Soul Sacrifice is a title that definitely lives up to its name.
The game revolves around sacrifice or, in more general terms, choice. Characters can be sacrificed as you go along for personal gain or powerful assists, or saved for powerful allies in battle. Weapons can be destroyed during use in combat for that one last killing blow, or saved on the off chance you’ll need it for a stronger enemy later on.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Soul Sacrifice starts off bleak. The world is ruled by the sorcerer Magusar, and you see one of the few people left get sacrificed right before you. However, the sacrifice helps you find a book hidden in the rubble that is your only way to survive and kill Magusar.
The book is actually the sorcerer’s journal from before he became evil, and also serves as your base as you choose missions, edit your character and equip spells. The missions are memories of his past life and help you to grow stronger and unlock more missions and spells before finally taking on Magusar himself. While you can challenge at any time, doing so before fully powered up at the end will result in him just destroying you.
The quests are similar to Monster Hunter and Ragnarok Odyssey: you kill all the enemies in the area, collect a certain amount of something or eliminate a boss. The boss characters are actually sorcerers that have become corrupted that you can either save or sacrifice. In fact, every enemy was something else before becoming corrupted, such as Orcs that were cats, meaning that anything you kill can become sacrificed or saved.
The sacrificing thing is a big part of the game. By either saving or sacrificing you can level up your defense or attack by collecting souls. Sacrificing will also replenish weapon uses in battle, while saving will heal some health. Some souls only increase one or the other, while other souls increase one area and decrease another. In addition, sacrificing a boss can sometimes give a huge skill boost and unique weapon, while saving them can unlock them as an ally to use later on. This feature will also turn your character into a Divine, Dark or Neutral sorcerer, depending on how much you sacrifice and save.
Sacrificing seems to be the way the game leans, as it can help finish missions quicker and give you a higher ranking at the end of missions, sometimes giving better rewards. Other things that contribute to the score is using enemy weaknesses or hitting key points and avoiding damage.
Weapons are another thing to watch out for, called offerings, you can equip up to six at a time. Each one has a limited use during the mission and will be destroyed permanently if overused, although uses can be replenished by hidden items in a level visible using Soul Vision. The weapons also charge at the end of each level.
Weapons have different elements, and some, like the melee one, can be used repetitively when summoned until the time runs out. There’s a good variety of items, ranging from mortars to melee to healing to putting a dragon on your arm. It’s best to try and equip a variety of weapons so that you always have an element that enemies are weak to.
The book also lets you customize your character with new costumes, hair and facial features as you progress on. You can also equip offerings that you can use in missions. Offerings can also be boosted up by combining multiple ones of the same type to increase uses, or combined to form new, more powerful offerings. Boosts can also be equipped on your right arm and a Black Rite can be equipped that gives a huge attack at a big cost. The costs can be limited vision, lower defense or other negative effects that permanently last until you use Lacrima that the book gives.
Lacrima, which you get periodically from the book, are basically the book’s tears. The liquid can be used to reset levels on the Divine or Dark path, recover lost weapons or cure permanent status effects. Considering the liquid never runs out (it just takes time to recharge), this basically means that a lot of negative choices can be made pointless, even if they do cost more to fix.
Outside of the story missions, there are non-story quests that can be played with the AI allies I talked about earlier. The quests are still the same style, but they can give extra offerings not found elsewhere. In addition, allies that you bring in that fall can again be sacrificed or saved. Saving them will keep them in a fight, while sacrificing will let you use a powerful magic attack one time that can be the key to finishing a hard boss. Keep in mind the ally will be gone for good, though.
One probably I ran into with allies, both online and offline, were their attacks. Sure, attacks don’t hurt you from allies, but some will still knock you back. Melee attacks do nothing to you, but long-lasting attacks that appear from the ground or mortar attacks will launch you away from an enemy, disrupting your attack and possibly causing you to waste a weapon use.
In addition, the AI allies almost always need a healing ability to be useful. Otherwise, I found they would be downed quickly and needed to be picked back up again and again. Also, saving allies will weaken your health for a time, making it an even bigger problem.
If playing with AI isn’t your thing, you can also take the non-story mission quests on with up to three other people either locally or online. Chat commands can be used on the touch-screen, and gameplay remains the same otherwise. It’s a smart addition that was really fun to use, yet still didn’t take away from the goal of beating Magusar. Often, I used the multiplayer to farm for rare weapons or give me some extra needed weapons to combine.
Graphically, the game looks alright. While other Vita titles have shown graphics better, the enemy designs and some of the environments are pretty impressive to see, even if they do get used and reskinned multiple times.
Repetitive missions aside, Soul Sacrifice is a worthwhile experience on the Vita. I find myself coming back to the game to get new weapons and run bosses with friends. It’s an enjoyable experience that gets better as you get stronger, and may be a good title for a lot of Vita owners to get back into the handheld.