September 20th, 2022
PC (Steam), PlayStation 5; Xbox Series X, Xbox Series X
Reply Game Studios
Character action games are simpler than other types, such as full-blown role-playing, but their appearances can be deceiving. Because they are primarily focused upon combat, they must feature very deep systems. However, this is not enough. This type of game must have well-recognized characters and settings in order to engage a broad range of players. Thanks to their iconic characters, fast-paced action gameplay, and memorable characters, such games as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta are instantly recognisable.
It can be difficult to create a great character action game. This is why not many developers are willing to try their hand at this genre. Reply Game Studios created Soulstice, an engaging title that combines some of the best features from the greatest character action games with a well-realized setting inspired from two iconic manga series. Although these issues are not major, they did not stop Reply Game Studios.
As I mentioned in my previews, the Soulstice setting is heavily influenced Norihiro’s Claymore. Some elements are also lifted from Kentaro’s Berserk. The three powerful deities known as the Keepers sealed the Veil behind evil after the war against Chaos. The three gods restored peace to the land and built three cities that make the Holy Kingdom of Keidas. This allowed humanity to live in safety from the forces Chaos. As it is often, peace does not last forever. Evil creatures can sometimes appear in the world of men by creating Tears in the Veil. The Order of the Ashen Blade knights, known as Chimeras are the only ones who have the power to banish them from the world.
Briar is one these Chimeras, charged with protecting men from the evil that penetrates the Veil from Tears. She, like other Chimeras, was able to fuse with another soul, Briar’s in her instance, to gain extraordinary powers. She is sent to Ilden to investigate a Tear in the Veil which seems to be growing larger each day. Briar will soon realize that this mission is not just about killing Corrupted and Possessed Wraiths. She’ll also learn more about the Order to which she belongs and her unique status among Chimeras.
Although it is a bit too inspired by Claymore’s story, the Soulstice setting is definitely one of the highlights. While the voice acting is far from being the best, sometimes ruining immersion, the game does an excellent job in introducing the world and characters, making them interesting and engaging from the get-go. Soulstice presents some mysteries right from the beginning, and the fast pace of the reveals leaves players hungry for more. As a huge fan of Claymore, Berserk and other characters, I knew the storyline from the beginning. However, Reply Game Studios’ world and characters were still enjoyable to me. The in-game Codex provides additional information about the world, characters, weapons, and other details (using a system that is reminiscent of the NieR series), so you can see how much care the developer put into these details.
Soulstice’s gameplay is not original. This isn’t a problem, as the story and setting are well-crafted, making for a solid action-packed character game. The basic formula is a mixture of the Devil May Cry series in terms of traversal and exploration, particularly the first entry, and the Bayonetta series in terms of combat. It also features a scoring system that is very similar to the games created by PlatinumGames. The city of Ilden is a series of linear locations where players must explore. There are many optional Challenges and secrets to be found, as well as simple puzzles and the chance to fight many different enemies in closed areas. There are several camera angles and a lot of platforming, some of which can be frustrating. It is difficult not to think back to the first Devil May Cry as you explore Ilden. However, puzzle-solving sequences that require activating switches or destroying specific color-coded items with the help of either the Blue Evocation Field (or the Red Banishment Field), are more reminiscent than the third Devil May Cry. The adventure progresses and puzzles become more difficult. They provide a pleasant distraction from the main purpose of Soulstice: to fight all sorts hellish creatures.
Soulstice feels a lot like a PlatinumGames-developed title during combat, thanks to the combo-focused approach of the combat system and some quirks of the scoring mechanics, such as having to complete combo strings to increase the multiplier as if they were Bayonetta’s Wicked Weaves. The game was influenced by many other titles. Lute and Briar fight together but Lute has the direct control of Briar. This is a very similar game to God of War with Kratos, Atreus, and God of War. After unlocking all seven weapons, Briar can use them in battle. This feature was lifted from Ninja Theory’s Dmc-Devil May Cry so players don’t have to worry about the mission loadout. Lute and Briar can both be enhanced with new moves and special techniques. Soulstice is a great adventure even without any upgrades. The action feels quick and smooth, which makes it a lot of fun. Sometimes animations can feel a bit stiff, but not enough to affect the combat system.
Soulstice’s features are not all copied from similar games. Some heavier enemies are equipped with a Poise Gauge that once depleted makes them susceptible to launchers, knockdown attacks, and so the possibilities for combos are not limited to lighter or weaker enemies. Lute, like the previous, fights on her own, hitting enemies with energy blasts that can be used to hit them with both long-range and short-range. Her skill tree allows her to further customize and improve their properties. Briar is busy slashing at enemies, throwing them into the air to smash their heads back on the ground. Lute can also protect Briar by unleashing three types counters that deflect and close-range attacks, as well as slowing down enemies. Although the counter prompts are often displayed, players need to be aware of what their enemies are doing. This is where Soulstice can become a bit frustrating as the camera can often get in the way.
Although it is possible to rotate your camera during combat, it doesn’t always provide a clear view of the arena. Although locking on helps to reduce the problem, it is not enough. Enemies can attack from far away, which can lead to frustration. Lute warns Briar about incoming attacks. However, these indicators can be hard to track in the heat of battle. Because most enemies’ attacks are not very vertical, aerial combat is a viable option to avoid being damaged by enemies beyond the view. But, it is not a good idea to be forced to play a certain way. Camera issues can definitely impact the experience.
The gameplay problems don’t end there. Soulstice also features what I consider to be the worst feature in action games: color-coded enemies. Wraiths, Corrupted enemies, and others cannot be damaged normally unless they are within the Evocation Field and Banishment Field. Both fields increase Entropy and, once full, Lute is temporarily out of combat. This forces players to use resource management during combat. This could have been an additional layer of depth to the combat system. However, it is a distraction as attacks against these color-coded enemies will bounce off them and disrupt the flow of the action. DmC – Devil May Cry had a similar system in its initial release. It was simply not beneficial to the experience. Sometimes frustration can turn into annoyance. For example, in the boss battle in Act 2, players must activate and deactivate a Banishment Field to cause damage to the enemy and prevent mines from exploding. The horrible camera is constantly in your way, making it difficult to fight. This, combined with enemies attacking off-screen, gets more frustrating as the game progresses. Some enemy configurations are particularly frustrating.
Although color-coded enemies can be annoying, there are ways around them. Briar and Lute will improve their Unity by fighting well, using the correct weapons against specific enemy types, using counters correctly, and avoiding damage. This will allow the Chimera’s powerful finishing attacks to deal huge damage to enemies and activate a Devil Trigger state called Rapture. These powerful attacks deal damage regardless of whether they are color-coded. Briar will be able to activate Berserk states with a further upgrade. To calm Briar down, players must complete some QTE. This mechanic is clearly inspired Berserk. As in the manga by Kentaro Mura, the young witch Schierke delved deep into Guts’s mind to save him from the destructive anger that powers his armor. It’s a nod to the series that will be appreciated by fans.
Soulstice can be frustrating at times because of these design decisions. But the game is fun when these issues don’t get in the way. The enemy variety is fantastic, with many creatures that are weak to certain weapon types and require different strategies to defeat. Some of these creatures are very creative and well rooted within the rules of the game’s universe. Bosses are very interesting and offer a good amount of challenge even at the most basic difficulty level. It’s not overwhelming, but those who are looking to challenge themselves can play the game at a more difficult difficulty setting. Multiple times you complete the game will unlock additional difficulty settings. These require a great understanding of the game’s mechanics. The game doesn’t offer any additional unlockables. After the 15-hour-long campaign is completed, there’s not much else to do except to replay it at higher difficulty. This can be frustrating due to the above gameplay issues, including color-coded enemies.
Soulstice has many accessibility features. You have many options and settings, such as different font styles, font sizes, button prompts options and colorblind and HUD options. All players have the ability to personalize the Soulstice experience and enjoy Briar & Lute’s adventure to their fullest.
The show’s visual style was heavily influenced by Claymore and Berserk so it’s not surprising that the developer chose to make it dark anime. The character models are extremely detailed and would not look out of place in a Claymore/ Berserk videogame adaptation. The locations are hauntingly beautiful, with the cinematic camera creating a dark atmosphere that only enhances it. Although it isn’t the most beautiful anime-inspired game, it’s far from the worst.
Soulstice is a PC release. It has a good amount of graphics options. You can adjust anti-aliasing and shadows, post-processing techniques, textures, and other visual effects. Unlocked framerate options and 30 and 60 FPS locks are available. NVIDIA DLSS support makes it possible for owners of RTX 20xx and 30xx series GPUs to achieve high framerates. This is a significant advantage in this game. It is disappointing that AMD FSR support has not been added, but AMD technology is making great strides and would have allowed people without an RTX GPU, to enjoy the game at high framerates without sacrificing visual quality.
Even though Soulstice is not particularly demanding, it does experience frame rate drops during combat. The test system (i7-10700 CPU with RTX 3070 GPU and 16GB RAM) had drops that were not too frequent but enough to interrupt combat for a few seconds at 4K resolution using the NVIDIA NVIDIA DLSS performance preset. The GTX 1080 GPU should be recommended by the developer. Hopefully, performance will improve with future updates.
Soulstice could have been the best character-action game released since Devil May Cry 5. Reply Game Studios’ current game is a solid, if frustrating, action game. The game relies on a well-constructed setting and competent gameplay. Other design options would have made it more enjoyable.
Version tested on a PC. Review code provided by publisher
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Soulstice is an action title that combines a well-constructed dark fantasy setting, inspired by Claymore & Berserk, with an engaging story and solid action gameplay. The experience is not as great as it could have been due to issues such as the poor camera and the inept handling of color-coded enemies, mechanics, and mechanics.
- A well-designed setting
- Engaging story
- Solid action gameplay with different mechanics that flow well together
- Multiple difficulty settings
- A wide range of accessibility features available
- Bad combat camera
- Color-coded enemies with related mechanics disrupt the flow of combat, making simple encounters frustrating.
- Performance drops during combat
- There is no post-game content besides additional difficulty settings.