Soul Sacrifice has had a development characterized by feverish, and quite possibly misplaced, expectations among Vita owners. Originally revealed with a teaser trailer characterized by oppressive medieval fantasy art, the name “Soul” in its title, coupled with its native Sony platform, lead many a hopeful to believe it was a portable member of the venerable Demon’s/Dark Soul franchise. When the dark veil was finally cast aside from the game, groans of disappointment that this was not the case were quickly drowned out by exclamations of hope as the face of the architect behind Soul Sacrifice was revealed. Soul Sacrifice comes to us from the experienced hand of none other than the father of the Blue Bomber himself, Keiji Inafune. While the great injustices inflicted upon Mega Man’s creator by the hand of Capcom have been lamented elsewhere, it seems that Inafune has taken his own dark feelings on the matter and twisted it into something new, suitably depraved, and possibly the greatest hope on the horizon for the struggling Vita platform.
Games Abyss was able to spend hands-on time with the Japanese build of Soul Sacrifice at both TGS and NYCC this year. What we found was an interesting blend of portable co-operative gaming with third person fantasy hack and slash in the vein of all such things since the first God of War. It is important to note that, at present, Soul Sacrifice has no confirmed western release date. As such, the demo was entirely in Japanese, which made navigating the introductory menus and even on screen gameplay prompts a bit of guess work for this gaijin. The demo kiosk allowed for two side by side Vitas to share a cooperative 15 minute battle, although Inafune has confirmed the completed game will host up to 4 player cooperative adventures. After pressing start, a fleshy tome opens and asks you to choose between multiple spells, each mapped to the face buttons of the Vita. You then set about customizing the gender and appearance of your sorcerer, a process quickly glossed over during this preview in order to get to the meat of the demo’s experience.
When the demo started, I took quick stock of the third person camera and the nature of the different spells I had selected (since I did so quite blindly). The level on display was given no context and was generally on par with all recent Vita releases in graphical prowess. Character models were adequate but art design is where Sacrifice appears to shine. Spell effects are grotesque and enemies are sufficiently distorted with anatomy that conveys a sense of suffering. Unfortunately it was hard to appreciate the nature of the game’s musical score in this demo but we can only hope that a game of such visual atmosphere is accompanied by sufficiently gothic orchestral tracks.
Returning to tha game, I immediately noticed that my cooperative partner had one or two other spells that I lacked and took note of his more fire oriented arsenal. The mainstay of my repertoire seemed to be the ability to consolidate my arm into an icy bludgeon with which I quickly set about dispatching some smaller demons in the vicinity. Inafune has been quoted as saying the major theme behind all of the game’s spells and enemies is the titular them of “sacrifice.” Each spell distorts the sorcerer’s body in dramatic and, presumably, painful fashion, and the decisions to use the more powerful sacrifices to benefit your cooperative team will result in severe handicaps for the individual player. It will be interesting to see how this feature pans out in the full release as it was only nominally present in the brief demo on the floor.
After a few minutes of taking down meager fare, my partner and I were confronted with a grotesque lumbering beast nearly three times our size. This boss battle would make up the remainder of my time with the demo. During this time, I made great use of my ability to summon a Golem from the earth at my feet to do battle with the beast. While the golem’s vine like appendages assaulted the boss, I repeatedly assailed him with a fire encompassed flying attack. At one point, I was prompted to revive my fallen coop companion at the expense of my own health bar, which I did in the spirit of “sacrifice.”
We had not yet toppled the beast when our 15 minutes with the demo was up, but I walked away intrigued by both what I had seen and what I had not. One can only wonder whether the themes of suffering and sacrifice so clearly on display in Inafune’s newest vessel are drawn from the fountain of his own experiences as a neglected visionary of gaming. We can only hope that Inafune’s Sacrifice makes its way state-side to similarly offer itself in an effort to revitalize the critically wounded Vita.