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Soul Sacrifice – Like Fullmetal Alchemist and Fairytale Had a Very Creepy Baby

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So…Keiji Inafune…I understand that you’ve been going through a lot of changes lately. New company, new vision, and I can respect that. I also understand that you are a man of many varying tastes and design styles. For example, your creative mind gave birth to Mega Man…and then Onimusha…and then Dead Rising…so, I mean, let’s be honest, you’ve been getting progressively darker with a larger and larger obsession with zombies and dead people and souls and stuff. Even so, when I found out that Soul Sacrifice wasn’t a Vita entry in the popular Souls franchise developed by From Software (BOOOOO!!!!) but was instead a game about, well, soul sacrifice, and that you of all people were doing it, I was more than a little concerned and disappointed.

I mean, I don’t like to play favorites or be particularly vocal about said favorites, but can we be real for a moment? You’re pretty much my favorite game designer on the planet. When I was younger it was Hideo Kojima, but, well, he got super creepy with his games. I looked up to Shinji Mikami, and then, well, Bayonetta. I also loved Cyber Connect 2, but, well, then they made a game where God is evil and you’re a demon girl running from him for safety, so…

Really I think to moral of the story is that maybe I should stop looking at Eastern game devs as shining examples of what I want to someday craft in the digital studio…….

Anywho, Soul Sacrifice had me concerned. It still does really, but, I got to spend a few hours with it and I…really don’t know how to feel. FAIR WARNING: I AM GOING TO TRY REALLY HARD TO NOT HAVE PICTURES THAT WILL GIVE YOUR CHILDRENS’ NIGHTMARES, BUT, WELL, THE GAME IS FREAKING CALLED SOUL SACRIFICE! IT WAS HARD ENOUGH TO DO IT WITH SILENT HILL, IT’S GONNA PRETTY MUCH BE IMPOSSIBLE WITH THIS GAME!

MATURE CONTENT WARNING! Y’ALL HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!

Honestly I’d make this an article that you have to choose to see more to see more, but, well, I’m not really sure how to make wordpress do that, so, use your own discretion.

So the premise of the game is some evil sorcerer dude showed up during what I guess was a war, and starting doing pretty awful things to folk. Ya know, filling their still living bodies with demonic tendrils and ripping them apart as well as harvesting their organs while they’re still alive. Typical warlock stuff.

"I am SO harvesting your organs later!"

“I am SO harvesting your organs later!”

Captain Jerkbutt proceeds to kill some dude in front of you, and then have his demons drag you off to his tower where he locks you up in a flesh cage. Or, no, I’m sorry, the cage is made of bones. The rest of the place is flesh. Yeah, you’d think a tower made of flesh wouldn’t be structurally sound, but, what do I know? I’m not an evil warlock guy.

The Sorcerer locks you up and leaves. And then some demons with…questionable organs show up. They’re about to kill the dude across from you whose all like “Nooooo, don’t kill meeeeee, that would really suuuuuuck” and then out of nowhere he’s like “BY THE WAY I CAN THROW FIRE FROM MY HANDS!” and kills them and jacks up his cage. Somewhere in this, a super nasty book that you fell back and accidentally touched (that is also of the appearance of flesh and something Lovecraft would’ve been proud to have sitting on his shelf) is all like “Yo dude, I’ll totally spring you from here if you read me.”

"C'mon bro, touch me! All the cool kids are doing it!"

“C’mon bro, touch me! All the cool kids are doing it!”

Cuz, ya know, that’s legit.

So, rather than being even remotely smart, after escaping from his cage and demonic onslaught Mr. Wizard Guy decides to gloat instead. Cuz, ya know, standing around gloating in the tower of a powerful warlock is absolutely the best use of your time after you make a small nuclear explosion, wreck his stuff, and kill his guards. The dude rants about how tough he is and how you would be free if you weren’t so lame and pretty much how overrated the warlock is…and then, yeah, the warlock kinda shows up and harvests his organs and eats his soul and stuff.

Pro Tip: Don’t gloat until you’re out of the freaking tower and at least five continents over. Or just, ya know, don’t gloat.

So, the warlock kinda looks at you like “You want some of this, punk?” to which you’re pretty much like “I saw nothing.” and he’s like “Yeah. You’re next.” and leaves.

The book is all pissy (can I say that? I’m gonna say that) because it’s covered in rubble so you have to clean it off. Then the book is all “HA HA YOU TOUCHED ME YOU TOTALLY TOUCHED ME!” and yanks you inside of it to another world. There you team up with a warlock and have to fight a giant serpent with a dude’s face.

"CRAAAAWLING IIIIIN MY SKIIIIIIN!!! THESE WOUNDS, THEY WIIIILLL NOOOT HEEEEAAAAL!!!!"

“CRAAAAWLING IIIIIN MY SKIIIIIIN!!! THESE WOUNDS, THEY WIIIILLL NOOOT HEEEEAAAAL!!!!”

Let’s stop real quick and talk about what is possibly this game’s only theologically-ish redeeming factor. So, basically the premise of the title is you either sacrifice (go figure) or forgive. If you’re a warrior of the sacrificing variety, you’re a witch or a warlock. As a witch or a warlock you sacrifice your enemies, you sacrifice your friends, you sacrifice your body parts, you sacrifice the souls of the bosses. When you sacrifice enemies and bosses’ souls, you get powerful spells. These spells make the game easier, because they tend to be somewhat overpowered I’m told (by Keiji Inafune). You can sacrifice your body parts for various weapons such as swords and stuff, you can sacrifice parts you need to live for the “good” of the party such as ripping out your spine to make the excalibur (I’m like 90% certain some blonde chick found that at the bottom of a lake, but, whatever, what do I know about mythology…), or you can sacrifice your soul, pretty much to what you would be sacrificing your soul too, and you can basically do a summon a la final fantasy, but, ya know, with more sacrificing your soul to satan.

Before anybody whines, no, the game doesn’t directly go “Hey, you gave Satan your soul”, but come on, let’s be real here. I get people all the time that go “Oh, in Shin Megami Tensei when they say demon, they really mean digital data!!! Even though they have Beelzebub and stuff….” and people that go “Oh, well, in DDS they’re talking about something else” or “Nocturne didn’t mean God and Anti-christ like that” or “Bayonetta didn’t mean” you get the point. And, I’ll typically cite scripture till I’m certain the person just wants to have a circular argument and then I go on about my day.

There is a mechanic where you are a witch/warlock and you can sacrifice your soul for power. There is no way you can convince me there is any good spin to put on that.

"WOOOO!!! I'M GONNA ROT IN HELL FOR ETERNITY, BUT AT LEAST MY FRIENDS WILL REMEMBER THIS REALLY COOL DRAGON I MADE FOR THEM!!!"

“WOOOO!!! I’M GONNA ROT IN HELL FOR ETERNITY, BUT AT LEAST MY FRIENDS WILL REMEMBER THIS REALLY COOL DRAGON I MADE FOR THEM!!!”

So, of course, since no one wants to sacrifice their character in co-op and not get to play anymore, you somehow magically get your body and soul back in the next level. Whatever, you saw that serpent man face dude, I don’t think logic really applies to this game.

The other path you can take is the one that I’m dubbing the Alchemist path until I can play the game in English. My Japanese is intermediate level, which means that if you don’t throw kanji at me, I know enough to understand 65% to 80% of what you’re saying depending on the situation. As a result, some of my judgment I’ll be saving for an English demo.

"Every ones...has it's thorns! YEEEEEAH!!!!"

“Every rose…has it’s thorns! YEEEEEAH!!!!”

Being an alchemist means you get to do stuff like that. Ya know, minus the memes. Basically instead of being a jerk and damning everything you see to the same hellish existence you’re working towards, you essentially “talk” to your environment. You’re basically like “Hey plant, you should be a sword. That’d be awesome.” and then you have a plant sword. Or you’re like “Hey water, you should form a wall of ice in front of me! And then, the ice should become razor sharp and impale anyone who crosses me!” or “Hey rock, you’d make a great ax made out of fire that sunders the atmosphere before me, scattering it to the four winds!”

Basically you turn stuff into deadlier stuff. There’s no verbal incantations or anything, you just hold out your hand and it glows a soft blue while you concentrate until the object becomes the weapon you’re after. My favorite loadout for my two hours of the demo was a giant ax, a sword, the ability to heal myself, the aforementioned ice wall, a gigantic rock fist with a spike in it, a barrage of ice from above, an ice hadoken (can you tell I like ice?) and a new move I didn’t get to try yet. You forgive enemies, which gets you materials, and you scavenge your environment. You pretty much get rewarded for being a nice person by the environment randomly being like “Dude, you kinda suck and have no health. Look, an apple tree appeared! Eat some apples, get some health” or “Hey, that dude broke your ax. Here’s a giant sword made out of fire. Enjoy.”

I need to play it in English to see the spin they put on it, but Keiji Inafune has already said in multiple interviews that pursing the path of being a witch or a warlock will make the game easier because of the spells you get, but you also slowly become a grotesque disgusting looking person and you are going to be working towards a malevolent and bad ending. Conversely, being good means you’ll have a harder time, but a light and rewarding ending if you stick to the light path. You can still throw fireballs and stuff, but your moves will progress slower than a witch or a warlock. As a result, as I experienced in the demo, you’ll have a tougher time of it.

The game is perfectly balanced to test you, and to really push you and to see what kind of person you truly are. Will you take the easy path and damn everyone for a quick fix? Will you be spiteful and sacrifice someone rather than forgiving them? Cuz see, here’s the catch (and what I figure will be the bad ending): every enemy in the game is an animal or something infected by the sorcerer’s black magic. Is it that cat’s fault it became this monster? You can cleanse it of the magic and it can go on as a normal cat.

Worse still, every boss has a story. Take this fine chap for example:

soul-sacrifice-06

Consumed with the desire to protect his village, he slaughtered the enemies without ceasing until he even began slaughtering innocent women and children of the other tribe, his blade knowing no sating. He became consumed by the lust of warfare and became a demon. Or, this chick:

LEAD_SS-440x270

Obsessed with a vendor she loved but was too shy to confess too, she ate his wares every day for the chance to be near him. He ended up having to travel to another town, she became a crazy glutton (she was getting bigger and bigger all time anyways from his baked goods), she became that harpy, and then ate him and his whole village for “breaking her heart”.

Every boss is someone who is basically wearing their sin on the outside. As the warrior of the story, will you sacrifice them for power, or will you forgive them so their soul can pass on? The game really, really tests you.

In the boss fight I had, some wandering zombie became this giant knight with fire and axes and chains and stuff. The fight was super intense, and it was the first time I learned that your skills will break over usage (you can restore them with the tears of the book. Like, essentially if you’re good it weeps as it like, heals or something, and if you’re bad, well, it weeps cuz you’re a jerk). Soon I could no longer heal myself, and my mainstays against the fire knight were beginning to wear apart as well. I knew I and my female AI assistant alchemist had to find a way to finish things quickly. I had not sacrificed a single person or enemy to that point; I am not the sort who even in a video game would do that.

As I watched my ice wall shatter, my ax dull and my freezing hadoken losing juice, the boss kept throwing cannon fodder enemies at me. Make no mistake; there is no regular attack. There’s only the six skills you’ve prepared to bring into battle, and whatever you gain from sacrificing or alchemy in the stage. And again and again and again he kept sending enemies at me, and after a certain point I was like “You know, I see what you’re doing Inafune-sama. It would be easier just to sacrifice them. I’d know for sure I’d get a new attack, and I could beat the boss. But, I refuse. I am a warrior of light; I refuse to walk the path of darkness.”

Soul-Sacrifice_5-10

My assistant was getting a thrashing. She all but begged me to sacrifice something. I refused. After a certain point though, she stumbled. I didn’t even see what he did to push her over the edge, but I heard the “Gomenasai…” after a crash (I’d had to retreat, drawing the attention of several other enemies to get them off of her) followed by the maniacal laughter. Now, as the player the game tracks my choices quite visually. I have a light level up and a dark. My dark remained empty, my light was level five at that point, but I knew full well what a blood trail looked like from a distance.

We barely managed to win the fight, and she “only” used one blood art. I finished it off by freezing it solid, then laying into it with a rock sword that just sorta popped up, as though my warrior got desperate and was like “Ya know, I bet I could make a sword out of a rock!”

The enemy was down. The dark armor faded, and there on his hands and knees was a broken shell of a man. I learned that the sorcerer basically collects fallen warriors, those that gave in to sin and become monsters. The man begged forgiveness, wishing to see home one last time (or a wish to that effect). Now, I had recalled Inafune-sama mentioning that you might see a situation where you want to forgive someone, and other players might vote not to, or vice versa. You might get outvoted, but the game and the inhabitants will remember your valiant efforts as well as the backstabbing of your “friends”.

As I stared at the broken knight, even before my assistant urged me to sacrifice him, part of me was like “You’re a jerk. I came here to stop the demons and free the poor cats and stuff. Then you out of nowhere became this giant thing and attacked me. You were relentless. I almost died. She almost died…”

I wouldn’t say that I had a “It would be so easy” moment, but part of me was like “…Yeah…you can die.”

But, I am a warrior of light, and I silenced that internal conflict immediately. A scripture came to mind (this shouldn’t surprise you, I’m pretty much always looking for scripture in everything I play, watch or read): “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

I was like “Whatever man.” and forgave him.

And then my partner, we’ll call her Luna because I’m tired of typing “my partner” was all “HE DESERVES TO DIE!” and she tried to sacrifice him! I really wasn’t expecting that.

I overpowered her the first time, and she like, shoved me away. She might have hit me in the chest with a ball of ice, I’m not sure. I was sent skidding back. She set about sacrificing him again, and I dashed over to save him. I began forgiving while she kept sacrificing, and I noticed one of his enemies rounding on us. I rolled to one side as it lunged, and I let it knock her to the ground. I forgave him, he gave me his sword and I learned how to tell air to become lightning, and he passed on. She looked at me, betrayed, and blasted me in the chest with ice.

None of this was a cutscene, this was all real time, by the way.

We turned our attentions to the remaining enemies and finished em’ off. She walked off and did her own thing while I forgave them. When all was said and done, the story reflected our actions. She came over to me and apologized. Four missions ago, her face was scarred. This was evidence of her past as a witch, but her traveling alongside me and adapting to how I played was proof of her trying to be a better person. She asked me to remove her hood (or words to that effect) after apologizing. The scarring on her face was all but gone.

She thanked me and we had dinner by the fire.

I stopped playing there to write my impressions. So, what’s my verdict? I’ve still got a lot of demo to go, but I’m not gonna lie to ya guys. I’ve always prided myself on being a straight shooter, so I’m gonna go ahead and be real: I want this game, quite a lot. It’s insanely fun to play, it fills a gap that’s missing since Capcom hates Sony and Sega hates America (You might want to stop holding your breath for Phantasy Star Portable 2: Infinity) and Square Enix dislikes risks (so, ditto for Lord of Apocalypse). I love raid style games, I love co-op monster hunting, I love dungeon crawling, I loved Full Metal Alchemist, I love gothic fairy tales, I mean, this game is everything I want…except…except…

Soul Sacrifice.

In some games, you can get away with allowing a darker side of play, such as Call of Duty with nazis or insurgents  Should you be able to? I dunno. Having had family that’s been through both the holocaust and the war in Iraq, it does sorta bug me, but not enough that I’m not going to play Call of Duty. That will happen because I just plain don’t like Call of Duty 😀

But, in all seriousness, much of it depends on the English translation. Of course nine times out of ten American localization teams add a lot more demonology than was in the Japanese script, but…Soul Sacrifice…it doesn’t get much more blunt than that.

So all I can say is I have to see. If you aren’t real strong in your foundation, then this can be a dangerous game to get into. Satan can use gateways super easy, especially if our guard is down.

All I can say is that I really, really, really hope Inafune-sama pulls a hat trick, because the game is fun, but having my salvation is more fun.

Soul Sacrifice comes out in America in February of next year, and the demo is live on the Japanese playstation store. It’s a vita game, which means you’ll need a separate memory card to tie to a Japanese account to play it. Because, ya know, Sony.

Leave a comment below; Xeawn out!

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