The world has fallen to ruin. After being fed up with humanity, the gods have caused indescribable devastation to everything we know. It is a bleak time for us all. But as humanity is at its lowest, a lone warrior steps forth to bring an end to these divine creatures and, hopefully, bring hope back to humanity. This is how the story of Eldest Souls begins.
Much like with Dark Souls, the series that this game clearly takes inspiration from, the narrative isn’t exactly the thing the developers put forward here. There is certainly a story here, and I would argue that it is a very interesting one, even though it isn’t as immediately presented as in something like The Last of Us. But that is fine by me, as I highly enjoy finding story and lore details through written notes, dialogue from characters you can run into, or through visual details in the level design. It allows the player to use their imagination to puzzle together the details of what specifically happened in different areas of the game. Yes, there is an opening cutscene to help set things up, but the extra details the player can discover on their own throughout the game are what really sell this story.
Eldest Souls is what the internet would call a “soulslike”. What does this mean? Well, it’s basically an action game with difficult combat. What sets it apart from other titles in the nebulous “soulslike” genre, however, is that there are no regular enemy encounters. That’s right: no grunts, goons, or gorillas to fight as you explore the ruined world. The combat in Eldest Souls consists entirely of big, brutal boss battles. And it’s during these battles that the game’s flaws really start to show themselves.
Right off the bat, it doesn’t seem too bad. You have your sword button, letting you make light swings as you tap or use a charge attack if you hold down the button. This charge even acts as your heal during battle, as a successful hit restores a little bit of health. The charge even fills up a separate meter that, when full, adds damage to your attacks and lets you perform a special heavy attack that completely depletes it. You also have a dodge button, letting you evade attacks, given that you have the stamina left to pull it off. All of these sound fine on paper, and generally they work fine on their own. But when paired with the mechanics of some of the bosses, it can become insanely frustrating.
I hate to keep making comparisons to Dark Souls, but I feel like I might need to briefly. Those games are hard as hell, and have led to their fair share of angry swearing sessions. But generally speaking, they are built around the restrictive and slightly clunky movement of your character, and bosses (mostly) feel like you just need to get better to beat them. It’s a pain-fueled harmony that makes those games as good as they are. Eldest Souls has several bosses that feel like your victory relies more on dumb luck and brute force rather than strategy and skill. Multiple bosses have a bad habit of throwing massive, arena-covering attacks at you… at the same time. Yes, you have a dodge, but there are times where that doesn’t feel enough. And even the sheer rate at which attacks may come at you doesn’t feel justified at times. Your movement in this game is relatively stiff and slow, but the bosses sometimes have attack rates that feel like Platinum Games developed them. Not even the upgrades you gain from beating the battles feel like they make enough of a difference. At the best of times, you’re in for a decently exciting bout against a cool-looking foe. At the worst of times (which is at least 50% of the encounters), it feels like you’re throwing yourself into a spiky brick wall that also has angry snakes popping out of it.
Bringing it back to the positive side of matters for a second… holy crap, this game is beautiful to look at. Pixel art in general tends to be very appealing, but here it’s taken to another level, making it almost look like a painting at times. It’s a real feast for the eyes, even in areas which are meant to be a bit gloomy and depressing. And the isometric perspective (the top-down style you’ve seen in the screenshots) really lets you soak in so much of it at once. To be honest, I’ve lost count how many times my jaw dropped at the visual beauty of this game.
On the other end of the presentation spectrum we have the music, composed by Sergio Ronchetti. And much like with the art style, his music is great. As with many fantasty scores, you’ll hear heavy percussion, loud brass, stress-inducing strings, and even a bit of choir, and it all blends together very well to make for a very engaging score that I wouldn’t mind listening to in my free time.
Eldest Souls is a brutal and unforgiving action game with some interesting lore, gorgeous visuals, and some really good music. However, I wouldn’t really recommend this if you’re unfamiliar with the “soulslike” genre. But if you’d consider yourself a veteran of the genre and you’re looking for your next bit of masochism, then go nuts.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.]