What They Say:
In the beginning, there was only Chaos, until one day, when Sky Father and Earth Mother drove the Chaos away and made the world. They made the stars and the sun and the waters and the land. And then they made plants and animals, and finally, their favorite creation: humankind. When they were done, Sky Father and Earth Mother left the world, so it could grow freely on its own.
But the Younger Gods were arrogant and cruel, so they tormented humankind with fires, storms, and floods, until all the tribes were scattered across the land, struggling for survival. But Helios, Knight of Dawn, the child of god and man, has come to humanity’s aid!
SolSeraph wears its inspiration boldly. It’s clearly a desire of the developers at ACE Team to make a modern successor to the SNES title ActRaiser. ActRaiser featured a divine being rebuilding civilization, with gameplay split between city-building and side-scrolling levels. SolSeraph does exactly that but adds in some tower defense to the building formula.
So, how does it measure up to its inspiration and the current crop of lower-budget games vying for your eyes?
The plot is simple. The game begins with a creation story, about old gods and jealous gods. You are one of those elder gods, trying to put rogue angry lesser gods in their place and answering the prayers of the separate tribes by saving the people from hoards of monsters. You alternate between beating down the baddies and constructing and placing buildings and defenses to stop waves of monsters are various civilizations across the planet.
The side-scrolling levels feature more varied backgrounds and scenery from area to area than I was expecting, which is nice for giving you a sense of traveling to different lands. The design of those levels is all over the map. Most are short, and some are simple battle arenas which pit you against a few waves of enemies. Some are longer with simple platforming challenges. It’s a toss-up whether a longer level will have a checkpoint or not, which becomes increasingly frustrating as I progressed through the game. Health refills are slim, most only refilling a blip of life. Enemies don’t drop power-ups or health, and mana drops are similar and it doesn’t recharge over time. Equally confusing is that some levels feature power-ups for your weather abilities on a side path in the level, but as the levels are not replayable these upgrades may be permanently missable. Then again, I have little to no way of knowing how many of these upgrades I’ve actually found because the UI is limited in displaying that information and there is no inventory, stats, or progress indicator.
Enemies will both knock you back and invincibility frames are short and unforgiving if they exist at all. Enemies will sometimes spawn in without notice and sometimes will come in from a different place in the 3D plane, either the background or foreground, making judging the moment they come within sword range nearly impossible. You will be memorizing levels and enemy spawn points if you fail the first attempt. The sword itself as a bit of a wind-up on the swing and a shorter reach then I expected. Powerups are few and far between. You start with one ranged attack that requires mana to shoot. Each major area boss unlocks a new ability, and despite the number of buttons, you can only have one active at a time. The additional powers aren’t particularly useful. The healing effect is severely limited and the fire attack no more useful than an arrow. As someone who has been playing a lot of side-scrolling roguelikes, this combat falls far short of what I expect a modern experience to play like.
One thing that is nice is that you can back out of a level at any time and try another territory or enemy base. It doesn’t give you any direction on what the preferred route to tackle the various areas is, so once again it amounts to trial and error and bouncing off locations.
In contrast to the unnecessarily punishing side-scrolling levels, the town building elements are more manageable. Less an RTS and more a tower defense scenerio, you lay down buildings and defense structures to build out a civilization. New buildings unlock for seemingly no reason and with no lore. Magical bombers? Sure, why not. The enemies appear from darkened spawn points which act as progress blocking points, as each must be defeated to open the way to the area boss. Laying down buildings requires a small amount of strategy, but if you make a mistake it costs nothing to break down a building and pop in a new one. In later areas, the waves of enemies afford an amount of challenge, but you’re mostly dealing with the same ruleset and a few unique environmental obstacles per area. Eventually, you clear the way to vanquish the area boss, and that region is at peace. They let you go back and visit, but there’s little reason to bother.
Locked at 30fps for the PS4. While not taxing, I did notice some hitching. The more concerning fact was that controls seemed unresponsive. Maybe some tweaks in a patch will adjust the movement to better address that.
With a short trophy list with no platinum, and maybe 8 to 12 hours of gameplay time and no challenge modes to go back to, I would say low.
SolSeraph’s heart is in the right place, but its execution leaves much to be desired. They take so much from ActRaiser, yet seem to have left something crucial behind. Graphically it’s fine for a smaller game, and the music is decent and the small number of characters you meet are amusing. While the town building and tower defending are perfectly serviceable, it’s overly simplified and there’s little to do once the map has been cleared. The side-scrolling levels are firmly stuck about thirty years in the past, with poor level design. The difficulty is all over the place with not much depth and little guidance. Ultimately, it’s just not that fun to play. For those that deeply desired a new god-game with some side-scrolling action, this spiritual successor left me wanting.
Grade: C –
Developer: Ace Team
Age Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: July 10, 2019
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam for PC
Review copy provided by the publisher.