In this modern take on the retro sidescrolling RPG genre, Souldiers tasks players to save the realm of Yggdrasil (which is the Tree of Life in Norse mythology) from an unknown evil hellbent on corrupting it. You choose what class you want to be – Scout, Archer or Caster – and upon dying during a battle, a Valkyrie whisks you away from the mortal world to Yggdrasil. Coming to the realisation that you will not be returning to the land of the living, you accept the challenge of saving Yggdrasil in order to pass on to Ragnorok. Here, champions are immortalised in the land of the living, and heroes are rewarded with fame, fortune and eternal glory.
The beautiful anime opening fires up the tastebuds for an epic fantasy adventure, and Souldiers feels at home alongside the likes of Final Fantasy and Lord of the Rings (on the surface, at least). There are 3 difficulty levels to choose from, which are each balanced for exploration, gameplay and survival. Souldiers doesn’t re-invent the wheel when it comes to gameplay. It basically relies on players hacking their way through hordes of enemies in order to gain experience points and money. Levelling up unlocks ability points which are used to unlock new skills. Money is necessary for topping up on potions and magic amulets that give your character special perks. It’s definitely worth investing in magic amulets, and you will need to tailor which ones you use depending on where you are in the world.
At its heart though, Souldiers’ best and most original mechanic is how players have to unlock elemental suits of armour. These can be used on the fly, and you will need to master each elemental suit in order to conquer foes and discover new areas of the map. Just to name a few, fire armour allows you to burn nets and wooden blanks; the sand armour lets you activate hidden platforms; the water armour lets you ride bubbles that catapult you across the stage. It’s very creative and fun to master.
The art style is something to be admired. Obviously inspired by the greats, its pixelated art direction is dense and packed with detail. The map being broken up into unique elemental sections has allowed the design team to embrace the use of colour, and the setting always helps you identify the elemental armour you should be wearing.
Speaking of the armour, each elemental set of armour has its own distinct colour and visual flair that helps distinguish them from each other. The only 2 that might be hard to distinguish from are the electric and water sets, mainly because 1 is blue and the other is purple (and they reside side-by-side on the armour selection wheel).
The elemental suits are also required to navigate the Metroidvania level design. Each suit’s speciality will grant the player access to seen-but-currently-unreachable areas that will guarantee back-tracking. Top tip: once you unlock a new suit it’s definitely worth revisiting old areas and picking up those treasure chests. Extending your HP and Mana bars is essential!
Every dungeon has its own theme and that extends to the music too. As you will be spending so much time in each dungeon you’ll soon grow accustomed to the soundtrack. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming the tunes to yourself throughout the day.
One particular effect that truly stands out is how distant the audio sounds when you go into a tunnel or underground. It’s a clever audio deception that adds depth and genuinely feels like you’re isolating yourself from the safety of the bustling city. It happens so infrequently too that you appreciate it every time you experience it.
The sound design is pretty solid throughout as well. Hitting enemies sounds impactful and the tinny clink of collecting coins never grows old. The gushing of water inside the sewers is particularly engaging and adds to the overall feel of being in the depths of a steampunk sewage plant.
Souldiers’ story is easily its weakest component. If you’re the type of person who appreciates gameplay over plot then the story won’t phase you much. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a deep fantasy story full of lore and political intrigue unfortunately you won’t find it here.
To put it simply, Souldiers lacks any narrative consistency and its lore feels packed and needlessly confusing. For example, it’s set in a world of Norse mythology but the dungeons, enemies and inhabitants have no Norse origins. Most of the dungeons revolve around helping out a particular race of creature but not of all their stories feel like they belong in this world. The main character had to die to reach Yggdrasil and cannot return to the land of the living but a race of aliens literally travel across space and time to reach Yggdrasil. So is Yggdrasil the afterlife or just another planet?
It’s not clear who the main antagonist is either. The story blips between an unknown corruption, an evil Valkyrie, a beast trying to destroy the literal Tree of Life, and the dungeon bosses who all have their own motives. It lacks cohesion and results in a forgettable, unintelligible story.
Should you play it? Yes
Why… If you’re looking for a long campaign with loads of levels to explore you’ll adore Souldiers. With 3 classes to choose from, there’s ample replay value too. The numerous elemental suits add a level of strategy and the Metroidvania landscapes only add to the breadth of discovery available from Souldiers.
But… Its story isn’t easy to follow or particularly interesting, so if you’re hoping to experience a high fantasy adventure with high stakes you will not find it here. Despite having loveable characters to enjoy the company of, you never truly feel like you’re taking part in an epic fight to save the world.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X/S
Developer: Retro Forge
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Playable on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, PC
Released: 2nd June, 2022