Update: After finally trying the online mode and digging into the game even further, I realized that there was more new content than I initially thought. The review has been updated and I awarded an additional .5 to the score upon making these discoveries.
Soul Sacrifice Delta is the new “ultimate edition” of last year’s Soul Sacrifice. It has new story content, new bosses, new spells, new quests, and more to create a better overall Soul Sacrifice experience. I haven’t played much of the original, so while I will certainly go over what’s new towards the end, this review is going to be looking at the overall package as a whole (if you just care about what’s new, I bolded a few words throughout the review).
At its core, Soul Sacrifice is a fusion between the hunting and action-adventure genres. Like the Monster Hunters and Ragnarok Odysseys of the world, the game revolves around going on quests where you kill monsters in an enclosed arena-like area. As you progress and get more powerful, you can get better equipment and go on harder quests (eventually with your friends online). Soul Sacrifice is a bit different from these games, though, as it carries itself as a more traditional third-person action RPG. While something like Monster Hunter or Dark Souls is more deliberate, slow, and tasks you with worrying about how long an attack animation takes, Soul Sacrifice plays at a faster, looser speed than these games and only asks you to roll out of the way or put up a shield spell occasionally.
If anything, I would probably describe this game as a much faster, somewhat easier Dark Souls where your only means of battle are casting spells, running away, and dodging. When taking on a quest in Soul Sacrifice, you’re a sorcerer with six Offerings, or spells, to choose from. Some are long-range, some are melee, some are healing, some are defensive, some provide buffs, and most of them tend to have an element attached to them, like fire and electricity, to create an advantage against whatever element your opponent is using. Offerings have a limited number of uses and weapon Offerings can only be used a certain number of times per level, but so long as you don’t overuse them and don’t cause them to break, they recharge after every quest.
What makes Soul Sacrifice more than just another action-RPG is its Sacrifice system, or, in other words, its secret sauce. Whenever you slay a common enemy or most boss enemies, you have the option of choosing to Save them (and show mercy/be a good guy) or Sacrifice them (and kill them/not be a good guy). This is how you gain your experience points and level up. If you gain enough Sacrifices to level up your sacrifice bar, you get stronger attack power. If you Save enough monsters, your defensive abilities increase. It acts as a pretty effective way to incorporate a morality system into gameplay, and attaching Saves and Sacrifices to defense and offense forces you to, to some extent, try being the good guy and not-so-good-guy now and again.
Soul Sacrifice Delta adds a third option: Fate. By clicking in both the L and R buttons over a dying enemy (rather than either L or R for the other two), you can leave the life of your foe in the hands of lady luck. It gives you a bit of experience in both experience bars rather than all in one, and you can also get some inconsequential bonuses by picking this option. It’s mostly negligible. All of this carries over to the single-player story, as certain quests get different story outcomes depending on whether you Save or Sacrifice a certain boss.
You likewise have the ability to Sacrifice yourself or be Sacrificed. Upon getting mortally wounded in co-op play, your allies can either Sacrifice you to get a one-shot mega attack against all of your enemies, or they can choose Save to revive you and keep you fighting. Additionally, in combat, you have the ability to Sacrifice a body part to summon a Black Rite, a super attack that cripples you for the duration of the battle and afterwards until you pay to fix it. One allows you to Sacrifice your skin to create an extreme fire attack, which ultimately happens at the cost of getting your defense halved for the remainder of the battle. Although most of your decisions are reversible with enough currency (or Lacrima) and the right menu, the Sacrifice system does a great job of giving Soul Sacrifice a much-needed personality.
The reason all of this sounds complicated is because, initially, it is. The game doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself, though it’s hard to tell whether this is an intentional design choice or poor communication. Like Dark Souls II, I enjoyed spending the first ten hours experimenting and figuring out how the game works without much tutorial, but obviously, your mileage may vary. Once I did progress through the story a bit and saw the wealth of content the game has to offer, I cozied up fast. In only a few days, I amassed well over twenty hours into the game. The fast-paced-yet-precise combat proves to be extremely addicting if you give it the time.
As for what content there is in the game, it’s divided between a surprisingly beefy single-player mode and a plethora of more generic quests to take on with (competent) AI partners or friends online. The former has bare minimum presentation; the story is told through British voiceover, text, and the occasional still image.
As a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic dungeon, you find a talking book that tells you the story of a sorcerer, and as you play through the sorcerer’s various stories (AKA quests) of conquest, you too learn magical abilities in the real world that you can use to challenge the final boss, your captor, as soon as you’re ready (even as soon as an hour or so in). It would obviously be a bad idea to go for the kill before the end of the story, but it’s cool that the game gives you that choice. In fact, for a game that does tell a basic story about how the apocalyptic world came to be, there is a surprising amount of freedom to customize. You can change your protagonist’s gender, clothing, voice and even the way the book develops depending on who you Sacrifice and Save. Overall, the story is simple but interesting enough to make you want to see it to its twist-filled conclusion.
As for the regular co-op quests, they’re as addicting as the rest of the game is, but these also serve as the game’s weakest point in single-player. Specifically, this is where it becomes apparent that the game doesn’t have much mission diversity. In all missions, you either have to kill a bunch of small enemies, you have to kill one or two big enemies, or you have to collect a few items. There are a few constraints like time limits, but this, coupled with seeing the same bosses re-used repeatedly, made me not want to play these non-story single-player quests unless I absolutely had to for leveling purposes. Thankfully, you can play the game online. The online works well and I experienced little to no lag, but I think the experience only significantly improves upon playing with a friend (kind of like every multiplayer-capable game ever). Don’t get me wrong about this game – the bosses are great and the designs are grotesque and disgusting in the best ways, but the repetition gets grating fast.
Finally, let’s talk about what’s new in Soul Sacrifice Delta. Most of the tangible content focuses on new fairy-tale based quests surrounding a faction called Grim. With this comes bosses like a deformed Snow White, a version of the Three Little Pigs where two of the heads are disgustingly attached to a club and a shield and the other is on the body of a knight, and a version of the grandma from Little Red Riding Hood who is actually an incredible sorcerer and an enormous monster. Naturally, this is easily the most interesting and fun content in the game. With this stuff also comes the aforementioned Fate option, three interesting multi-chapter fairy tale story scenarios surrounding the Grim faction (who believes in letting destiny and Fate decide the outcome of battle rather than Saving or Sacrificing), new Offerings to kill enemies with, new arena stages inspired by the messed up old-timey versions of fairy tales, and new generic quests to enjoy in co-op.
Most importantly, there is actually a good chunk of story and game content that comes after the conclusion of the original, acting as a means to give the game a somewhat definitive conclusion. The new bosses and story content is mostly great and the game does feel more complete, though I take a bit of issue with the game going slightly off the rails in the story department towards the end. Some of it is crazy in a good way, but some of the character interactions feel a bit convoluted. Still, it’s great to see them try to attach their own little mini-sequel – one that accounts for about six to eight hours more gameplay.
Outside of that, some of the other big changes include improved enemy and cooperative AI (the AI is pretty reliable), improved graphics (it’s no Killzone, but it has excellent art direction and some really detailed character models), user interface enhancements, an endless mode, and new costumes. Based on the official Japanese list of over 100 updates to Delta, I would say that there’s about 20-25% more meaningful content in here than the original. Because of this, it’s hard to fully recommend the game at full price based on upgrades alone, but there isn’t a better time to jump in if you’re new to the game.
Soul Sacrifice Delta is a weird game to recommend. For fans of the original, this update has a lot of great content and many improvements, but there isn’t quite enough here to recommend a full re-purchase unless you really, really love this game. If you’re new to the “series” and never got the game on PlayStation Plus, Soul Sacrifice Delta is your best bet, especially if you have a bit of patience and know what you’re getting into. The Soul Sacrifice experience has some key flaws in terms of repetition and a somewhat bare-bones presentation, but it’s different, addicting, and has a heart. You could do a lot worse.
PS Vita review code provided by Sony. Soul Sacrifice Delta releases exclusively on PlayStation Vita May 13 in North America and May 14 in Europe.