We covered the mechanics of Titan Souls and the history of its conception in our preview back in March. At that point, we were able to play the introductory levels and get a feel for the art style in the game, the simplicity in its controls and also a great sense of the inspirations behind it. This was also the demo that was released to play so you have all probably played it by now.
A brief reminder, Titan Souls is an independent game by new studio Acidnerve, a collection of three programmers who rose to the challenge Ludum Dare game jam with the theme “You Only Get One.” As such both you, and the bosses have only one hit. You must attack and kill a series of different bosses across the world using your one and only weapon – A bow and arrow. Keeping with the theme, you only get one arrow, which can be magically recalled back to you or you can pick it up. One you’ve tackled a Titan, you earn his soul through some awesome floating spirit absorption.
Now I’ve played the whole thing, I’ve accrued over 200 deaths in the mission to collect all of the Titan Souls and there are things I love and things that frustrate me. But firstly, a few disclaimers:
Whilst I possess a working knowledge of games like Shadow of the Colossus, I haven’t actually played the game. The game will of course feel like Shadow of the Colossus at times because it’s inspired by it, but I cannot make those connections like other reviews have. I was also playing this on a Mac with a PS4 controller. There were also things that irritated me that I couldn’t put my finger on until I saw a YouTuber play it and nail exactly what I was thinking so credit will be due.
We’ve covered the control method quite extensively in that there are three controls that all work very well and are suitably challenging to the boss battles. I have to say that the PS4 controller feels pretty natural but I also kept using different buttons for my arrow because I could. I’d have quite like a singular trigger button for the arrow so I always knew where it was. But that’s probably more due to my calamitous fingers failing to hold the PS4 pad between multiple deaths.
Death is something that obviously occurs often and as such, re-spawning also occurs often but rather frustratingly distant from the battle you just had. This is something that YouTuber PyroPuncher pointed out in his playthrough and I completely agree. The sizes of the areas are pretty huge and it can take a while to get back to the boss. I mean, yes it’s only about 10-20 seconds but when you are in the zone and building up a rhythm of playing and fighting, even that gap can remove you from it.
The size of the world is something that I’m a tiny bit critical of. I love it for reasons that I will come on to but sometimes it can be quite empty and long especially if you’ve already explored and want to have a change of pace between areas. It can take a long time and sometimes the world feels like it could have done with a little more refinement. There are some gorgeous chasms and excellent abandoned ruins littered across the lands but sometimes you do get to bits with repetitive rock textures and you just wonder what else would have looked really cool there. With that you then get the issue of the lack of direction. Nothing is telling you what to do or where to go. This is, for me, an excellent thing for such a small game because you end up discovering things as if you were discovering them in reality. But I know that some people would have loved a map, or a little arrow pointing you in a general area and that so much unfettered freedom can irk gamers that just want to get on with it.
On the flip side, the massive world does two things: 1) It looks absolutely beautiful. Titan Souls have five areas or biomes if you will. You have your beginning ancient civilization ruin, you then get a fantastically expansive plaza of that civilization, with a few buildings still standing for Titan’s but everywhere else succumbed to entropy and overgrowth. You have a firey chasm, an underworld of lava and volcanic rock, which also seems to have been conquered by the previous occupants. You have a mystical forest that is bent on confusing your sense of direction and you have my favourite, the magnificent snow biome with glaciers, big snow boulders, bridges over gaping chasms and the occasional torch flame that burns longer than the life that used it. All of this is beautifully realised in the 16-bit art style and, save using photorealism and AAA RPG graphics, it is the prefect style for the game and for the atheistic it conveys. We’ve mentioned the links to Pokemon, Zelda and others in our preview and it does take inspiration from all the best parts of those franchise’s world designs.
2) It is chillingly empty. Games like this are exquisitely designed in a conservative way. It’s not minimalist or lazy but it is purposefully and effectively constructed to evoke the sense of lonliness. It is stark to the point of melancholy, reflecting those that have died before you in their attempt to take the souls and that have left nothing. There are points that, as I’ve said, could be refined to make the gameplay a little bit more of a smoother experience but overall it projects the immortality that guards the world exactly for what it is… A curse.
One thing that really helps this lonliness is the music, which is quite simply wonderful. It is strict in its usage, hyping up for battles with added distorted guitar and rhythmic beats. But for the rest of the map it can be very stark but evocative when it hits. A gust of wind blows and a sad flute melody plays. It reminds me a lot of some of the more solitary moments of The Wind Waker, but it is gorgeous with its Asian inspired sounds and instruments. I highly recommend that you check out Devolver Digital’s SoundCloud page anyway but you’ll find some of Titan Souls music there.
Then there are the Titans themselves. Some range from the incredibly to the absolutely crazy. They all have proper names, unlike the “Heart-Glob” I dubbed previously, but they also have a very unique personality. Everything from the Treasure Chest that is “Avarice – The Manifestation of Greed” to the rolling ball of lava that is “Rol-Qayin – The Forged Creation of Gol-Qayin” is beautifully realised and enjoyably independent of other Titans in looks and strategy. Yes you’ll get annoyed with many deaths but that does not dampen the enjoyment.
However, you get the feeling that something isn’t right with what you are doing. It isn’t anywhere near what Shadow of the Colossus does in the destruction of beauty but there is something that feels like a trap. Like theses were all once adventurers like yourself and you’re killing something ancient and beautiful. There is one particular Titan that I didn’t want to kill. It is not often that games do this but this certain part of the game made me very sad. Not to the level of sad that I got when Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons began to reach its climax but it made me question everything I was doing in the game and why.
This to me is the greatest achievement of Titan Souls because it has absolutely no right to make you feel that way. There’s no story laid on for you to discover. You only get the indecipherable text for each Titan. You don’t know the reason why your character is doing it. But you don’t really care because its an independent game without the big budget, it looks quaint and it doesn’t cost a lot so it’ll be a challenging little thing to play. Then the game hits you like that and you realise that whilst this was originally a game made overnight by three incredibly talented individuals, it definitely transcends its origin story to become a very personal game to you.
[tab title =”Summary”]
Titan Souls is an amazing product of a few things that make gaming great. It has that wonderful element of fantasy and interactive quality that no other medium can give in making you feel alone in a big dangerous world. It showcases what talent this country has in programming and what people can do in such a small amount of time. But mostly, it is an enjoyable game with simple controls and an interesting challenge to players and people like me who overthink about things.
[tab title =”Good Points”]
– Wonderful bosses with excellent unique designs/personalities
– Gripping musical cues and brilliant atmosphere
– The art and world design is expertly crafted to be evocative
[tab title =”Bad Points”]
– Distances between bosses and repsawning points can be a bit long
– World is sometimes too big, especially if you’re exploring.
– Lack of direction may frustrate some.
[tab title =”Why an 8?”]
I rate any game that can cut through my steely hardened shell of emotion that 31 years of being alive, being a gamer and being a creative person who is unafraid to share his work, has built up. The game is a beautifully solitary experience that provides enough of a challenge despite its simple premise and controls, its music is perfect for the art style and the loneliness the game brings to your character and there is a point that it cut through me right to the little bit of phantom sad muscle just above your diaphragm. It may be a bit hard for some but its so easily accessible and endearing, so stick with it.