Soulvars review |
Developed by the independent studio Ginolabo and published by Shueisha Games, Soulvars made its debut in 2022 on mobile, where it got the top 3 in Google Play Indie Games Festival in 2022. Last June, it was ported to consoles and is now available for Xbox (One/Series), PS4/PS5, PC (Steam/Epic), and Nintendo Switch.
By reading this first paragraph, I’m sure many of you are already thinking twice before going deeper into this review. But trust me: It’s gonna be worth your time. Even though I may not be a deckbuilding strategist (my days of Magic: The Gathering are way back in time), the mechanics of Soulvars got me so hooked that I almost forgot to put my impressions on paper to tell you more about what the minds behind Ginolabo just brought us in this game. But enough talking! Shall we continue, Soul bearer?
|Publisher||SHUEISHA GAMES Inc.|
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer. Got unanswered questions about this game? Get in touch on Twitter!
What We Liked!
Building your deck | The principal characteristic of a deckbuilding game is – guess what? – the construction of your grimoire or your army. In Soulvars, you will be dealing with souls turned into data – the Soulbits. This data can be equipped into your weapons and accessories, increasing the possibility of combinations in combat, and giving you access to hundreds of special attacks (here named as arts). And it’s addictive to search for new items and combinations, always looking to increase your arsenal of movements.
Selecting the best equipment | To deal with the Dominators the terrorize the population, your team of Soul bearers will have at their swords, daggers, spears, gloves, and hammers. To protect themselves, they can use body armor and accessories. It looks like a traditional set of JRPG items, but remember this game takes place in an urban environment in the current time (or the near future): instead of iron armor, they will be wielding contemporary items like jackets and tennis. Each item you equip gives different status buffs varying from attack, speed, defense, psychic, and technic. Psychic can be considered your ‘magic attack’ which increases the damage dealt by elemental arts, while Technic increase de damage dealt by long-range weapons (or at least they seem to do so). Nothing particularly new so far. The aspect that makes Soulvars shine is the Soulbits present in each piece of equipment. Sometimes, having a piece of equipment with a lower base status (attack or defense, for instance) but with a higher count of Soulbits or a combination that gives you access to more technics can be something to be taken into consideration while building your strategy.
The Souldrivers | There’s one piece of your equipment I didn’t tell you before the Souldrivers. Souldrivers are special devices imbued with a soul that your character can use while in combat. As you defeat enemies while equipping a specific Souldriver, the synchrony between your character’s soul and the soul imprisoned in the Souldriver increases. Think of this as your character’s experience. As this synchrony increases, you can unlock buffs, new arts, and abilities for your character. The arts learned will still be available even though you change the Souldriver equipped, while the status buff won’t. Each Souldriver comes with a different focus: some will focus on elemental damage, while others will focus on a specific damage category (aka piercing). While I wanted to max out all my Souldrivers with each character (something that proved unachievable in the time being), focusing on elements and weapons with a good interaction proved to be the best choice (the arts you will learn along the way will be your guides on this task). Just remember: versatility is your best friend here!
Exploring the world | While hovering over the map of Suzaku City, you can enter various locations that work as dungeons. Some will have shops, where you can restock your supplies and NPCs to interact and discover a bit more about this world (more about it later). Others will present you with challenges and random encounters that you will need to overcome. They can all can be revisited as much as you like, so remember to pay them a second visit, at least, as you progress in the story.
You are (mostly) on your own | This one may look interesting for some, while others wouldn’t care about it. I loved how the game started in an all-out action, teaching me the basic commands during the first battle – and that’s pretty much all the help the game will offer you, leaving its complex systems to be explored by yourself. A bold decision nowadays, If you happen to feel lost, there are always tutorials in the menu to help you understand a little bit more of what’s happening on your screen. Still, I need to mention these tutorials could have been much better: I feel like there are nuances related to the combat that are left unexplored by it.
Impact of time | Even though it’s a timid one, time has an interesting impact on your gameplay. Some quests will be only available during specific times of the day, requiring you to plan your moves accordingly. Too bad there is only a bunch of these time-related missions: Ginolabo could have explored it a lot more.
Different gameplay styles | I believe that, after reading these first topics, it’s become clear that Soulvars is a good mixture of two interesting genres. But that’s not all: you can add to the formula action too since there is a special level where you will be fighting monsters while riding a bike – too bad I’ve only found a single level to do so. Adding more stages like that would bring a welcome variation to the game.
Grinding | If you are interested in learning a wide variety of skills and abilities (just like me), be prepared to grind. A LOT. As you progress through the story of the game, the experience (synchrony) you get from the combat will be fair to help you in the development of your characters. But after you get closer to the endgame and need to revisit previous areas, you realize that maximizing your Souldrivers will take you forever! Thankfully, some items increase the encounter rate. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time on this task.
What we Disliked
Two souls or no soul at all? | As humans with the capability to carry more than a soul, your characters started working as Soul bearers. But how does it work? Are they born with this ability? Does it do them any sort of harm? Why are they working for this organization? Did they need to apply on LinkedIn for this position? (Bad) jokes apart, having finished circa 80-90% of the story of the game, I still have no clues about it and many other questions – characters, the story and the world of Soulvars included. I feel that being a game first released on mobile, maybe Ginolabo Studios didn’t give it too much importance. And I particularly didn’t enjoy having to access the encyclopedia of the game to find any sort of information about – literally – every new concept the game throw at me. I feel like even critical moments of the story are simply skipped by the game – and it feels unacceptable to me!
Expendable characters | The same aspect mentioned above implies something that I consider a sin for a JRPG: since I know (almost) nothing about the characters until very late in the game, I didn’t feel any kind of connection with them. I’ll be done with Yakumo, Izuna, Hizume (plus the bald guy I don’t even remember the name and the bird that is always with the group which I call ‘Larry’) as soon as I finish this game – and this is terrible for any game!
How long to beat the story | 16 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 20+ hours
You’ll love this game if you like these | 20+ hours
I understand the outstanding reception Soulvars got and all the prizes it received. It’s a masterpiece of a game in what it proposes to do. However, I cannot simply ignore the fact that the story in this JRPG was left aside when there’re so many interesting concepts in its premise. Luckily, its qualities overcome its flaws, if you’re looking for your next deck-building adventure. But if you are looking for an adventure more story-oriented, you better check if the core gameplay here is something that will hook you like it hooked me.
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With a history of gaming that goes from his old man’s Atari 2600 to his Xbox One, Rafael or RAF687, our Brazilian editor, has a love for games as old as he can remember. He has already spent countless hours in many consoles (Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360) and is always ready for more (as long as his wife is asleep). Raf has been writing for LifeisXbox since 2017, with a passion for games of almost all genres – though we know he has a special place in his heart for RPGs, racing games and anything that includes pixel art. Writing about games has always been a childhood dream to Raf, dream that he has fulfilled reviewing games for you here. You can drop him a message at Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Live at any time.