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Preview impressions: Soulstice - Intriguing and rough around the edges

Published: 12:15, 24 June 2022
Reply Game Studios
Soulstice
Soulstice

Hack 'n' slash games are getting enriched by Soulstice soon, a game that is pretty impressive, given the constraints, but also flawed in fairly obvious ways.

Soulstice is one of those games that comes out of nowhere, impresses with its qualities, refuses to elaborate further and then shows off its flaws in a huge spotlight. Despite that, the game seemed a fairly enjoyable experience throughout both the hands-off presentation and the demo during Steam Next Fest.

Devil May Berserk

The first thing everyone notices when checking out Soulstice footage is how much it reminds of Devil May Cry in gameplay but also how much it resembles Berserk in the aesthetics. Both of these are partially true, although it's a far cry from simply copying either of them.

Reply Game Studios, the people behind Soulstice, confirmed that Berserk served as the primary inspiration in the art direction, which is quite obvious as soon as you glimpse the main character. However, they also created the Chimera we get to control as a bit of fan fiction. 

The Chimera is one being, made of two sisters who are bound together, which mirrors a certain interaction from the manga. On the other hand, it's the devs' vision of what could have been and that's how Briar and Lute become this single entity, one being adept in physical feats and the other in the spiritual world.

Reply Game Studios Soulstice Briar & Lute

 

They also make up one whole character while having two distinct halves, which ends up as a rather unique protagonist. Considering how many protagonists we've seen over the years, it's quite the feat to make one that feels particular.

As far as the gameplay goes, it does resemble Devil May Cry, albeit ever so slightly. The flow is interrupted quite often, which is not the case with Capcom's acclaimed series and the control scheme is vastly different, providing a gameplay loop that is sometimes the polar opposite of DMC, despite being in the same genre.

One of the most basic examples would be the inputs of Dante's signature move, Stinger, that propels him forward. It also appears in Soulstice under a different name but instead of holding R1+forward+triangle or RB+forward+Y, your input is double-tap forward and the basic attack button.

While it may not look like much of a difference at a glance, it appears that the control scheme in Soulstice is crafted to mimic the inputs from fighting games, along the lines of Tekken or Mortal Kombat. As such, it creates a completely different experience from what one might expect, but ultimately a lively one that led to some pretty awesome moments.

Reply Game Studios Soulstice Talk about awesome moments

 

The actual challenge

I'm usually a person who welcomes a challenge in video games as it pushes me to get better and this journey from novice to competent achiever presents a huge part of why I enjoy video games. On the other hand, I absolutely loathe when the challenge doesn't come from well-crafted difficulty but rather from flawed design.

High dragons in Dragon Age: Inquisition, for example, were pretty challenging but not because of any complexity in their mechanics or toughness. On the contrary, the fights are pretty simple but the actual challenge came from the imbecilic AI of your party members that can't even stand in place when ordered to.

Unfortunately, Soulstice suffers from backwards designs that reminded me of this. Camera angle and distance is chief among them. It will sometimes zoom out so far that you will likely lose track of your own character and only the movement of the enemies actually reveals your position.

What's worse, some of the most egregious camera jank happened during the first boss fight which, just like the Inquisition dragons, proved challenging because of design flaws, rather than intricate and challenging enemies. 

Reply Game Studios Soulstice - Boss fight This boss fight features numerous cool mechanics that are dragged down by other design choices

 

Besides the camera going wild throughout the fight, each time the boss pulled one of the moves that indicate the next phase, a short but unskippable cutscene would be played, interrupting the flow each and every time. Now if you die and retry the fight, all the cutscenes will be played, your flow will be interrupted and you will have to go through terrible camera sequences every time.

It's for these reasons that even after beating the boss, I ended up having a frustrating experience instead of the feeling of satisfaction of overcoming something that previously bested me.

So how good is it actually?

Frustrating sequences such as the aforementioned boss fight will likely happen throughout the game when the full version comes around on September 20, 2022 , but the game has offered much more even in the demo alone.

From the unique character design, over the satisfying combat and extensive progression system to gloomy but beautiful backdrops, Soulstice seems primed to deliver a hack 'n' slash RPG experience that fits the "diamond in the rough" expression perfectly. 

Reply Game Studios Soulstice Even the skill vendor looks cool in Soulstice

 

Should it get polished either before release or based on player feedback, this game could end up spawning a wonderful new series and early adopters can tell they were there from the beginning. ill 

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