When the SCEA E3 press conference finished without even a mention of Soul Sacrifice I was surprised and also somewhat upset. Having a conference dedicated to the game’s announcement in Japan and translating it for English audiences is a good step, but no matter how unique and fun the game looks it doesn’t matter if no one knows about it. I even began to wonder if Soul Sacrifice was in LA at all when I didn’t see it on the show floor. While walking around in SCEA’s upper deck area for media I just happened upon it while I was looking for another title I knew was up there. While my time with Soul Sacrifice was short, what I saw was nothing but encouraging.
The first thing I saw in Soul Sacrifice was a first person view of my character’s cell. Soul Sacrifice doesn’t directly cast you as the powerful magic users that you regularly play as, but instead as the sacrificial slave of a powerful magic user. Crawling around your dank cell is the most you can do while in this form. Perhaps as some kind of divine recompense for your admittedly desperate situation the main character comes across a talking book that depicts the adventures of previous magic users. As you flip through the stories in these pages you get a short background for the creature the character in the book is tasked with killing next. All of these creatures have misused or overused the sacrificial magic that comes with the game’s title. They were once human like anyone else, but abusing magic in Soul Sacrifice can have dire consequences.
After reading about the target, you take on the role of the book’s main character, a sorcerer’s slave. If you’re going to take out a monstrosity you’re going to need some firepower, and in Soul Sacrifice that means bringing materials. Whether it’s a piece of wood or your own arm you always have to give up something to gain power. I had the choice of 6 different sacrificial pieces to bring with me which ranged from mounds of special dirt or the blood flowing through my own veins. Each attack is mapped to either the circle, square, or triangle buttons and then once you use up the material for one of the face buttons you have another waiting in the wings before you have to start worrying. The blood attack doesn’t actually run out because of lack of materials, but you can easily kill yourself if you overuse it.
Once that was all decided the mission began and I was greeted by a computer controlled companion. The producer told me that the number of companions you got was dependent on the mission and you wouldn’t always have someone along for the ride. Attacks usually only activate the material with the first button press, but after that you had different options on how to use your new power. One of the powers turned my caster into a rocky mass and by holding the button down I could spin in place and then charge forward to do damage to enemies, while another made my arm gigantic and I could either press repeatedly for three hit combos or hold the button for a single strong strike. The most gruesome of my attacks was a projectile which shot blood from my fingertips in the form of spikes and continuously decreased my health whenever it was used.
Each time I killed off an enemy I was given the choice to either save or sacrifice them. Sacrificing has obvious benefits as the monsters turn into materials that you can use for magic attacks for the current or later missions, but the producer told me that saving the monster can have benefits too as saved monsters could help you out in other missions. It didn’t take long before I came upon my quarry. He seemed to be related to the attack I mentioned earlier since he too could roll up into a ball and then charge forward for immediate damage. There’s no health meter for enemies but as boss characters get closer and closer to death they’ll start pleading with you which appears as uneven red text that fades in and out across the screen. This particular boss talked about his mother and how much he wanted to go home. If you need a more definitive health estimate you can press one of the trigger buttons and you’ll see enemies and allies in red and green respectively. The more red or green the more health the target has.
It took a bit of doing and some dodging out of the way of charges with the X button but the boss eventually fell in a clump to the floor. Now it was time for a choice, and the downed monster pleaded with me to let him go home to his mother. Unfortunately for him/it I’m a cold, calculating bastard (at least for the purpose of this game) and I had no trouble sacrificing him for the materials. My companion congratulated me on a righteous kill and the producer informed me that if I had chosen to save the boss in this particular instance then my supposed compatriot would have been seriously perturbed and attacked me instead of exclaiming my glory. It doesn’t always pay to be a nice guy. With the boss dead the mission was over and I was rewarded with a number of usable items as a bounty as well as an extra bounty for choosing to sacrifice the boss himself.
Sadly that is where my demo time had to end. The producer told me that the full release would have a particular focus on multiplayer with up to four players playing either locally or through the interwebs. It’s also important to remember that Soul Sacrifice is one of the prettiest Vita games I’ve seen from a technical standpoint, and its dark art style was equally impressive. The music is an all-star effort from Yasunori Mitsuda and Wataru Hokoyama that is sure to please. Really there’s every reason to be excited for this game; every Vita owner should keep it in mind when it releases in North America in Spring 2013 or Japan in Winter 2012. It’s time to do more than just hunt monsters; it’s time to sacrifice them.