In the beginning… you command a party of three who embark on the quest of ‘The Tutorial’. It’s not excessive, but at the time, I was so impatient to get through it. The controls were quite intuitive anyway – you can only move to the right. Tutorial pop-ups were frequent, and I thought Vambrace: Cold Soul was going to be complicated, but it’s not really.
The commands are represented by images, and they aren’t generic, nor is it clear what they will do. I wasted a few attempts trying them out and in the process, lost some health. I might moan about this again and again, but you can’t restore health during a battle. That’s like sitting in an F1 car on the starting grid being told you can only go up to 60mph. Bad example.
Our heroine of the story is Lyric. The party from the beginning find her corpse only to find she’s still breathing and take her back to their pad a.k.a. jail. She’s woken by a chap named Lanvil who quizzes her background and her purpose. He’s convinced she’s special and enlists her for the greater good and that she’ll be a good asset again the legions of doom.
This is the perfect opportunity to fill you in on the lore in the dialogue “where am I?” or “I don’t remember anything…”, but I’ll just summarise. Lyric’s pa is dead and has told her to travel to Icenaire to save the people. She ends up in Dalearch which is underneath Icenaire – a place that has been enslaved by The King of Shades. This isn’t a disgruntled Ray-Bans former employee with a new startup, but a man who knows his ice. He’s surrounded the city in a wall of ice. Should anyone touch it, they die. He’s also resurrected the dead and commands their spirits and because he’s evil, so are they.
Fortunately, Lyric’s dad left her the vambrace of the title. ‘Legend has it’ that this is the tool to overthrow this wrongdoer and undo his wall of ice. Sounds all very Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but the most significant influence is The Darkest Dungeon. But the bottom line is she can come and go as she pleases by passing through the wall.
I first saw Vambrace: Cold Soul on my phone via a Twitch feed. Of course, it wouldn’t do it justice, but I wasn’t that impressed. The graphics looked good, but I thought it was a mobile game. Upon reflection having played the game, the graphics are indeed brilliant. The illustrations, in particular, are fantastic. I wasn’t a fan of the animation style, but that’s personal preference. As an overall package, it was a visual treat. The same can be said for the sound production, which is also very good, but I have to admit, I did feel like skipping some of the cutscenes. Whether it was Lyric the character, the voiceover, or just the story, we will never know…
But, we all know things being pretty doesn’t clarify whether something is any good. The build-up to the game wasn’t really getting me excited. I’m a little tired of learning new character names and myths in fantasy games, that I kind of wish that orcs and warlocks did exist so I can learn about them and retain that information rather than learning about this kingdom and so-and-so realm. Vambrace: Cold Soul caters for us weary adventurers by including a codex that is accessible at the bottom of the screen. This is a good option. By not having it shoved down my throat, I found that I’d talk to characters and go back and look their information. Result.
Once Lyric embarks on her adventure, you can move around a map and interact with NPCs etc. You have typical merchants, but instead of gold or gil, they use hellion – no different than our own as it’s made of paper, don’t you know. You earn more of it by selling the loot you pick up during the game, which is vital in levelling up Lyric but also improving the skills of your party. Don’t get attached to them; however, as you will be swapping them out at the recruitment boards a lot.
The battles are what make up a large portion of the game, and that was one of the most frustrating things. All four of your party line up in order. Where they are positioned reflects how they perform. Those at the front take the hits and do close up damage, your team at the back handle long-range attacks and buffs. This setup works fine when you know how each class handles, but when first getting to grips with this, you can’t swap them out during battle.
As a turn-based game, it gives you enough time to implement a decent enough strategy, but I found I was almost button mashing at times and it had the same effect as if I took my time. There is a harder difficulty, but considering this wasn’t an easy mode, it was disappointing how simple this method was.
Perhaps most frustrating was the rogue-like elements and the permadeath for NPCs. I say NPCs – you can command them and all, but their story is irrelevant to the overall narrative, and your party is expendable. Maybe I haven’t played enough games like this, but I’m used to keeping the same team in an RPG, or perhaps rotating one or two weak characters if not needed, but having your party die is irritating. Lyric doesn’t die, she just returns to Dalearch and loses her loot and progress. A similar approach is you can exit your expedition almost at any time and return to Dalearch with your team and loot intact. However, you again lose all progress, so have to return to the start again.
In Vambrace: Cold Soul, you don’t grind like you would in a conventional RPG. Instead, you need to collect loot to sell or to invest in your gear. It’s more about surviving the overall expeditions that take place, as well as the battles. Lyric is your access point here. As the protagonist, you build up her permanent expertise (pending you don’t die halfway through one of the seven chapters), and in turn, this helps the team. With Lyric, you can also change her appearance too. Seemed a bit mad changing her clothes into casual indoor wear when battling the elements, but I did it, and she looked fabulous.
Between each area or neighbourhood, your party can set up up camp. This is essential if you want to progress. When creating a camp, you put your member with the highest overwatch skill to keep an eye on things. They can also rest, scout the area or sing/entertain the gang with a game of charades but it will all be determined on their attribute point. Regardless, when setting an action, you get +5 terror added. What’s terror? Well, it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.
At the bottom of the screen, there is a gauge that fills up with terror. The higher the terror, the bigger the threat to your vigor. How does vigor play into this? Well, if that goes to zero, you’re dead, son. There’s no coming back. Unlike health, this goes down each time you enter a new room or if a trap fails. So you have to monitor your health, which you can’t remedy in combat, plus your vigor. Vambrace: Cold Soul indeed has a cold soul. No? Ok, but it’s not very helpful either way.
At first, I didn’t connect or warm to either the story or Lyric. As I got further through the game, I felt a bond and routed for her to do well and make her dead dad proud. The battles got in the way of this and were almost a hindrance. Not a good thing to say when this is fundamental to the game. It’s not that it’s terrible, and I have an incredible amount of patience at times. I just found that you have to persevere with this for completion sake. I owed it to Lyric.
Vambrace: Cold Soul PS4 Review
Overall - Good - 6/10
Vambrace: Cold Soul is a decent story with great character designs and presentation, but this is a game, not an animation, so I have to say that for an RPG, the combat system is flawed. Some of the mechanics didn’t resonate with me, but if you have the time, the story is quite rewarding
- Stunning graphics and presentation
- Despite the cold theme, you’ll eventually warm to Lyric
- Decent narrative and implementation of a codex
- The battle system can be bypassed through a lack of strategy
- Not necessarily a negative for all, but permadeath in an RPG can be irritating
- Other than the protagonist, not enough incentive to push through on this game
Reviewed using base PS4.