*Important Note* This review is based of of not having finished the game. I’m about 40+ hours in and I’m also grinding more than I probably should because there are some serious boss-walls in this game.
So it seems like “soulslike” is a genre that is becoming increasingly popular. One can probably also call it masochism as well and there is definitely a market for that. Fromsoft has taken the crown for themselves, but other titles have released that stick to the “die a lot to learn how to beat something” method of gameplay. Enter Souldiers from Retro Forge. It’s also a challenging experience. Is it worth the hair loss though? Let’s break it down together.
Side note: I was about 30 hours in when my wife pointed out to me that it was called Souldiers and not Soldiers. Which seemed about right as my soul did die a little bit at a time playing this game.
One thing you notice right off the bat is that they went for the 16 bit aesthetic and they did it very well. They take you back to the Super Nintendo era with some awesome talent. It’s a very gorgeous game and it shows in the attention that is paid to details in a lot of places. The animations of the characters while you’re talking to them. The lighting is great! The smoothness of the movements (which is nice, because they could have gotten away with not having as many frames in the animations too). It’s also the little touches like kneeling down to put out a campfire as a person leaves the area. (Great paralaxing as well.) Once again, it’s the attention to detail that really impresses.
Moving on, you’re not the main hero here. You’re not even a general or some soldier of great renown. It looked like the game was going to start off somewhere in that area, but then doesn’t. You’ll still interact with a number of the NPC’s that I swear I was going to play as, but they are there as a narrative pushing device. (I kind of wish I had Brigard’s giant sword though.) Oh, and you’re apparently dead, but only technically dead. So there’s that. You all “died” and are now working with some Valkyries… for some grand purpose? Maybe? The story is still developing at the point I’m at in the game. Sorry…
When you get to, you’ll pick between the caster, scout and archer. The classes are very different in terms of gameplay. The scout is the tankier of the three (as one would expect with a shield and heavy armor) and he also hits like a truck. In that sense, he’s also the easiest class to pick up and play. Swing, swing harder, block and dodge. The caster comes off as easier with baddie seeking magic missiles, but there’s a catch as well. You must be close to a baddie to be able to cast these spells and you don’t have as much HP. You do have a few extra moves like a powerful blast of pain and you can leave a copy when you dodge and then explode it. It’s pretty sweet. (It’s also the class I continued playing on after trying all three.) Lastly is the archer, who I originally thought would be the easiest to play. However, you need to be close here as well and you have only three arrows that go on cooldown after loosing them. The arrows have a damage drop-off so if you’re too far away your arrows do no damage. If you run out of arrows, you could either wait for the cooldown or get in closer and throw your bow which decreases the weight. You also don’t have as much HP as the scout so this is risky. You do get some sweet dodges (if you can time them correctly) and retaliate with a blast of arrows. I’m personally horrible at the timing. It also seems that you can’t do it from every enemy attack, just most. Soooo… either it’s trial and error or I’m missing a tell. (I’m also horrible at the scout parry too, but I’ll get it eventually.)
I tend to find myself running back and forth to save points to get my health back and not lose the progress I’ve made. It’s pretty frustrating to plow through a few tough opponents and then level up only to die on the next baddie (who isn’t a boss) and have your progress reset back to the last save or checkpoint. There are plenty of enemies that I have struggled against and got better at fighting eventually. However, there are times the game will fill a room with multiple tough baddies that don’t respect my boundaries. Every enemy has a pattern and you will (hopefully) learn them in time. Still, knowing the patterns when there are multiple baddies throwing attacks at you feels fruitless at times. That’s where the main skill you need comes in: patience. Without patience, Souldiers will eat you alive. The more I step back and take my time, I do a bit better until I start bunny hopping and casting magic willy-nilly. It’s’ not the best tactic, but sometimes it feels good and the timing is easier than the dodge.
The challenge is real here. There are a good amount of tough opponents in the first few areas. You might be thinking that it’s fine. Then they lock you into a room with a new enemy type and you’ll keep respawning there until you win. Enemies that you’ve gotten used to suddenly get more difficult when you’re locked into a room with four or more of them. Then they introduce rooms with a whole lot of **** flying around and you’ve got to dodge it or get impaled or poisoned… or poisoned and impaled together. Take your time. Also, remember to use potions. This isn’t Resident Evil and you can easily buy more health potions. Goodness knows I’m guilty of saving a potion for “when I really need it” only to die a few seconds later.
As you progress you’ll level up and gain points to put into your skill tree that will unlock different abilities to add to your repertoire or allow you to wear more than one necklace. This is also why I’ve grinded so much. However, as I’ve done a bit of grinding, I’ve come to the realization that leveling up is useful in two aspects. First is the points you get for your skill tree (as I mentioned already) and then as a full health potion. Nothing is better than leveling up after a tough fight and getting all your health/stam/mana back. Dying right after that is the rough part. I tend to try and find time to go back and save my progress. Doing so also (unfortunately and good for exp fortunately) respawns a lot of enemies so you’ll have to fight your way back to where you were… which could have you taking too much damage and running back to the save point again etc. etc. On the plus side, saving also respawns all of the breakable stuff so there’s that. (Need to get that second tier achievement for breaking thousands of more things! My inner Link beckons!)
Unlike some “killing you” platformers, I do plan on continuing to play Souldiers after this review goes up. Most in the genre will give me to much frustration and when I can be done with them I am. While there is a lot of dying in this game for me and I have no idea how much farther I have to go, I still want to beat this game. It is difficult, but I’ve overcome so many different obstacles that I want to finish this up. I may even try the archer out again and work on my timing a bit more with both he and the scout. It’s tough and I’ve face-palmed more times than I care to mention after having leveled up and thought “I’ll just clear this next area” only to die and lose that progress. That’s just a testament to how much fun I’m having here. (This may have been different if I wasn’t so prone to hugging the save point as often as I am.) The game runs so stinking smooth and if not for my terrible reaction speed most of the time, I’d probably even look cool playing it. This game is an easy sell for people who really enjoy platformers with some soulslike seasoning sprinkled on top.