Back in June, I had the chance to try a very small portion of Soulstice, a character action game in development by Modus Games and Italian developer Reply Game Studio. While the gameplay demo was quite short, I was definitely impressed by it, as, for the first time in a long while, I was able to experience a Western action game that felt and played like Japanese masterpieces such as Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.
In the past few days, I was able to experience a meatier chunk of the promising Soulstice, and the longer gameplay segment not only confirmed my opinion of the game but also made it even more positive. If there is one word that could describe the Soulstice experience, it's tight.
For those not in the known, Soulstice stars two sisters called Briar and Lute, who are part of an organization called the Order of the Ashen Blade, whose main goal is to dispatch the Wraiths that have invaded the Holy Kingdom of Keidas. Briar is a Chimera, a powerful warrior possessing supernatural abilities that have been granted to her only after the sacrifice of her sister Lute, who has become a ghost. On their latest assignment, they are sent to free the city of Ilden from the Wraiths, but the opening of a Tear from where hellish creatures spawn will make their mission more complicated than anticipated. During their journey, they will also learn more about the Order they belong to, which is not exactly the benevolent order people think they are.
As mentioned in the first preview, Soulstice's influences are clear to those who love Japanese manga and anime, as the game is clearly inspired by Kentaro Miura's Berserk and Norihiro Yagi's Claymore. The homages are maybe a little on the nose - Bair's sword looks a lot like Guts' Dragon Slayer, and the relationship between the two sisters is very reminiscent of that between Clare and Teresa - but the tale manages to hold up well in the first two Acts, with enough mystery to carry it forward in an engaging way.
Even if the story will turn out to be mediocre, which I feel will not from what I experienced so far, players will still have plenty of reasons to play Soulstice, especially if they are fans of Japanese character action games. The game competently combines the best features from games like the aforementioned Devil May Cry and Bayonetta as well as other titles like Dmc - Devil May Cry. With the addition of unique features, such as Synergy Attacks where Bair and Lute unleash a powerful combination attack and the countering system which makes Lute freeze in place or deflect an enemy attack, the mix results in a very engaging and fast-paced experience that will put players' skills to the test. In the first build I played, I found it was too easy to achieve Diamond rank in battles, but it seems like this won't be the case in the final game, as enemies are far more aggressive, and the action way more hectic, even at the standard difficulty level in the latest build. So, players must master using all of Bair and Lute's techniques and switch weapons on the fly if they want to dominate all combat encounters.
In true Japanese character action game fashion, Soulstice isn't all about the combat, as players will get to explore a variety of different locations in search of extra items, combat challenges, and more. The first gameplay demo I tried out did not offer much in this regard, featuring a mostly linear slice of the game, so I was happy to be able to experience more of this side of the game. And even in this regard, I feel Soulstice will not disappoint. While the game is mostly linear, there are a lot of branching paths that lead to all sorts of secrets. There are even some very simple puzzles to complete that reminded me of the original Devil May Cry, which are sure to make the experience a little more varied, although combat is likely going to take center stage most of the time.
If the original reveal and the first gameplay demo put the game on my radar, the latest longer gameplay trial made me anticipate Soulstice even more. While the game will not be the most original action title to release in 2022, the excellent gameplay will make up for it, giving Soulstice the chance to stand head to head with other similar games releasing this year.
Soulstice launches on September 20th, 2022, on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.