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Soulbringer

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Infogrames
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Soulbringer are uniformly underwhelming. Sure, they run at insanely high resolutions -- my video card cranked it up over 1024x768 with no visual lag -- but the visuals themselves leave something to be desired. Some areas look properly dark and mysterious, but others just look bland and empty. The textures have a preponderance of earthy tones, which arenít bad at first, but really start to wear on you as the game progresses. It doesnít help that the world has a fill-in rate similar to the abysmal one in the PlayStation G-Police series. You can only see things when youíre practically on top of them, and you can miss entire areas simply because the renderer doesnít go out that far.

The characters are recognizable, but the way that the sprites overlaid on their forms jump around as the camera rotates gives me the shivers. Itís all the worst parts of both 3D and 2D, with none of the benefits of either. Iím almost positive one of the main charactersí head sprites forgot to be clipped for transparency since it looks like he has a gray block around his head, but it could just be the drab textures that tend to appear behind his head.

The interface and graphics donít scale terribly well to the larger resolutions either, causing Small Font Syndrome and general difficulty reading just whatís going on.

As for the music in Soulbringer, youíll spend almost all of your time in the game in complete silence, with only the sound effects to carry you. At one point in the game, I walked back into town and music started up. I actually started looking around for a character playing the music since it struck me as so unusual. Alas, as I left the screen, the music faded to nothingness, not to return. The sound effects, as they are, are quite nice, with clings and clangs and grunts and whatnot. Youíre not going to be stunned by them, but theyíre certainly not sub-par. And the voice acting in the game is, dare I say, damn good. I actually enjoyed listening to the various people talk to my character.


Gameplay:

Itís a damn shame that Soulbringer is too weak of an RPG to make it all that entertaining. Itís certainly not the worst (-cough- Blaze & Blade -cough-), but itís definitely been done better enough times.

You play the part of the dutiful son, going to meet your eccentric Uncle Andrus to fulfill your fatherís last request. He lives outside of a sleepy little town called Madrigal where youíll be spending a good bit of your time. Upon arriving near the town by boat, youíre given your first simple quest and set on your way.

The first quest is decidedly trivial, and itís nice to complete it and get the nifty little sounds that signify that youíve done something good. So you go traipsing into town, set to find out just whatís going on and meet your Uncle Andrus. This happens soon enough, at which point the game... explodes.

For most of the rest of the time youíll be spending with the game, youíll have five or six things going on to keep track of. This sort of non-linearity is cool when done right, but Soulbringer doesnít quite cut it. The journal that your character keeps is nowhere near as useful as, say, Deus Exís, and youíll find yourself straining to remember just what it is you need to do. I used to enjoy paper-and-pencil annotations of my games, but once they started coming with intelligent journaling systems, I hoped that pastime would go the way of the dodo. Alas, that is not the case.

The world of Soulbringer itself slowly reveals itself to you, and itís an interesting world, if a bit stilted and dry. There are lots of things to be done and people to talk to, and the town is certainly more, er, ďtownishĒ than in most RPGs, but the game just feels like itís lacking something. Despite the somewhat intriguing storyline, the game never managed to pull me in enough to where I was genuinely interested in what was going to happen next.

The combat system also left me flummoxed. Sometimes I could wail on an enemy with a few clicks and watch them fall in a matter of seconds. Other times, enemies of the same strength would simply destroy me with a swing or two. Was I not targeting properly? Did my character just enjoy getting a good beating? I checked the instructions to make sure, but it seemed like I was doing everything right. The combo system, in and of itself, is actually quite cool if used properly. But I always found myself in panic situations where I simply clicked buttons until the enemy died or my remains were scattered liberally about the ground. It could have been a flaw in my play-style -- I come from the old school of ďGet in Their Face and Smack Them AroundĒ -- and I could get past the various baddies eventually, but it became decidedly non-trivial.

Itís hard to put a finger on what bothers me about Soulbringer. Sure, the graphics arenít the best, but Iím not a zealot when it comes to that. Iíve clocked more hours in Final Fantasy IV/2 than any other RPG. Itís just an unfulfilling experience -- a game that never quite gets up off the ground, one that presents some neat ideas but never really uses them. Itís the One That Got Away, basically; unfortunately, it Got Away from the developers before it became a masterpiece.


Difficulty:

Youíll find that some fights are insanely difficult. Simply reload and try again. Chances are that this time itíll be quite simple. Of course, it may take five or six reloads to figure out just what youíre supposed to do, but youíll get it eventually. The game itself doesnít present much of a challenge, at least if you take good notes; there are lots of things that you have to do, often at the same time, and itís easy to forget details. And since the Journal doesnít keep particularly good notes, youíll have to yourself. Mastering the combat system takes some time, but itís certainly manageable.

Game Mechanics:

The interface in Soulbringer irritates the crap out of me. Why must I scroll through my food from the main screen like itís set up to eat it? Why is the Journal on the character screen instead of out on the main one like it should be? And the locations of the buttons donít lend themselves very well to quick playing. Learning the hotkeys is practically a must if you want to stay somewhat sane. The sparkle-trail that your character follows when you hold the mouse down is nice, but since the game has serious draw-in problems, youíll find him stopping when you thought he should have kept moving because you just crested a hill and the mouse cursor ended up in pitch dark land. Ugh.

Soulbringer could have been a contender. It has excellent voice acting, an interesting premise, and enjoyable non-linearity aspects. But the shoddy interface, confusing battle system, and need to take notes all take away from the experience. In the end, Soulbringer is merely a mediocre RPG. You can find worse, but you can also certainly find better. Unless you simply must play every RPG, chances are good that another one out there would be better for you.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x, P 233, 32MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM, DX-compat video, DX-compat sound, 500MB HD space
 

Test System:



AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256MB RAM, Creative Sound Blaster Live! Sound Card, Creative TNT2 Ultra w/32MB RAM, 6X/24X DVD-ROM

Windows Seven Kingdoms II: The Fryhtan War Microsoft Xbox MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated