Developer: Ace Team
Release date: July 10, 2019
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Unique concepts in gaming can be hard to come by, as so much has been done already. Mixing a strategy town builder/tower defense game with side scrolling combat sounds like it could have made for an interesting game. Add to that some nostalgia factor by making the game a spiritual successor to a classic, and Ace Team and Sega should have had a winner here.
Unfortunately, the execution proved flawed, and so SolSeraph, the spiritual successor to the 1990 Super Nintendo title ActRaiser, stumbles where it should have soared, and felt lackluster where it should have been engaging. To be sure, this game may find some fans. Those who loved ActRaiser may take to SolSeraph better, as nostalgia can help one overlook some flaws or give more incentive to power through a game. I never played ActRaiser, so I had no nostalgic feelings to spur me on. The concept for SolSeraph is what drew me in, but the gameplay ultimately left me feeling underwhelmed.
In the game you play as Helios, a god defending humanity against Chaos. The world is divided into four separate regions, and in each area you need to engage in a strategy mode that has you building a town and then defending it against attack, and once you get a temple set up you can then enter the lair of the invading monsters for some side scrolling combat and platforming. The whole idea seems sound, but it falls apart quickly.
Initially, building your town seems simple enough. Your town is built around a central fire, which needs to be kept lit. At first you add some houses and fields, and then a lumber mill to process wood for building supplies. Roads need to be set up to expand your town’s borders, and barracks and defense towers need to be placed at strategic points to intercept enemies who travel along the road. Things get more complicated when resources are exhausted, and you need more workers, but then don’t have enough fields to produce food. So you build fields, but have no one to work them besides pulling villagers off of defenses, so you can build more housing once the food is there to support more villagers. This on its own can be frustrating, but add to that attacking hordes streaming from their foul lairs, and the frustration level can build quickly.
It’s not insurmountable, but it’s not exactly fun either. As Helios you can help, either by providing a warrior on the ground (who never seemed to last all that long) or by strafing enemies with lightning bolts from above. For some reason Helios needs to replenish his lightning supply from nearby clouds, but it still works better than the ground support. The idea is to keep the hordes from reaching your central fire. If the fire takes too many hits, it’s game over. Once you get the hang of the strategy it’s not so bad, but until then some may have issues.
Once you get a temple set up and all current enemies are down, you can enter the lair. Here things are fought on a 2D plane, yet enemies attack you from a 3D plane. You’re armed with a sword, bow, and shield, and enemies can range from jumping goblins to giant spiders that drop down (apparently their webs are attached to clouds) to red blobs. There are enemy archers who have greater range than you (for some reason Helios can only shoot straight or on a 45 degree angle), and just bumping into an enemy will cost you a bit of health. Health items and extra arrows are in short supply, so you need to be careful. Some lairs also go on far too long, with mid-lair save points that only work if you retry immediately after failing (quitting sets you back to the beginning of the lair).
The lair usually ends with facing off against a large boss, but not always. As multiple lairs open up, you would think going in and sealing one would keep it closed. Nope. The lairs still spew forth enemies, even after you go through and defeat them, making the whole exercise feel pretty pointless. Add to that the fact that if you have good memory, getting through after dying proves easier with each run, since the enemies never change their attacks or position. This makes the game more of a memory challenge than even a button mashing slasher/shooter, which gets old very quickly.
And that’s pretty much the gist of the game, as it’s rinse and repeat with each region. Even that could be forgiven if there was a compelling story to be told. Sadly, that’s missing in action. And that doesn’t help when deaths often feel cheap and the platforming lacks the tight and responsive controls it desperately needs. The graphics are nice enough and the music is okay, but neither is strong enough to help you forget about the other flaws.
It’s a shame, because SolSeraph could have been an engaging experience with just a few tweaks. The concept and set up for the story was sound, but that was where the good seemed to stop. As I said, some will like this game far more than I did, but for myself, it just didn’t cut it. It makes it very hard to recommend at full price, so my advice if you wish to try it, do so when it’s discounted. It starts off nicely, but the flawed finish relegates this one to the back of the pack.