Soul Sacrifice Delta Review
Sony PS Vita
Just over a year ago, May saw the release of Keiji Inafune’s Soul Sacrifice, an attempt to provide a darker take on the hunting genre and fill the Monster Hunter-shaped hole in the Vita’s library. The game delivered in many areas, but disappointingly turned out to be a bit of a rough diamond – concerns on balance and the small number of viable end-game builds coupled with apparent overuse of certain archfiends (“oh God, another bloody Slime?”) meant that the game didn’t quite live up to the pedigree of its creator. However, fast-forward to the present and Soul Sacrifice not only received a stream of free DLC that extended the game hugely over the course of the year, but Inafune-san’s troops were busy beavers, tinkering away with balance issues, offerings and rejigging the majority of the additional pacts. The end result is Soul Sacrifice Delta, not quite a sequel, far larger than an expansion, and yet so much more than the original game.
Delta takes place in the same broken world as Soul Sacrifice, starting you off as a caged prisoner awaiting your sacrificial fate at the hands of the mad sorcerer Magusar. Again, your only company is the living grimoire Libram, filled with stories of the past and eager to impart his knowledge into your hands (or, more specifically, your right arm) so you at least have a chance to stand up against Magusar. However, what begin as slight changes soon cascade to greater things, and as you progress further you start to wonder whether there will be a chance this time to break the eternal recursion with which this world is cursed. Players of the original are able to import their save into Delta, carrying over a significant amount of their offerings, essences, sigils and black rites, although both Life and Magic levels are reset to zero. Progress in the main storyline, as well as in any side-sorcerer tale, is also carried over, although significant changes throughout the Additional Pacts means that these have all been reset to their uncompleted status.
Being an expanquel, or sequansion (I’ve now got copyright on both of those by the way) there are broad mechanically similarities between Delta and the vanilla release. You’ll still equip up to six offerings to take into battle, supported by sigils that gift various bonuses and powered by stats linked to your Life/Magic levels; in fact, our original review is still good to cover most of those basics. Changes resound throughout, however, and returning players will be pleasantly surprised at many of the changes made. For one, graphics have been improved and the game revels in its new sheen, the fantastically grotesque environments and archfiends now even better looking than before. A gajillion balancing issues have been addressed throughout, from new starter through to end-game – no longer are you tied to a 1/99 build if you want to be vaguely effective, and already it’s very common to see 58/42 divine damage builds ripping through the enemy online. Ranged magic no longer rules the roost, with slight nerfs to both throwing and egg magic reinforced by a new rule that only allows you to use two of your six offering slots on one type of magic – this is compensated by nearly every other offering type feeling more effective, and there are far more viable builds now than there were before.
In fact, the creation of combination powers has given offering use a fun and experimental feel – in Soul Sacrifice you may have taken a Frost Bulb (a bomb style offering) and a Snowtuft (which casts floating mines). With these you could lay both ground and air traps for monsters and archfiends, luring them into the danger area and rejoicing in the carnage. Now? In Delta if you took the same offerings and cast them nearby to one another the bulb would suck all of the mines into itself, converting into an ice flinging mortar that rains icy destruction down on the surrounding area. Here’s one for you melee fighters out there – previously spending an offering slot on an armour was only good for mitigating damage, but now you can combine it with a roar offering and literally shoot your armour off of you and into your target, giving you both protection and an offensive option.
Of course, one of the largest changes you’ve no doubt heard of is the addition of a third option when standing over the prone body of a defeated enemy – along with saving or sacrificing them, you can now choose a fate option by holding both triggers. At the most simplistic level choosing this option will see the lowest of your Life or Magic levels receive the experience increase, but as with the rest of Delta there’s far more beneath the surface than this. As well as the fate option, Delta now provides three factions – Avalon, Sanctuarium and Grim, and you can join any one you wish. Each one of these rewards you in different ways for the choices you make – for instance, Avalon follows the Soul Sacrifice reward system and refreshes your offerings for a sacrifice, heals you for saving and empowers you with a speed boost when you leave the decision to fate. Sanctuarium and Grim reward you in similar ways, relevant to their own ideological leanings. This also extends into the pact reward system, with membership of different factions offering reward points for undertaking actions relevant to that faction – no more feeling like an unloved stepchild when fulfilling a multiplayer support function while a member of Sanctuarium!
Talking about multiplayer, a number of improvements have been made here, most of which are accessible offline as well. The Additional Pacts are now far easier to navigate, with a quick button press cycling you through their name, the archfiend present and the rewards available. Branching choices can be easily rewritten, and the repetitiveness of a hunting game has been mitigated somewhat by mixing up the vast number of archfiends present and sprinkling them liberally through the pacts. No more will you face Slime after Slime, or grimace at the appearance of yet another Wyvern. Well worth a mention are the newer archfiends, based on the work of the Brothers Grimm. Their fantastically grotesque appearance is a departure from the more serious big/scary monster look previously seen in Soul Sacrifice, and it’s a direction that works very well when juxtaposed against the usual dark and grimy feel of the game. Standout creations such as Cinderella or The Musicians of Bremen steal the show, and even the older archfiends have had movesets and tells tinkered with a little.
As well as these newer creations every familiar face from the original release and the myriad of DLC archfiends all make an appearance, giving you more monsters than you have fingers and toes to shake at them. In addition to this fiendish goodness (see what I did there?) the environments themselves have been mixed up, and your travels through the pacts no longer seem to find you in the same part of the world over and over again. From lava fields and winged plains through to Inner Space and a stage based on Rapunzel (hair everywhere!) the world is fresh. New weather effects can buffer certain stages, increasing the power of certain elements, adding another level of planning to your preparations.
We’ve still really only scratched the surface of the improvements made. Fellow sorcerer Carnatux now runs a Bazaar where you can purchase various raiments to customise your look. Also available for purchase are rumours, consumable enhancements that you can apply to pacts before you undertake them. Fancy an experience increase, or maybe a better chance of finding an elusive +++ essence? There’ll be rumours that can help you here, but at a price of course. A new survival dungeon allows you to explore the crazy world of Alice, giving you a random assortment of archfiends and tasking you with taking them down with extremely limited offering recharges available. You can only exit the dungeon every third floor, and while the rewards can be breathtaking it’s all too easy to suddenly find yourself in a very difficult Gemini situation. Not enough end game fun for you? Delta also has its very own prestige style system, and when your Life/Magic total hits one hundred you can conduct a Rite of Transmutation, trading in all your levels for a powerful heart sigil. Even the AI companions have been boosted, and taking a couple along on a pact now is no longer a waste of your time.
Soul Sacrifice Delta is a great example of how to revisit a game, and how to do so in the right way. The development teams have reworked the game from the ground up, diversifying playstyle, providing greater balance and improving the end-to-end user experience throughout. There’s plenty here for both those new to the franchise and those with a save to transfer over from their previous time in Soul Sacrifice; really, all the game required to be deemed a true sequel would have been a brand new storyline, and even there the additions make it sufficiently different to warrant a revisit. Soul Sacrifice Delta might not have the pull of another certain monster hunting big name, but it certainly deserves the niche it’s cut for itself on the Vita. If a true sequel gets greenlit, and if this level of quality and improvement can be maintained, then the Vita just may have something very special indeed in its hands.