fuse them to be ready for the full game :)

    #13 1 year ago
  14. polygem

    @11: haha i had a feeling you didn´t enjoy the demo :)

    i really liked it and cannot wait to play the final build.

    great article. i think a game like this should be a system seller, it has a great concept, great artdirection and some unique ideas while not trying to hard to be different….but unfortunatly…it probably wont help to sell more vitas.

    @LB: i can see this franchise on the ps3 or ps4 as well. sure it needs to be redesigned, opened up more, but it really could be awesome. would also be cool to have a soul sacrifice console game and a vita version too where you can fight more arena styled battles with your full pimped out homeconsole sorcerer!

    #14 1 year ago
  15. jevonski

    I really want to like this game but judging from the demo it’s not for me, it just didn’t flow well for me mind you I’ve never really been a fan of short missions and prefer a more open world approach to games.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. CycloneFox

    I think the biggest problem of this game doesn’t lie with it being a niche-title of some sort. I think it appeals to alot of gamers – especially after Dark Souls big success alot of gamers like this kind of dark artstyle.

    Its biggest problem is something, it shares with Ragnarok Odyssey, MGS Peacewalker or even Monster Hunter: Meeting friends with a Vita/PSP is extremely rare in the west and those games are most fun if you play them ad-hoc in one room. Of course, it is also fun to play a game online, but I for example am the only one in my circle of friends, who has a Vita. So I mostly play SP Vita games. It may be no problem in a year or two (when peacewalker came out a friend of mine bought a PSP and I could finally get in the joy of playing coop games on the PSP), but for a system that still needs to establish itself, it absolutely needs more SP killer IPs. Gravity Rush, Project Diva F and Uncharted did it for me, but I think it needs an RPG like Final Fantasy or even Dark Souls.

    Either way, I think Soul Sacrifice will help to sell the Vita. Add Killzone, localize the two Vita Tales of games and Phantasy Star Online 2 and add a little pricecut and I think it would sell well.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Rosseu

    All region 1 Soul Sacrifice are sold out in stores here. What’s left are region 3s

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Erthazus

    More games like this will make PS Vita a great system. But so far there are 1 or 2 of these at best for one year.

    I don’t know. Sony is in retarded position right now. In my opinion if something like 10 games would be released at one year like Soul Sacrifice… for PS vita. You can bet your ass that PS Vita would be successfull device.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. polygem

    hmm, soul sacrifice, toukiden, tearaway, killzone, god eater2, dragons crown…there are some good titles coming and we´ll probably see some more being announced this e3.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. OlderGamer

    There are a handful of games for the system that have my interest, this one included. But not of them can justify the purchase price. When/if the system price drops, I will buy one. But 300usd for the systm and decent mem cards? No thanks. I would rather save for a PS4 for just 100usd more.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. polygem

    @OG: is it still priced like that in the us? in germany you can get the wifi version brandnew with a game and a 4gb mc for 170 euro at some places. These deals appear and disappear though, goes back to 249 every now and then but if you wait or look around a little you´ll find the 170 euro offer. combined with a game (LBP) and a mc that´s a fair price for that thing imo…wish the mc´s would be much cheaper though.
    too bad mg didn´t enjoy soul sacrifice that much and you don´t have a vita. would have loved to hunt some mosters with you ;)
    somehow the only one i ever played online with from vg247 was manu…just once, cod blops II – i played terrible :)
    it´s a shame really.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. polygem

    …there have been some attempts to get some online Action going on here (max payne, cod?) but i think it never really worked out that well? maybe we need a good coop game…or maybe desitny?

    #22 1 year ago
  23. OlderGamer

    Yeah Gamestop online has two new ones for sale one at 250usd and one for 300usd. And like you said the MC issue. But it is classic. Instead of actualy lowering the price and allowing the buyer to pick the games for a new system, companies like to “Add value” in the box. Yet keeping the price high. The problem is if you can’t drop 300usd on a new system it doesn’t much matter what is in the box, you still don’t have 300usd for a new system.

    And ofc we all know why they do it. But the I think they sell a lot more Vita at 200usd price then a 300usd one. Regaurdless of whats packed in.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. polygem

    absolutely. the system is probably even worth the cash but it still is too expensive if you know what i mean. i wouldn´t pay 250 for it plus 40 for a decent mc plus 15 for a case (you kind of need one) plus 80 for two games…it´s just too expensive. pricecut has to come and it will come – and i think it will come pretty soon.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. jldoom

    I completely agree with everyone speaking about the price. Honestly, I’d rather buy a Wii U for that price than purchase a Vita, it’s just too expensive here in the US at retail price for me to justify this purchase.

    @OlderGamer I have seen some great deals on Craig’s List though of people selling their Vita’s at ridiculously cheap prices like $100 System + Memory card and add another $50 to get two games. This is all though in NYC. My friends have had great success buying / selling through there, but I’m a little bit more on the paranoid side when it comes to buying used.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. Lengendaryboss

    @26
    Just going to say what i said elsewhere, games sell hardware and when proven right price becomes irrelevant. Bunch of games out during christmas period and christmas price cut: You got a success.

    #26 1 year ago
  27. malethief

    Nice little read. I do think it’s unfair to categorize the game in the monster hunter meets dark souls. It only shares a similar art style to dark souls and the combat isn’t anything like monster hunter. It’s the usual 4 player action/rpg style of those games that you can play online with up to three others as well.
    From the demo it seems like the addicting factor is getting higher level skills from crafting the drops. It’s fun but I wouldn’t say it has the punishing difficulty of dark souls or the skills required to master monster hunter. It’s a fun game on it’s own and I can’t wait to see more in a future title. On my way to the store to get the full game now :)

    #27 1 year ago
  28. Eddie Rodrigues

    You guys couldn’t be more wrong, this franchise is, at the words of the great Keiji, “designed specially for the Vita” and frankly it wouldn’t look as amazing on the PS4. I guess they could make the sequel work in the console like a streaming device to a bigger screen, but still you would need the Vita to play…

    I need to grab this game right now, just to see gameplays I already want to spend every cent I have.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. Lengendaryboss

    @Eddie
    No one is saying it should jump to consoles, just that there is a lot potential. Like i said any franchise created for PS Vita should stay on PS Vita.

    #29 1 year ago
  30. ManuOtaku

    I will get this game for sure, and i think it will help the vita but just a little bit, it need more games like this and persona 4, and then it will make this console unavoidable for avid gamers.

    #30 1 year ago
  31. polygem

    @28: i was talking about a sequel or a totally new soul sacrifice game, not this one ported to the ps3. this one is for the vita and should stay on the vita, but soul sacrifice as a new franchise could make an appearance on the ps4 one day and i would embrace that idea – it could be awesome. but for now i am more than happy with what we´ve got.

    Manu+1

    #31 1 year ago