CHIBA, Japan — There’s a lot riding on Soul Sacrifice, the upcoming PlayStation Vita title shown to the public at Tokyo Game Show last weekend.
The Vita needs a breakout hit now that the million-selling PSP series Monster Hunter has departed for Nintendo hardware. And while a number of third-party studios are working on Monster Hunter-style multiplayer action games, as seen at Sony’s Tokyo press conference last week, they are hedging their bets by putting those games on both the Vita and Sony’s aging (but cheaper and more popular) PSP.
Soul Sacrifice, on the other hand, is a Vita exclusive due out in Japan next spring with a Western release to follow. Co-developed by Sony’s internal studio and Marvelous AQL, it’s a multiplayer action game with both local and online co-op play. It also has one of Japan’s highest-profile game designers, Keiji Inafune, on board.
With all these cards on the table, is it enough?
The Tokyo Game Show Soul Sacrifice demo was set to support up to four players, like the full game, but a technical snafu meant I was paired with just one partner. It also left me without any sound, but that proved to be a cloud with a silver lining. With no headphones and no guidance from the Sony staff (they were all trying to fix the hardware issues), it was up to me and my partner to work together to figure out the game’s mechanics — an old-fashioned cooperative gaming experience.
Soul Sacrifice has a very macabre atmosphere, much spookier than the other Monster Hunter wannabes. The “host” of the game is a talking Necronomicon who lets you customize your character and choose your magical armaments. For a demo, the variety of attack options was impressive. I could have played three or four times and not seen all the available attacks.
Three of the four face buttons are attack buttons, so it’s no surprise that Soul Sacrifice places enormous emphasis on offense. Magic attacks vary in range, elemental property and overall damage. I spent most of my time using a long-range projectile that used a lock-on feature like Rez and Child of Eden.
When an enemy is slain, the player has two choices: “rescue” the creature’s soul, or “sacrifice” it. Rescuing monsters restores player health and boosts defense, while sacrificing monsters empowers player attacks. The effects are cumulative, meaning it pays to consistently choose one option rather than take turns rescuing and sacrificing.
This choice extends to your co-op partners as well. Should a fellow adventurer fall, you can “rescue” them and bring them back to life at the cost of your own health or “sacrifice” them to access more powerful magic. If you’re the one who’s lying on the ground, you can try to influence your allies’ decision by pressing a button to ask them to rescue or sacrifice your character, a helpful tool if your co-op partner isn’t within earshot in the real world.
Downed players can also choose to die rather than wait for other players to help or harvest them, but this is a last resort. In our game, my partner wanted to save me but was bogged down by an angry Cerberus. He suggested I die in the hopes I would respawn with more health.
As it turned out, death in Soul Sacrifice is death, and when my partner fell seconds later our game was over.
Ultimately I got only a glimpse of Soul Sacrifice at the Tokyo Game Show, one that was hampered by outside interference, but I was intrigued.