Inspired by games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, Soulstice is a new entry in the genre by Italian developer Reply Game Studios that tells the story of two sisters whose souls are connected as one. It’s a game that encourages you to string combos together, juggle different auras to hit certain enemies, and utilize smart dodging and parrying moves to ensure you don’t die.
Because some of that may sound familiar, chances are you have played games similar to Soulstice in design and perhaps even in appearance. It may not stand out as an inventive title, but it does offer a fun combat system and an engaging story that, like the enemies you face, gets better and more complex the more time you invest in it. And while it may not exactly be a soulslike game, it will surely feel tough but rewarding to finish.
Soulstice tells the story of a fallen kingdom that has been plagued by demons and wraiths who have invaded the world and possessed its people. Two sisters, Briar and Lute, have been entrusted on a mission to infiltrate this once holy city and find and destroy the cause of a strange tear in the sky causing these creatures to appear. They have been reborn as a chimera, engineered to fight these demons and having their souls bound to each other’s. Briar wields a sword, and Lute is her ghostly companion that commands magic.
- Tough but rewarding battles;
- Combos and abilities that make for a frenetic experience;
- Creative character designs.
- Boring first few hours;
- Repetitive-looking environments;
- Clunky targeting and camera controls.
It’s a bizarre concept, and you only get a bit of information at the start so the game slowly shares more of the story with you as you progress through its chapters, each one taking about 30 minutes to complete. The story progresses at a snail’s pace at first so combine that with levels that take place in dungeons that all look the same and lack personality, and the first few hours of the game feel like an arduous test in holding your attention.
It’s a shame the game starts off boring because once you get past the dark levels in the beginning, everything does start to brighten up a bit. However, because it’s going for a gothic motif, Soulstice will always give off a dark feeling of despair, which is fitting later on once the story has picked up and you know where you are and what you are doing. In fact, its vacant environments and heavy themes really lend to its grim atmosphere that pairs beautifully with all the gruesome creatures you meet along the way.
Two Fighting As One
Combat similarly starts off simple and gradually adds new skills and weapons to your arsenal. Like in Devil May Cry games, Soulstice relies on combo-centric fights with enemies that will pop up every few minutes as you are exploring your environments and getting Brian and Lute closer to that tear in the distance. After a few hours into the game, Briar and Lute will have some cool weapons and abilities that let you have fun on the battlefield. You will be comboing enemies, dodging at just the right time to avoid getting hit, and pressing buttons at just the right moment for Lute to do a perfect parry and damage an enemy to interrupt them or slow them down. Mastering both sisters’ abilities is crucial in winning a fight, and the game has you relying on their synergy every time via a unity meter that increases the more hits and parries you pull off and goes down the more you get hit or miss a move. When powered up, this meter lets you unleash an ultimate attack that does heavy damage and just looks cool to witness.
Besides just parrying, you also have to eventually play with the concept of auras. Some enemies can only be hit inside a red aura, while others are vulnerable in blue. You will need to use Lute to turn on these auras at will when you need her to, but holding on to one aura for too long will consume her meaning she will unavailable for a few seconds leaving you vulnerable if you are not careful. This adds a layer of insanity to some battles that have you swapping between red and blue and always watching your aura meter to avoid getting Lute too tired. It adds a layer of difficulty to Soulstice’s combat and mixes up the action from just mashing buttons to actually planning your next moves.
Camera controls and clunky platforming do tarnish the experience, but Soulstice stays afloat thanks to its rewarding combat system that punishes you and impresses you at the same time. It may not wow you from start to finish, but this gloomy journey does have its bright spots.
In fact, it’s the combination of auras, combos, parrying, and resource management that makes each battle such a varied frenetic blast. Soon you encounter red scorpion-like creatures that require lots of hitting and parrying to drop their health down to zero, but as soon as you do you’ll notice blue wraiths escape their bodies, and you need to take them down before they revive the red demon. Other monsters will seem impossible to defeat at first, and it’s only by memorizing their attack patterns, hitting them at just the right time, and swapping out to a weapon that weakens their armor that you will finally defeat them.
Highs and Lows
Boss battles are even more grandiose and require the same juggling of techniques but feature some impressively grotesque creatures with unique attack patterns and moves. Here is when the game starts to feel a bit like a Soulslike challenge as each boss requires you to master every skill you know. What’s more, later levels have you face off against earlier bosses in regular battles meaning what you once thought was tough is nothing like you will soon experience. With five difficulty levels, Soulstice can be approachable but it can also be a challenging game for those who want to clear all chapters with perfect scores at the hardest setting possible.
Like it or leave it, each time you finish an enemy encounter, whether it’s a grand or meh one, you will get scored on various metrics such as timing, unity, and damage taken. Your rewards will be resources to upgrade your skills and abilities, which can let you learn new combos with your favorite weapon or power up Lute’s auto attacks during a fight. You can, of course, focus on leveling up the weapon you want or mix and match your abilities for a range of attacks and abilities to give you a more balanced playstyle. Even Lute gets strong enough to pull off some helpful attacks if you invest the time to find the resources she needs, of course.
Besides just fighting, Soulstice also features platforming sections while you explore the ruined city. Controls aren’t as smooth as you would hope during these sections mainly because the camera has a habit of surprising you when you get to a certain point that requires it to change its viewpoint. These moments can disorient you and force you to change your direction abruptly. Battles offer a manual camera, but targeting enemies can prove to be frustrating at times since the game won’t have you hone in on enemies even if you lock on them. Instead, you will need to often hope you are close enough to an enemy when swinging your sword or else dash forward to make contact. This never cost me a life, but it did make me need to worry about one extra element during fights that I wish I didn’t have to.
Soulstice has a lot of fun moments and features some impressive fights that leave you feeling accomplished. Besides the thrill of perfecting each chapter every encounter, the game also features special battles that give you requirements to beat them offering you items that power-up your abilities or increase your health. These challenges are entirely optional but add to the game’s twelve hour story and continue to test your skills.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.
It is a shame that Soulstice starts off slow, dreary, and boring because the rest of the game is quite fun and evolves as you play. Camera controls and clunky platforming do tarnish the experience, but the game stays afloat thanks to its rewarding combat system that punishes you and impresses you at the same time. It may not wow you from start to finish, but this gloomy journey does have its bright spots.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com