A demanding and enthralling action adventure through a beautiful borderland between life and death.
Death is inevitable, especially for video game characters. For them, the click of a button is all they need to return to existence and continue on their mission as avatars of the players. However, once the game is complete, they enter their own afterlife of an unused void while their players embark on new adventures elsewhere.
But what if these avatars wanted to stay behind and continue to exist in their game world? What if they didn’t want to finish the players’ mission and leave the world they have come to know? What if the space-between life and death is the world they prefer? And what if the world and game was so well-done that players might not want them to leave either? Souldiers on PlayStation 4 is the first game from Spanish developer Retro Forge, an enthralling and demanding metroidvania action adventure in a beautifully-realized world between life and death.
Players begin Souldiers as a nameless soldier on the verge of an epic battle. Unfortunately, they never actually make it to the battle. An earthquake traps the regiment in a mountain cave, and the only escape is a portal to the land of Terragaya, the land where souls travel between life and death. Once there, the mission is to locate a being known as the Guardian in order to pass into the land of the dead. The problem with this plan is that the characters haven’t even died yet, and there is a deeper mystery that unfolds behind their entrapment and journey through Terragaya.
The adorable avatars may not be dead when they enter Terragaya, but rest assured they will die on the epic journey. A lot.
Souldiers on PlayStation 4 combines metroidvania exploration and progression mechanics with soulsike combat, and surviving through Terragaya takes patience, skill, and some luck at times. Players choose from one of three classes (scout, archer, and caster) at the beginning of the game, each with their own mechanics and combat styles. Unfortunately, there is no way to trial each class without starting a new game, so some players might have to restart the game after a short while if they don’t like the feel of their chosen class.
No matter which class players choose, typical enemies can be deadly if taken for granted, and the placement of enemies in conjunction with platforming challenges can be demanding. Combat is designed around proper use of blocking, dodging, and timing. Thankfully, the controls and design for the combat mechanics are precise and balanced, and once an enemy’s patterns are known, they can be routine to defeat.
What is not precise at times are the platforming mechanics. While most of the time the mechanics work well enough, there are instances where precision jumping is needed and the slight forward jump after gripping onto a ledge can cause an overjump of a platform. These frustrating moments would only be slightly annoying if there weren’t also flying enemies attacking or launching projectiles at the same time. There are ample save points and checkpoints in-place to ease the frustration of these moments, and there aren’t enough to disrupt player progress. At their worst, the platforming sections of Souldiers are reminiscent of frustrating 8 and 16-bit platformers in the early 1990s that would require a second or third rental from Blockbuster to complete because platforming challenges would take an absurd number of retries to complete.
Thankfully, these frustrating moments are infrequent as players traverse the gorgeous land of Terragaya. The backgrounds, characters, and enemy art and animations are beautifully rendered and packed with charm. The visual design is also exemplary of a quality metroidvania, and there are always those subtle clues and details that provide the last clue needed to find the item needed to progress. The game runs smoothly on the PlayStation 4, although the load times between major areas are a little long. The game also redraws and populates the map when saving to refresh enemies and items, and this process stops the game for a few seconds.
Souldiers on PlayStation 4 provides an ample supply of save points to help ease the tension of its demanding difficulty and platforming challenges. As mentioned above, saving repopulates most of the enemies and breakable items. While this can be frustrating when returning to the annoying platforming areas, this also provides an opportunity to grind for loot and experience.
Souldiers leans into the “vania” side of metroidvanias by providing experience to level up their characters and buy abilities to continue to advance through Terragaya. Items, coins, and potions are all very useful, and the accumulation of loot and experience eases the frustration of backtracking endlessly trying to figure out where to go next. Save points also serve as fast travel markers, which also helps speed up the backtracking process. Souldiers breaks up the action of typical map exploration by peppering in clever and thoughtful environmental puzzles. These puzzles are well-designed and well-placed, and solving one to continue to explore the map is incredibly satisfying. As the game progresses and the world map opens up, more side quests and objectives become available and help maintain the momentum of the adventure.
Souldiers on PlayStation 4 is a satisfying and rewarding experience. While it can be brutally challenging and frustrating, it is also exhilarating and culminates in moments of elation after finally clearing a challenge or defeating a brutal boss. The combination of metroidvania exploration with soulslike combat and environmental puzzles comes together beautifully, and the world of Terragaya is gorgeous and a joy to explore. The characters in Souldiers grapple with the idea of actually moving on or just staying in their beautiful world, and after spending some time in Terragaya, players might not want to leave either.
- Gorgeous, charming graphics
- Excellent world design and progression mechanics
- Great balance of combat, exploration, and puzzles
- Platforming controls can be frustrating when precision is required
- Long load times between areas
- Not being able to test out the classes before committing is a bit of a bummer
Souldiers releases Nintendo Switch, Playstation, Xbox, and PC via Steam, Epic Game Store, and GOG on June 2, 2022. This review is based on the Playstation 4 version with a code provided by publisher Dear Villagers.