Full disclosure: I don’t enjoy Monster Hunter any more; I love Soul Sacrifice.
Now before I go too far, let me say this: there are things I really love about Monster Hunter: the monster design, the environments, the hunting horn. But as much as I really want to love Monster Hunter, I just don’t have fun playing it. I could go on about the finer points of what I think is wrong with the Monster Hunter series, but it comes down to basically this:
Monster Hunter is not a focused gaming experience and is simply not enjoyable single-player. Battles often drag on far too long, in environments that are too sprawling for the action, with a battle system that lacks variety. The many weapon types could add variety, but acquiring these weapons in flavors that won’t leave you woefully underpowered means extensive grinding: the same bosses, the same missions, the same locales, looking for those rare drops to make those elusive items you so desperately want. And this, of course, undercuts any variety they could provide. None of this would be a problem if the core gameplay was fun, but the combat is simply not enjoyable in large doses, especially by oneself. You can always go online. Right? Not if you’re playing a handheld. At least not in North America.
I mention these things because I want to highlight what I think Soul Sacrifice Delta does right, why you don’t need to love Monster Hunter or its clones to enjoy it and might just like it more, and why it’s the one Vita game you should be playing but probably aren’t.
Soul Sacrifice delivers a deeply satisfying single player experience, something that Monster Hunter has always lacked. The game opens with the player’s character, a nameless prisoner, alone in a macabre cell of slime and bone. Or, rather, not quite alone. He is quickly greeted by a talking book, complete with rolling eyes and toothy grin. But as frightening as this creature looks, you soon come to realize he is here to help. By reading the magical book, the journal of a nameless sorcerer, you can relive moments of his life, and in doing so, begin to gain his power. Read enough, the book tells you, and you may soon be able to challenge your captor for your freedom.
The player if forced to play through a portion of the journal before he or she can venture online, and in doing so, you are quickly caught up in the tale of the nameless sorcerer, even more so than the main character’s plight.
There’s plenty of fun to be had online, and there are plenty of items, abilities, and adornments to grind for if you are so inclined. But for those turned off to Monster Hunter because of the emphasis on multiplayer and repetitive grinding, know there is a compelling solo experience to enjoy.
Part of what makes Soul Sacrifice so engrossing is the wonderfully dark and thoroughly imagined fantasy word in which it takes place. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that these proceedings will be morally ambiguous. Sorcerers are not simply heroes, despite ridding the land of monsters. As they sacrifice the men and women who have become monsters, their right arms are twisted and disfigured as they must now struggle to contain within themselves the souls they have purged. And monsters are not simply mindless evil creatures, but are transformed humans whose forms now reflect a weakness of character or moral failing specific to them. There is an amazing amount of supplemental lore that details the origins of each monster, the different sorcerer factions, and the world in which it takes place.
But my favorite aspect of the dark fantasy of Soul Sacrifice, is the “dark rites” sorcerers can perform. By sacrificing a part of the body and suffering the consequences, you can execute a unique type of attack against the enemy. The cost varies, ranging from an eye (which darkens the screen), the brain (which removes the names and information from all your items), the heart (which result in constant health loss thereafter), and so on.
Playing into this concept of sacrifice is also the fact that players do not have “lives” but instead are dependent upon other players to revive them (at the cost of a portion of their own health). Of course, other players also have the option to sacrifice their fallen comrades and attack the enemy with unique sacrificial rites. Too many mistakes may mean your friends decide you would be better serving as rainstorm of thorny barbs than a walking, talking teammate.
Unfortunately, many people including myself missed Soul Sacrifice when it original debuted. It doesn’t help that it is exclusive to the Playstation Vita, whose library was even more bare when Soul Sacrifice was released. Many also passed because it was described in many reviews as simply a high quality Monster Hunter clone. But while Soul Sacrifice is firmly in the “hunting” genre that Monster Hunter forged, it does enough different to stand as a solid alternative. From the radically different approach to single player through its expansive storytelling, to the details of gameplay like smaller, more focused arenas and the the addition on a “lock-on targeting” button (thank you!), Soul Sacrifice is its own game.
With the release of Delta, the expanded version of 2013’s Soul Sacrifice, there is even more reason to pick up this game. Delta is less a sequel and more an expanded edition, but the amount of content is staggering and the attention to detail is remarkable. However, the decision to release the Delta version of Soul Sacrifice as a digital download only in the US will undoubtedly mean even less people take a chance on a game that has a full retail release price and hogs nearly 4 GB of precious Vita memory. In a world where there are plenty of phenomenal games and the only thing tighter than money is time, there’s often nothing that can be said to encourage someone to take a chance on a new title. But, many sleepless nights, countless dark rites, and 1000+ sacrifices later, all I can say is, “it’s worth it.”
Soul Sacrifice Delta – US Release Trailer
Soul Sacrifice Delta – Japanese Animated Trailer
Soundtrack Highlights: Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda (of Chrono Trigger fame)
A Certain Magician’s Life – Soul Sacrifice OST
The Earth Echoes Resentment – Soul Sacrifice OST
Soul Sacrifice Starter tips via Destructoid
These tips are pretty good although a few things are different in Delta (for example, bringing allies does not affect boss encounter difficulty)