You can cast powerful spells when your health is running low, at a cost. For example, the first spell you get sets fire to everything in sight including yourself, which halves your defence. Each spell has its own penalty that can only be lifted by spending - you guessed it - Lacrima. It's nice to see some real ramifications to taking an easy way out, the only problem with this cost/benefit system is that due to the ridiculous nature of Lacrima, the cost outweighs the benefit.
You see, Lacrima can only be found by going out of the journal and checking if he (the journal) has any droplets of the stuff hanging around his eye. This is the in-game currency used to bring allies back to life, mend broken offerings and reverse any penalties for using a Black Rites spell, but it can only be acquired by rubbing the face of an anthropomorphic journal. There’s no skill to its acquisition, and its appearance along with the amount you get each time is completely random. All you do is play a mission or two, go back through the menus until you’re out of the journal and hope that he greets you with: ‘Have you checked for droplets recently?’ If not, it’s back to the grind for you, repeating old missions until he decides to share some of his precious tears.
It feels unfair not referring to the journal by name. He’s called Librom and despite the Lacrima issue, he’s the real star of the show. A manic personality with a pessimistic outlook and amazing turn of phrase, Librom revels in the gorier details of the story with brilliant lines such as, ‘He’s taken to trying, on occasion, to rip out his heart with his bare hands,’ delivered with relish.
The telling of the story through Librom’s pages is one of the best things about Soul Sacrifice, with exaggerated melodrama letting it get away with some clunky lines of dialogue. Stark silhouettes and sad soliloquies bring this dark tale to life and though the story is not likely to stay with you past the end credits, it does a far better job of painting a picture of the game’s world than the small arenas you get to explore ever could. There are also pages and pages of optional back story that act as cautionary tales, imbuing every part of the world with some kind of tragedy.
It's a shame the gameplay isn’t as interesting as the dark fantasy that Librom’s pages promise. We had hoped playing online would add some variety, but while it’s more fun playing pretty much any game co-operatively, it doesn’t add anything meaningful to Soul Sacrifice. Only side-missions can be played with other humans and unless you’ve arranged to play with friends the chances of you getting to choose the mission you play is slim. This makes playing online feel like grinding, a means to an end rather than the end itself, demonstrated by the fact most online matches we found were fetch quests that function as grinding arenas by creating infinite enemies until a certain amount of items (that no one else is picking up) have been picked up.
Disappointingly, most of the main game feels like a means to an end too. Apart from the well told story and cool monster design that sits somewhere between Greek mythology and Japanese folklore, there’s not much to enjoy about Soul Sacrifice in the moment. It’s always about getting that new offering or levelling up, actually using the new offering or feeling the benefit of your new level is hampered by limited gameplay mechanics and ends up being secondary.
This criticism is indicative of the genre, but with no towns, NPCs or anything approaching a complex combat system to distract us, it's one that's easier to level at Soul Sacrifice. Having said that, the streamlined approach does work well for commuting as most missions are over in minutes, and as with any grindy RPG there’s a certain addictive quality to seeing your character get better and your weapons more powerful. There's also an amazing score that deserves to be mentioned, with creepy, demonic vocals warbling over the menus and rousing orchestral scores accompanying battles. Plus, if you do engage with Soul Sacrifice then there's plenty of content to keep you busy, with a 20-hour campaign, numerous side-missions and three free DLC packs on their way.
The world of Soul Sacrifice is not as grim and terrible as Librom makes it out to be, but sadly, it's not too much better either.