If you ask me, there will always be room in the world for more games like Devil May Cry, and the upcoming Soulstice, developed by Reply Game Studios, certainly waves the “like Devil May Cry” banner proudly. It’s a combat driven character action game featuring fixed camera angles, a variety of hot-swappable weapons, slick air combos, and plenty of glowing red crystals to absorb as currency for new techniques. All of these similarities to the DMC series certainly grabbed my attention, but what’s held it are all the ways Soulstice attempts to carve out its own identity within the character action genre.
Soulstice puts you in control of two characters at once: sisters named Briar and Lute. You primarily control Briar, using her powerful melee attacks and abilities, while Lute, who’s been turned into a spirit bound to Briar, acts in a support role by using her otherworldly abilities to affect the battlefield. Action game fans might hear that and immediately think “oh, so it’s kind of like Astral Chain,” but in practice it actually feels a bit more like a mix of Devil May Cry and the Nier games.
As an example, while the player is busy kicking ass with Briar, icons will pop up to indicate an enemy’s attack. If you can press the B button before the attack goes off, Lute will put up a shield to protect Briar from any harm. There’s no limit on this ability, and using it never stalls or slows Briar’s attacks, which leads to this very cool feeling of the two sisters working together, but with each being focused on her own particular strength.
Another big part of the combat in Soulstice is the fact that Lute can activate both a blue Evocation and a red Banishment field, which allows Briar to interact with enemies and objects of the same color. You’ve got to be careful though, because if Lute keeps a field up for too long, she will overcharge and be out of commission for a few seconds, leaving Briar largely defenseless.
These mechanics were really put to the test in my demo’s boss fight, which forced me to put it all together as the boss would regularly pelt me with projectiles that had to be parried, send enemies that forced me to switch on my Evocation Field in order to deal with them, while the boss itself required the Banishment Field. It was a fun and appropriately challenging boss fight, and it certainly whetted my appetite for more.
On Briar’s side of things, combat is as you’d expect from a character action game: fast-paced, stylish, and hard-hitting. Like in Devil May Cry, Briar has multiple combos that she can use by altering the timing of her button presses at specific points. So while her main combo can be used by simply mashing the quick attack button four times in rapid succession, she can use a slower, more AOE-focused combo by pressing the quick attack button twice, pausing to wait for a flash on her sword, and then mashing the light attack button again. This secondary combo even gets punctuated by a big screen-clearing synchronized attack when it’s used when Briar and Lute’s unity level is maxed out, which is done by simply landing attacks, avoiding damage, and effectively using Lute’s parries.
Briar is also able to hotswap between her weapons at any time, and while I only had access to two of them during my demo, they were both very satisfying to use. Her main weapon, called the Ashen Enforcer, is a hybrid weapon that uses quick sword slashes as its main attack, but can also transform and double as a slow but powerful axe when using its strong attack. Her other weapon is called the Tearing Penance, and acts like a whip-sword, capable of extending great distances and utilizing sweeping attacks to deal massive AOE damage.
All of this is super promising, but the real test for Soulstice will be how these weapons and abilities develop as the game goes on. The combat was definitely mechanically solid in the demo, and a glance at the skill tree certainly makes it seem like there’s plenty of fun new abilities to unlock as the campaign progresses, but nothing that I saw in the demo truly “wowed” me in the way that I really hope to be when playing a game in this particular genre. I only ever had enough currency to upgrade one move for Briar: an attack that’s basically identical to Dante’s quintessential Stinger technique, which is a super quick dashing stab attack executed by tapping forward twice and then pressing an attack button. Unfortunately it was a bit finicky and didn’t come out at least half the time I tried using it.
If Soulstice can manage to nail that all-important feeling of character progression, Reply Games Studios might have something special on its hands. Soulstice looks great, it’s mechanically solid, and is dripping with style derived from such classic anime and manga as Berserk and Claymore. We’ll see if Soulstice manages to stick the landing when it releases on PC and current-gen consoles later this year.