Soulstice’s story makes it more than the average Hack-And-Slash
In the midst of the fall gaming season, it’s very easy to lose track of games that aren’t the hot new thing from major studios or that haven’t received enough advertising to even catch your attention. Despite this reality, a dark action-adventure game managed to not only capture my attention, but also exceed my expectations, proving itself to be much more than just another derivative game paying homage to its contemporaries.
Soul acquisition, by Reply Game Studios, is a hack-and-slash action game. You play as both Briar, a stoic swordswoman suffering from a demonic curse that threatens to overtake her, and her sister Lute, a ghost-like being who can conjure up barriers and cast beams of light to protect her sister from enemies. Their mission is to seal the skybeam-like tear that forms in the middle of a war-torn kingdom and defeat the city’s inhabitants who have turned into monsters under the tear’s influence. Basically, you may have trouble not thinking about Soul acquisition as related to Berserk manga with a dash of Claymore.
And yes, the comparison to these anime is apt. On paper, you can also draw parallels between Soul acquisition and other stylish action games where the heroes fight against hordes of enemies from other realms, games like Bayonetta and devil may cry. But, Soul acquisition sets itself apart from these games by telling a compelling story that doesn’t take a back seat to the combat.
In the same way as his contemporaries, Soul acquisitionBattles feature light and heavy attacks, a plethora of weapons you can seamlessly switch between, a wealth of Lovecraftian-inspired bosses to rip and tear through, and a temporary overpowered state where you deal even more damage to enemies. Where it differs in both the gameplay and the emotional hook of the story is with Briar’s sister, Lute, who acts as the emotional compass guide Soul acquisition away from being a run-of-the-mill copy of older hack-and-slash games.
At first, Lute drags her ghostly feet after the carnage she and her sister have to wade through, and it feels like the game is setting her up to be yet another annoying, pacifist character you have to escort everywhere. But as it turns out, her inclusion in the game does more than give it a compelling emotional core. It also makes the fight feel fresh and unique.
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When I think of a hack-and-slash game, what often comes to mind is the power fantasy of quickly dispatching your enemies, often using your stunned, Devil Trigger-type moving kit. IN Soul acquisitionHowever, Briar’s Berserker stat acts as a candle that burns at both ends. Although the flame burns brightly, it does not last as long. Just like any person playing a hack-and-slash game and unleashing her character’s full destructive potential for the first time, Briar marvels at how powerful her demonic state makes her, seeing it as a means to mamoru her ghostly imouto. Lute, on the other hand, chastises Briar, warning her not to trust her Berserker state because it will lead to her destruction. The silences during those downtime moments where you break boxes for health pick-ups after a harrowing battle are routinely broken up with dialogue between the two sisters in which they gently try to temper each other’s expectations of the journey ahead.
Whenever Lute tries to distract both herself and Briar from the slaughter of the kingdom’s townsfolk, some of it self-inflicted, with idyllic daydreams of how things used to be in their more peaceful childhoods, Briar briefly brings Lute back down to earth by reminiscing her that she must get used to the carnage in order to survive. Conversely, whenever Briar waves off the overuse of her newfound dark power (and the toll it takes on her) as a means to a necessary end, Lute drops her soft talk and sternly reminds her older sister that even though she’s a ghost and Briar is cursed, the couple still have a lot more life left to live. The importance of these small interactions is further enriched by the sensational vocal performances of Stefanie Joosten (Quiet from Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain) which portrays both sisters. This ongoing back and forth between the sisters, combined with Briar learning to trust her once defenseless sister rather than carry the burden on her own, makes for powerful storytelling.
Even outside Soul acquisitionits story, Lute quickly becomes one of the most essential supporting characters in the hack-and-slash genre. During combat, Lute functions mechanically in the same way as one Stand wanted in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. If an enemy is about to attack Briar, pressing the “Lute Button” will counter, parry, or stop them dead in their tracks, allowing Briar to pounce on a targeted enemy or finish off their allies. or finish destroying their allies. However, pressing the “Lute Button” will distract her, resulting in her looking for enemies that aren’t open to a counter, thus opening you up to attack.
Lute is also important during the game’s many platforming segments. Throughout the game, there are red crystals blocking your path, and blue, ghost-like platforms. By raising either your left or right hand, Lute allows you to deal damage to the red progress-blocking crystals and adds mass to Soul acquisitionits blue platforms. However, doing this for too long will tire Lute to the point where she will pass out. Don’t worry, she’ll be back after a while.
The biggest disadvantage of Soul acquisition, as with many character action games, is that the camera often acts as an enemy in itself. This, combined with the fact that most of the enemies use projectiles, makes for an occasionally frustrating experience. For example, at one point I asked out loud, “Why would you fight here?” as I faced a wave of enemies in two courtyards along a narrow alley. If I entered and exited said alley to complete a combo string, the camera would shift to show the courtyard I entered, thus obscuring my view of the enemies in the alley that I was in the middle of fighting. This not only disoriented me, but caused me to miss messages to counter oncoming projectiles since the camera no longer had them in view. This, combined with the fact that too many enemies have projectiles that you have to counter, avoid or freeze time to avoid, makes the action feel too cluttered at times.
Environmentally, Soul acquisitionThe game’s color palette rarely goes beyond having a dark blue and gray watercolor-style backdrop, except for the challenge mode where it jazzes things up with some vibrant blue and purple landscapes. Because of this, enemy types from early games practically blend into the background, making them hard to distinguish until the game starts pitting you against more noticeable enemies with glowing red and blue crystals in their bodies.
Deep inside, Soul acquisition exists both as proof of the thesis that everything is a remix, and as a refutation of Mark Twain’s statement that comparison is the death of joy. Admittedly, I first saw playing Soul acquisition as a means of getting some practice before the release of Bayonetta 3but I was surprised to find it Soul acquisition shines best not when it reminds you of the fight in character action games like Bayonetta or devil may crybut in how it takes its time letting the story take precedence over the action, making it more than worthy of the attention of any person with a penchant for skill-based hack-and-slash adventures.