The double A video game, which a few years ago seemed seen for sentencing, seems to resurface, little by little, thanks to the evolution of the aspect linked to independent production and some numbers that, on occasions, certify that less risk helps guarantee the viability of the projects. Soulstice moves within those margins, those of something we could call “prudent risk”, since it is a humble project that, knowing what is at stake, points to a specific audience by turning to formulas of proven efficacy. And there, precisely, lie his virtues, but above all his defects.
An archetypal plot
From the outset, I must admit that my previous ignorance regarding the project led to a pleasant surprise. Appealing to the title of the game presented by Reply Game Studios, anyone who has not come across him before could deduce that it is the umpteenth soulslike of the year. In fact, even his introduction, plagued by the usual tropes of the genre (desolate world, cyclical evils and disgraced heroes), points in that direction. Nothing is further from reality, Soulstice is a back and forth hack & slash, which can be read as good news, especially if one takes into account the low production of a genre that, little by little, has been cannibalized by various hybridizations. Also, personally, I would say that I count myself among those who proudly fly the flag of “Give me a good fight and call me a fool.” So that, first, the proposal should paint more or less well.
The problem is that Soulstice moves so close to the line of budget conservatism, as in its playable intentions and, above all, narratives. Your universe poses a world ravaged by an endless war between chaos and order, summoning Briar and Lute (the duo of protagonists) as servants of an order in charge of keeping the evil that has been threatening for centuries at bay. Darkness and epic go hand in hand in a story in which both one characteristic and the other seem faked. So much so that its influence ends up even affecting an artistic section that borders on the monochromatic, constantly resorting to a palette of grays (and blues) that, at times, reminds certain exponents of the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. This would not be a big problem if the title were aware of the archetypal nature of the story it poses, if, as a result of a certain level of self-awareness, it moved its plot from the main focus, to focus on what it intends to offer in terms of gameplay. But is not the case. The scenes and the dialogues come with a regularity that is well above the interest that they can arouse in the average player.
A fight that should have more space
Nor is it that Soulstice has a combat system that is capable of making us forget the tedium of a bland plot, which has more presence than it should. It’s not excellent, but it’s functional, and it exposes some other good ideas that, at specific times, can come to the fore and cause that frenzy that those of us who enjoy the genre like so much. briar has two types of attacks, each linked to a weapon; the main and the secondary, which we can vary during the game. In this way, the change of weapon is done automatically and replaces the classic combo of weak blow and strong blow. This has its consequences, because to change weapons we need the character to have finished the previous animation, making complex combinations impossible like the ones we can carry out in other exponents of the genre such as Devil May Cry. Basic combos, meanwhile, come in the form of skills that we must unlock and that, in addition, they share button sequences in most weapons.
The basis of combat is, from the outset, simple. Things start to get complicated with the management of the parris, which are carried out by Lute, a kind of spirit that accompanies Briar, and who will be in charge of deflecting, neutralizing or returning the opponents’ attacks depending on the development of your skill tree (and enemy type). Thus, the parri is presented as something not linked to the physical immediacy of the combat, being able to replicate attacks that start meters away from the main character without interrupting the combo that we are executing; interesting. The other great contribution comes with the presence of the summoning and destruction fields that the aforementioned Lute can generate. Each one of them is activated with a different trigger, and they will allow us to interact with enemies and objects from two different planes: that of the specters and that of the corrupted. This means that in order to hit a specter-type enemy, we must have the corresponding field activated (which takes the form of a blue energy bubble that surrounds Briar). So while we fight with a specter (blue enemies) we will not be able to do it with a corrupted one (red enemies). In addition, the fields have a limited activation time, constantly inviting us to manage the fight based on the type of enemies we have in front of us.
That foundation, when used wisely, gives rise to soulstice best moments; Truly frenetic combats in which we must be aware of the activation of the appropriate fields, without neglecting the combo or forgetting to execute the corresponding parris wisely. It depends on this that the momentary affinity between the two characters grows, something that will allow us to enter a kind of berserk mode in which we will share beautifully.
Faced with such premises, one can speak, without fear of being wrong, of an interesting combat that manages, adequately, to force us to play nice. Now, the idea can never be separated from the execution, and in that aspect the title is much more irregular. The feedback of each of the blows lacks the forcefulness that they demand, as well as the audiovisual markers that the Japanese masters of the genre tend to handle so well, giving rise to somewhat decaffeinated confrontations that only shine when the frenzy takes over the game, forcing us to fully focus our attention to obtain the best possible score. The recipe is completed with somewhat bland puzzles and final confrontations capable of plunging us fully into the action, or expelling us through predictable and hackneyed design patterns.
Good ideas with improvable execution
Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the beginning, his narrative aspirations do not help. The interruptions are as constant as they are uninteresting, damaging the rhythm of the game and causing, in my case, a certain weariness every time I had to delve into the background of Holy Kingdom. Something similar happens with its progression system, full of skill trees that we must consult on a recurring basis to unlock skills and configure our own combat system. The latter detracts from the specificity of an approach that, I believe, did not need such distractions. Skill trees have crept into a genre that, historically, has known how to manage character progression more naturally. Moreover, the personification of the combat style, as a general rule, has been linked to the mastering of the gameplay and second games that, by definition, are natural in hack & slash.
The skill trees, along with its Japanese medieval fantasy aesthetic, its desire to incur an archetypal world typical of soulslike, and the perpetual search for the epic as a path to visual spectacle, keep Soulstice stuck to the tried and tested formulas. . It is understood, but that maneuver results in a title devoid of personality, to which It would have been very good for her to let her hair down and break with some of those conventions.
Still I can’t deny the bravery shown by Reply Game Studios when entering a genre like hack & slash. Like, on a personal level, I can’t deny having enjoyed some of the passages he proposes. But I clarify again that I am something like the most suitable target audience for the game, so my timid recommendation is directed, above all, to those who are anxious to slap each other without rhyme or reason, and can not wait for the next advent that will experience the genre of the witch of Umbra. For the rest, Bayonetta.