Headup Games / Devespresso Games (studio)
27 August 2019 (released)
01 September 2019
Fantasy is grand market, as grand as any other in gaming. Over the years the genre has expanded and even sub-genres have combined efforts to create entirely new ones. Vambrace: Cold Soul is offering a mix of classic Fantasy elements mixed together with an anime aesthetic. Vambrace came out on Steam with a mixed reception, yet the developers have promised us an improved experience. Does Vambrace: Cold Soul manages to heal old wounds or should it be left out in the cold?
Vambrace: Cold Souls starts off pretty much like any other fantasy title, with a concept revolving around the finding of a special individual, that individual being tested, persecuted for being somewhat different, exposed but then ultimately winning the hearts of many and conquering all evil. So yeah Vambrace as the typical starting point of many fantasy games but there are a few things which make it a little different. Its anime style of characters is distinctly noticeable and there is a Norse theme running through the game’s veins.
Story wise, we see a lone traveller by the name of Evelia Lyric being found out in the cold wilderness outside a cursed city. What makes this city so cursed is how an endless winter has created a wall of frost that kills whoever touches it. This delightful act was conducted by The King of Shades, a big douche bag who has a cool name. The city aside from feeling like it’s being frozen within a giant freezer, has a problem with the dead coming back as monstrous wraiths. So you could imagine everyone inside the city isn’t too welcoming of outsiders, especially ones who have survived a brush with Icey death. But the people of Icenaire (yep, that’s the name chosen for this city) realise that she might be their only hope.
So as I said not the most original of starts but on which has some interesting elements and a good mystery at it’s core. The lore is vastly compelling once you dive deeper into the game and to be truthfully honest, it’s nice to see a simple, yet meaningful story in a fantasy game now and again. In recent years (thanks to GOT in large part) fantasy media, especially games, have bloated stories filled with pointless lore and thus has birthed more writers to feel that cramming in so much crap will mean a good story is born. But thankfully Vambrace has decided to keep things simple, never going overboard with political messages or crude and cringeworthily symbolism. It’s just a nice story that has some decent twists and turns along the way.
The only issue I have is that the beginning of the game is extremely slow and takes an age just to get things going. The pacing is very off in terms of story and gameplay (more on that later).
Visually the game looks pretty great too! From the beautifully detailed backgrounds and wonderfully designed characters. It was a little distracting seeing many of the characters being so utterly beautiful, like having fashion models in an RPG. Especially when the leading character is wearing ultra-goth clothing, anime princess attire or just something you would see on Wish nowadays! But still pretty good if not highly original.
I hear a lot of people comparing this to Darkest Dungeon and while I’ve not played it, I hear very good things about it. So I won’t really compare the two and just go off on an objective view.
Overall, I found Vambrace: Cold Soul be a sluggish experience that could’ve been more enticing. Now there are some neat systems in play, such as having two different endurance meters which are affected by different aspects of the game. Such as exploring, fighting and even setting off traps. There are those who can locate and disarm traps while others might be more prone to surviving a harsh battle. But to say these work in perfect harmony with other gameplay elements is not true. While the world is beautiful and very engaging to look at, it’s a chore to simple walk around and explore. Everything is broken up into sub-sections and often enough many objects require you to trek across the map from location to location. And once you’ve seen one, there’s little reason to come back or even remember it. They tend to blend in with one another and it’s a shame really. The world as I said looks nice but lacks any depth or dynamic features to keep you invested.
Combat is again a little sluggish with some interesting ideas but overall it’s just a grind that’s not very interesting. Even a game like Final Fantasy 9 was liked by those who hated the series (I know, I hate Final Fantasy but really like FF9) and that was because it introduced a great line up of enemies, situations and even broke things up with some neat events here and there. In Vambrace, there’s little aside from walking, encounter with a few enemies and just moving on. Plus there’s a perma-death system in place …. Yay!
So endless tasks, long winded exploration and perma-death are not the best mix.
Overall Vambrace: Cold Soul is not bad at all. It’s enjoyable for the art style and story and even has some interesting ideas for combat. But overall it’s just a slow grind which never leaves the safe zone it’s created. If combat was a little more varied or if the exploration was just a little more dynamic, then it would stand a better chance. Worth looking at but could’ve been a lot better.