Revenge may be the popular thing these days, but some games actually aren't about taking vengeance. At least, they don't have to be, and at Gamescom this year several developers are making that abundantly clear. Straight out of Sony WWS Japan Studio is Soul Sacrifice, the first game from Keiji Inafune, the prolific co-designer of Mega Man.
Soul Sacrifice comes with a powerful message: nothing is free. Everything has a price. And often, we have to sacrifice to get what we want.
Players take on the role of a character imprisoned by an evil sorcerer for—you guessed it—a human sacrifice. At the start of the game, players find a magical, ugly book with a bulging eye and a half-mouth. With nothing to lose but life itself, our unwitting hero opens the book and plunges into a world of the sorcerer's past battles, which will ultimately teach the unnamed prisoner how to fight fire with fire.
"The book," Inafune told Kotaku in an interview prior to the official game reveal, "is a gateway to the Sorcerer's previous battles." But instead of just reliving the past, our hopeless prisoner has a choice of how to act: sacrifice the monsters to gain power, or release them from their own torment and experience their hardship, their backstory, how they lost their way and caved in to greed.
"It's very emotional, but each of the monsters…they have all been once human, and each monster has a deep backstory to how he became that monster. And the player, knowing that all monsters were once human, won't necessarily want to kill all monsters," Inafune said.
Because, of course, players will feel empathetic to the plight of the defeated: "And by [saving them, players] get a different outcome, a different story, and you end up encountering a different monster if you had sacrificed him. So it leads to a different story, a different outcome, that you would not have experienced otherwise."
The large title will feature many different potential outcomes, each matching the main boss-monsters as the sacrificial lambs for the story. But take note: sacrifice ends that character's story outright, and the game keeps going. Let them live, and the emotional tale that Inafune sought to create as his first non-Capcom title comes to life.
"Players can sacrifice anything, from nature (like trees), enemy monsters, or even your own flesh," he said. And each sacrifice increases the player's power, offering new and unique magical powers that have yet to be revealed.
What about altruistic players like this writer, who play most choice-driven games as the goody-two-shoes? Will I be proverbially screwed because I refuse to sacrifice major bosses? It isn't exactly like Bioshock; saving little sisters still offers some Adam to players.
"You will come to a point where it becomes too difficult to continue," Inafune said. "Yes it does get difficult, but there is a way to do it. There is a possibility that you can gain more power, more strength, by playing that way."
So for players like myself, the game will get progressively harder until I don't have the skill to keep going...or I can be Superman, always do good, and metaphorically lose my allergy to kryptonite. In other words, players will get a major reward for being a good guy. "If you keep on playing the good guy, of course it's difficult, but there's a chance that you can earn a certain great power," Inafune said said.
Then, a little nugget regarding multiplayer: "If you choose to create that good-guy character, then it would play into multiplayer, because you would have a certain strong power in one aspect." When I followed up, all Inafune would say was that it's earned for playing the game at its most difficult.
Inafune wouldn't say whether players on the light or dark side would be stronger, but it's safe to assume that being "evil" offers immediate benefits compared to taking the long road. But good luck making it all the way through without making any sacrifice: something's always gotta give, whether it's a tasty-looking animal or a frightening plant, or even your own body. But everything has a price. Lose a finger and lose some dexterity. Lose an eye and you'll literally earn a blind spot.
Soul Sacrifice offers both cooperative and competitive play that both include the same sacrificial elements of solo play. With up to four players, teammates can go so far as to sacrifice their lives to help the rest of the team. Mr. Inafune intentionally stopped talking about multiplayer, about which he will share more info at the Tokyo Game Show in September.
Later on at a press-only event, Sony showed the first Soul Sacrifice gameplay. It looks like a mixture of Devil May Cry and Darksiders, with moderately speedy combat and a more stylistic approach to art, featuring creatures that aren't quite as gruesome as Visceral Games' Dante's Inferno, but certainly grungy, bulbous, and perhaps even demonic. A few pictures shown included well-known creatures like Cerberus and harpies, but most of the smaller, more standard enemies are unique to the game. Larger bosses are crafted based on the backstory of that character, be it gluttony, greed, or another of the seven or so deadly sins.
As a Vita-only title, Soul Sacrifice is meant to challenge players in a different way, with a theme that, unlike so many other games, isn't about revenge. Rather, players are given choices that allow them to ultimately decide how characters will look: scarred with self-mutilation and battle wounds, dark with evil, or something else entirely.
Soul Sacrifice will release in Spring 2013.