Soulstice Review – Sisters of No Mercy
Developed by Reply Game Studios
Published by Modus Games
Available on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S
With Reply Games Studios’ Soulstice presenting itself in trailers as having the delicious melodrama and stylish combat of a Platinum Games joint, I was understandably keen to discover if the game could meet such lofty expectations. While it’s not hitting the highs of that esteemed company, it is a solidly entertaining action game with oodles of cheesy goodness.
The Holy Kingdom of Keidas is in danger of crumbling as demons known as Wraiths, come from another dimension (the other side of ‘The Veil’ in Soulstice speak) to invade the land, corrupting and possessing the weak, turning them into monstrous creatures. The last line of defense against this demonic horde is the Chimera; a band of warriors that connect two souls to create perfect soldiers.
We come into this story as an outcast Chimera duo, made up of reborn sisters Briar and Lute (who is a spirit having sacrificed her mortal self for Briar), who are thrust into the heat of this battle, albeit reluctantly by their masters. As the game progresses, we learn more about why the pair are considered outcasts, and what else their past holds in relation to the events currently taking place.
The game opens with a flash-forward where Briar and Lute have acquired a host of ass-kicking abilities and are showing a clutch of monsters the wicked end of them in a Bayonetta-inspired battle through crumbling ruins. It’s a neat showcase of what Soulstice can look like in its best moments and a teasing morsel for where the journey will be heading.
There’s a warm familiarity with how Soulstice plays and how it’s presented. Combat is engaging from the off, despite the standard tease and then limitation of Briar and Lute’s power. Briar’s weapon has two attack forms, to begin with. First, it’s a sword, then it shifts and transforms into a meaty bludgeoning hammer for heavy attacks. The slashing sword attacks are pretty standard, but the whomp of the hammer as it pulverized Wraiths was something that did not get old.
As enjoyable as combat can be, it’s not always helped by the camera and targeting. It’s not such a big deal in the early going, but there were plenty of times in the late game where it felt like enemies were getting in cheap shots I could do little about, and that can be the difference between winning and losing a fight. The compensation for that, I suppose, is that the fixed camera points the game uses a lot are great for showcasing the environment. The opening harbor area bathed in moonlight and fire is a great example of how beautiful Soulstice can be. It’s just unfortunate it can get in the way of Briar and Lute’s tag-team combat occasionally.
What does Lute do in combat? Well, Lute is an extension of Briar’s abilities, and effectively acts as her block and parry. If an enemy launches a spear at Briar’s back, for instance, a prompt comes up that allows Lute to rush in and deflect the attack while Briar continues fighting what’s in front of her. It may just be new wallpaper on a tired old room as mechanical evolution goes, but it gives the illusion of change all the same. It’s also a bit sweet that Lute shouts defiantly at would-be attackers as she repels them.
The voice work is just so right for this game. It has that winning campy, overwrought quality that I so cherish in the original Devil May Cry. Stefanie Joosten (MGS V’s Quiet) slaps the ham on cheese with remarkable force in her dual performance as the sisters, and it’s all the better for it. There’s never anything wrong with a corny approach to a game’s story, and when you’re going for the full-fat ‘nu-metal goes medieval’ vision as Soulstice does, it’s almost entirely the right way to go about it.
It’s never played out in that knowing, tongue-in-cheek manner many games of this sub-genre go for, but by teetering on seriousness with a flair for melodrama, that’s probably Soulstice’s most distinguishing quality. I was compelled to keep pushing on not just because of the way the game plays, but because it left me with that gleeful feeling of euphoria that can only be brought on by something as deliciously overblown and moody as this. It also manages to be quite tender at times when exploring the tragic relationship between the sisters.
I suppose the biggest criticism you could lay at Reply Game Studios’ feet is that it’s clearly nabbing from a very particular pool of influence, and comparison is inevitable and yet is needlessly harsh on Soulstice. There’s no shame in learning from the best and replicating them. And Reply Games Studio has made sure that for all the challenge rooms, fight rankings, and chapter clear screen scores, Soulstice still has its own flavor. It’s a modern throwback in much the same way Devil May Cry 5 was, just with more emphasis on the over-the-top stuff that made that franchise a delight when it wasn’t being Devil May Cry 2.
The overall presentation is handled well enough to put it in that aforementioned modern throwback sweet spot. The game is often striking, but obviously isn’t as detailed and nuanced as its most esteemed peers under scrutiny. Little technical hiccups occur, and they slightly took me out of the warm blanketed embrace of nostalgia-barbed action, but in the grand scheme of things, Soulstice manages to be a largely appealing sight in action.
No, it’s not exactly taking this particular sub-genre to new heights, but Reply Games Studio should be proud of creating such an entertaining entry into those storied halls that captures the spirit of things beautifully.
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