Date: September 20, 2022
I’ve always been a fan of hack-and-slash action games, such as Devil May Cry and the original God of War trilogy. So, naturally, I’ve been interested in Soulstice since I saw its gameplay trailer, and its preview build only further cemented that this would be my type of game. Now, having completed it, I’m left wanting. While Soulstice could be a truly great game, there are a few setbacks preventing it from reaching that level.
At the center of Soulstice are two sisters, Briar and Lute, who have been reborn into a special type of soldier called a Chimera. Shortly after coming to grips with this new circumstance, and the powers that come with it, they are sent by the Order of the Ashen Blade to investigate a “Tear” in the sky over a large city. This Tear is causing people to become possessed and turn into monsters. Not the most original premise, but I was alright with that.
The game doesn’t initially tell you much about the two sisters, the Order, or where this Tear came from. Instead, it opts to throw you straight into a mission after some brief lore-heavy exposition. As you go through the story, however, you will learn about how Briar and Lute became a Chimera, the companions they meet along the way, such as their fellow Chimera and a human assistant named Layton, and the enigmatic Order of the Ashen Blade itself.
But Soulstice isn’t about that. No, its core theme is, instead, about the bonds of sisterly love between Briar and Lute, and how that allows them to overcome any obstacle. This is, in fact, what sets them apart from the other Chimera soldiers you meet, and is an excellent theme-and-lore-friendly way of explaining what makes Briar and Lute so exceptional (they are, after all, the main characters).
Overall, the story on display is good, but predictable. But I come to these types of games for the gameplay more than the story, so this didn’t bother me, but your mileage may vary if you are looking for something with a stronger story.
Well, that’s not entirely true. One thing did bother me: the ending (or lack thereof). Without going into spoilers, it’s clear that this is meant to be part of a larger series, rather than a self-contained story. This in itself isn’t a bad thing; however, the game ends up feeling more like a first act to something larger, and while it does tie up some loose ends, it ends up setting up more, making it feel incredibly unsatisfying. I would’ve preferred it if the developers had just hinted that there was more to come, rather than making it so heavy-handed that the story in this game feels incomplete.
But the story is not why you play Soulstice. No, you play it for the gameplay – in my opinion the most important aspect in these types of action games. And, I’m pleased to report, Soulstice mostly succeeds in this area.
The combat is most evocative of the Devil May Cry series, which is high praise coming from me. Combat in Soulstice is fast-paced, and rewards you for exploring and mastering its many mechanics.
You take direct control of Briar, while Lute acts as support. Briar’s primary weapon is her sword, and she gains a variety of secondary weapons as the game progresses. These secondary weapons can be switched between freely once you unlock them. Each of your secondary weapons are strong against a certain type of enemy, while being less effective against another type. This encourages you to switch weapons to adapt to the enemies you’re fighting, so that you don’t rely too heavily on any single secondary (though it is never necessary to do so, and your sword is ever-effective).
During battle, Lute will passively fight alongside you, firing projectiles at enemies. However, you are responsible for her two most important abilities: counters and fields.
A counter occurs when you see a button prompt on the screen, indicating that an enemy is about to attack you. If you press the button on time, Lute will protect Briar using one of a variety of counters. You have no control over which counter she uses; it depends on the attack she is blocking, but all of them are useful in one way or another.
Lute can also create one of two fields. This mechanic is initially introduced to help navigate through levels, but it is eventually brought into the combat; you will run into enemies that can only be damaged when they are in one of these fields. You’ll need to be mindful while these fields are active though, as Lute cannot keep them up indefinitely. Eventually, she will Overcharge, temporarily taking her out of the battle completely, including as fire support.
Combining the abilities of both Briar and Lute is crucial to your success, and ties into the game’s theme of sisterly bonds. Using a variety of combos and successfully executing counters will build the Unity meter, shown by the two sisters’ portraits in the upper right of the screen getting closer to each other, while getting hit will break that Unity.
Building Unity has a few benefits. Once it is high enough, you will be able to execute Synergy Attacks, and eventually gain access to the Rapture State – an incredibly powerful transformation.
All of these mechanics combined may seem daunting, but Soulstice does a great job easing you into them. New mechanics are introduced individually, and you are given some time to get used to them before you are introduced to the next.
While combat is mostly smooth, it has some drawbacks. Aerial combat is very clunky, as Soulstice doesn’t offer as many ways to move around while you’re airbourne, and many attacks with secondary weapons will cause Briar to stop moving entirely, forcing you to jump again or fall to the ground. While this isn’t a big deal early in the game, you will eventually start fighting much tougher enemies, flying enemies, and the lack of maneuverability in the air can cause these enemies to be incredibly frustrating to fight. Especially when they constantly try to flee from you.
The other major issue I had was with the targeting system. The lock-on works fine against a single enemy, but the issue comes while switching between multiple targets. If you’re locked-on to an enemy and defeat them, the game will automatically lock on to another target, but the target it switches to seems to be completely random. This wouldn’t be a big issue if you could easily swap enemies yourself, but switching targets without turning the lock-on off and on is nearly impossible (unless the enemies are standing right next to each other). As some enemies require you to switch targets after defeating specific parts of them, this system can make fighting those enemies very awkward if they’re not alone.
You can buy upgrades for both sisters by using resources you find throughout the game. Briar’s upgrades consist of her learning new moves for her weapons and upgrading their effectiveness against the enemy type they’re strongest against, while Lute’s upgrades enhance all of her mechanics, and even making minor changes to them, giving her entirely new fighting styles.
While Lute’s upgrades feel like an interesting talent tree, Briar’s upgrades felt lackluster. All of her weapons have essentially the same 3 or 4 combos, and nothing else to spice up their movesets. It would’ve been nice to see her get more combo variety in her weapons to help them feel more unique from each other, and to have some passive abilities as upgrades. Even something as simple as adding an extra jump or air dash would’ve gone a long way.
Progression and Navigation
Soulstice’s story is split into acts, each consisting of a number of chapters. Once you’re in a chapter, going through the levels is fairly straightforward, with only minor puzzles and platforming in between battles. However, you are highly encouraged to explore every nook and cranny in levels, and hit anything that moves or shines. This is because there are many secrets hidden within most chapters. These secrets will give you extra resources, useful items, and even upgrades to your health. If you happen to miss anything, don’t feel too stressed; Soulstice will conveniently show you what exactly you missed at the end of a chapter, so you can go back later to search for them if you wanted.
Another hidden thing you can find are the Void Challenges. These secret missions require you to complete a specific task within a time limit, such as defeating enemies without breaking any objects. This helps add some variety to the game, and if you don’t feel up to completing the mission when you initially find it, you can freely go back to any Void Challenge you’ve found from the title screen menu.
At the end of every mission, you will be given a rank, ranging from Iron to Diamond. Your rank is based on how well you did overall in battle, and how fast you completed it. Getting a higher rank rewards you with more resources to upgrade Briar and Lute. It should also be noted that any upgrades you obtain carry over during these replays, though story progression will only carry over for difficulties easier than the one you’re currently playing.
Longevity and Replayability
Soulstice has a standard length for an action game, taking around 15 hours. The replayability of the game, however, will depend on if you enjoy challenging yourself and improving on your skills. If you are simply playing the game to experience the story, there won’t be much of a reason to do a second playthrough, but the challenges, secrets, and extra playthroughs can add significantly more hours.
Specifically, you can go to the Chapter Select screen to replay a level, in order to find anything you may have missed before, or try for a Diamond rank. There are also five difficulties in the game, with two of them being initially locked. You can play the game in these higher difficulties in order to give yourself a greater challenge after completing the game the first time, and try to perfect your fighting abilities. In other words: if you enjoy the gameplay of Soulstice and want to keep playing, you have plenty of options to do so.
Despite its flaws, I found Soulstice to be a very fun game overall. While it takes a lot of inspiration from Devil May Cry, it adds more than enough to the formula to stand on its own. I would recommend this game to anyone who likes hack-and-slash action games that encourage you to get better at them. If the sequel that they’re clearly gunning for ever comes out, though, I hope they can clean up some of the rougher aspects so that Soulstice can become a truly great series. Even without that, though, it is a wonderfully fun game that will give hack-and-slash fans something to enjoy.