By Kris . April 30, 2013 . 12:05am
You begin Soul Sacrifice in a cage, waiting for imminent death at the hands of the corrupted sorcerer Magusar. A shockingly poorly-voiced cutscene results in the death of another prisoner and a dangerous looking talking book falling into your cell. The book, known as Librom, informs you that he is a sorcerer’s diary and that you can learn enough magic to defeat Magusar if you read him. On top of that, he promises to reveal secrets about Magusar, as the diary belonged to one of his close friends.
Admittedly, I was a bit worried about Soul Sacrifice at first. Shortly after my introduction to the Librom, I had to kill some weird looking rats and cats. Spells seemed strange to me. Why should I have to take an extended period of time to generate weapons like swords and arms before I can attack? Why is my only ranged attack something that sprays my blood at people and takes my health? Is there any way to beat the bigger enemies without sacrificing half of my defense (and all of my skin) to summon a gigantic man made of fire? Why is do I have to pay the tears that the talking diary cries to use it again and keep my defense intact?
However, with each mission, I gradually got more and more comfortable. Each mission I went on generated “Lacrima,” the tear-like substance I had to brush from Librom’s eye to “change the past” and restore depleted spells and fallen comrades. Spells with lengthy startup times, like swords, allowed me either multiple slashes or a charge slash. However, it took a particularly challenging fight for me to really click with combat.
One of my missions was to kill the Elven Queen, a woman who had once kidnapped children due to her inability to have any who had been twisted into a hybrid, flying dandelion-infused creature. Since she was almost constantly airborne, my first attempt against her had me loading up on ranged spells and just trying to chip away at her health as she floated around. I had two kinds: Pinwheels and Mortars. Both allowed me to walk and aim like a third person shooter, but had to be used in different ways. Mortars had to be used at long range and were slow to fire, but would explode on impact, so I just had to fire in the general vicinity of my target. Pinwheels, on the other hand, were floating buzzsaw-like weapons that would lock onto parts of an enemy and could be readied and fired quickly.
However, the downside of spells that can be used quickly is the fact that each spell has a set number of uses. My Pinwheels, for instance, could only be summoned 15 times. My mortars, only five. Use them all up and you have to pay to use them in another mission. There are a couple of ways to get around that, though.
For one thing, there are places for you to refresh your spells on each map. While the exact nature of these spots varies from map to map (sometimes it’s a tree, other times a barrel) but they can be located by using your sorcerer’s “Mind’s Eye.” Your Mind’s Eye provides you with quite a bit of information. Enemies are highlighted green, yellow, or red in accordance with their health, investigable spots (such as those that refresh your spells) have white glows to them. Sometimes, these white glowing areas will allow you to summon a new spell out of whatever they’re attached to, such as producing a stone axe out of a rock, which can be very handy if you’re running low on your equipped spells.
Most importantly, your Mind’s Eye allows you to see the Cursed Parts (effectively weak points) on Archfiends (the bigger monsters in the game, such as the Elven Queen). These are fun because they can be destroyed in a grisly spray of gore. Whereas one might think that destroying the Queen’s wings would take away her ability to fly, it did little more than a decent amount of damage and drop her to the ground. This was more than enough reason for me to keep aiming my shots at her weak points. While this worked quite well at first, when she got weak enough, she brought out two attacks that I was not happy about. The first attack shot homing demonic dandelion seeds everywhere. No matter how I dodged, these things would always catch me eventually, typically when I was readying a spell against their mother. I’d lose more than a quarter of my health with each strike, and I didn’t have a practical way to quickly get rid of them with my current set of spells. I died. Then I tried again. Then I died again.
On my third attempt, while scrambling around for a place to restore my spells, a text prompt appeared allowing me to make a shield out of the ground around me. While I’d mostly ignored shields up to this point, but I was desperate for something that could do damage and some demonic dandelion seeds were approaching fast. I summoned up the shield and tried an attack against the approaching seeds, destroying them instantly. I was then killed by the second of the two attacks that I hated, a headlong charge that seemed impossible to avoid.
Back to the drawing board. I returned to the spell palette customization screen and started testing some of the spells I’d unlocked prior. Some of them allowed me to change the way that my character dodged for a set period of time. One in particular allowed me to teleport short distances as much as I wanted for 20 seconds. With shield and new teleportation in tow, I returned to that mission. I was ready.
When I finally had my proper spells in place, I felt like I had total control of the battlefield. The minions that would try to attack me in the middle of the fight could be eliminated with a single properly-timed shield counter, which would amplify the shield’s damage from practically nothing to instant death. When the Queen started flying at me, I’d activate my teleportation spell and zip around the map until I found a safe place to restore my spells or start firing mortars from. I felt godlike. I could see every action in that battle coming and I had a response for it. I loved the fact that I was able to use everything at my disposal, from my spell palette to the weapons hidden in the environment to topple a boss that minutes before I could hardly scratch. The Elven Queen fell quickly, becoming the woman she once was. However, she was wounded, unable to move.
Then came the sacrifice.
I played Soul Sacrifice in a brutal way. Everything I did was in pursuit of more power. I’d kill practically every sorcerer I came across, whether wounded or after their defeat as an archfiend, just for the sake of some extra experience and a potentially damaging spell that involved ripping the bones out of my sacrifice and making them rain down as spears from the heavens. I’d save enemies here and there when I felt like I was becoming too much of a glass cannon (leveling up on a salvation-filled path results in more health, whereas sacrificing enemies makes you stronger), but for the most part, my sorcerer lived a life of brutality.
The story seemed to respond well to my decision to do so. With each sacrifice, the narrator (who male despite my choice to play as a female sorcerer) discussed the way that their own memories and consciousness were drifting away. The souls that a sorcerer absorbed would impact their own thoughts and feelings. There’s a constant sense of bleakness about Soul Sacrifice. Sorcerers are murderers, doomed to one day become monsters like the ones they’re tasked with slaying. They begin to lose their sense of self in the midst of all the killing. It’s kind of refreshing to play something so hopeless.
Food for Thought:
1. Between Librom in Soul Sacrifice and Grimoire Weiss in Nier, I wonder why talking books are so often sardonic and British in video games…
2. I liked the way that beating non-main missions in certain ways would lead to different outcomes. At one point I let a sorcerer live after defeating her as an archfiend, and she joined my side as an ally. Because of my excessive mercy as a sorcerer (they’re supposed to kill every monster they come across), my organization sent an assassin to kill me.
3. I worked with my new ally and sacrificed my would-be assassin.There weren’t any major ramifications for doing so, but I liked the way it played out.