Featuring some of the most intense, interesting, and overall best combat I’ve ever experienced Unsouled is the first title from South Korean studio MeGusta Games. I was shocked at just how damned good it feels to play. It’s launched directly into Xbox Game Pass and let’s dive deep into why this game is so flipping good.
Unsouled is not a roguelike, it’s an act-based story that greatly rewards replaying and exploring. You can easily mainline that story and get one ending in just under 3 hours, but I spent nearly as much time finding everything I needed for a far more satisfying conclusion. The story is a classic tale. You are the prince of a fallen kingdom looking to avenge your people against an enemy named Ammu that has the power to raise the dead. The translation is competent though one of the main female characters going “teehee” repeatedly was… not great.
Throughout six acts of various (short) lengths, you’ll chase down the truth behind your kingdom’s downfall and learn just how you can exact revenge. After my initial playthrough, I was thoroughly unsatisfied with the conclusion. Once I realized that I was meant to go back through and find a path to a far better one things got really interesting. No spoilers but once you hit credits for the first time you are not done, and there is a lot left to do if you didn’t spend time exploring each act.
As the name would imply your character (among others) can absorb souls. These come in multiple forms; Red is the game’s leveling currency, Passive gives you a permanent and always enabled bonus, blue refill your special move meter, green restore health, and then boss enemies can give you a powerful ability triggered by the right bumper during combat.
Either slowly during or quickly outside of combat a hold of the A button will suck all the souls around you into your character. Mastering the timing on this in combat is key to healing yourself and restoring your special move meters. This is a heavily systems dense title and there is a full tutorial “Abyss” mode available to help you master its intricacies. Let us dive into the combat system, which is a masterpiece.
Systems Upon Systems Upon Systems
This combat system is deep and as easy or tough as you want it to be. By default, it is extremely fair, but on the hard side. Thankfully the developers offer up three difficulty modes; Easy, Normal, and (Balls) hard. Alongside these are several accessibility options to further customize your time with the game. I think the best way to describe it is a rhythmic chain-based action fighting game. The control scheme has X being your main attack, Y is a special move activation button, B is a double slash heavy attack, right bumper activates your currently equipped boss soul, right trigger is your dash, left bumper is your block/parry, and left trigger is a context-sensitive environment altering ability.
Firstly, we’ll go over your attacks. X is a triple-slash that like everything else can be upgraded by spending red souls. It has a short internal cooldown and can be chained into and out of most other abilities. X becomes a slashing attack when paired with your dodge. There is also a charge slash move by holding down X for 2 seconds that unlocks early in the story.
The Y button is a special move modifier as in it causes your character to glow white for a second and pressing X, A, or B will do a different special move per button. Y+X is a dashing powerful slash that deals high damage and can break otherwise unbreakable objects in the game world. Y+A causes your character to pull in all souls and enemies around him during a period of slow-motion. Y+B is the inverse, causing a burst of energy to shoot out from the prince and damage and knockback any enemies close by.
The B button is the heavy twin slash attack and A is the aforementioned soul collecting move. If you use A during a dash though you will do the Death Touch ability which grabs foes and stuns them while dealing damage, but it leaves you open to attacks from others. There are multiple other moves you will find and unlock during the game as well, some of which feature full-on fighting game-style button inputs that then lead to incredibly cool and devastatingly powerful super moves.
Ghostly Counters & Upgrade Paths
The heart of the combat though is your left bumper, which is the block/parry button. Holding it down will block most incoming attacks but drains stamina. A well-timed tap of the button though will parry any attack and open your enemy to an instant and brutal counterattack by pressing X. For the more daring you can instantly counterattack with just the X button on an incoming attack as well, but its timing window is far smaller. These counters can be chained together and instantly slashing through 3 or more enemies in quick succession feels incredible.
For the times you do get hit there is the Ghost Move. After being hit you can press the left and right triggers simultaneously to instantly recover, gain back stamina, and earn a second of invulnerability. This move, like most others, runs on charges so you cannot spam it but it recovers quickly if you deal damage and defeat enemies.
A press of the ghost button (view on your controller) brings up a menu that shows your passive souls, boss souls, and upgrades available. To upgrade you must find a checkpoint stone while out of combat, thankfully these are all over the place. The only upgrade currency are the red souls you get for defeating enemies (and eventually through a few other means) and you have full freedom to either unlock more damage/abilities on your move set or focus on your core stats as you please. It takes a lot of playtime to level it all but it is worth it as your survivability and damage scale significantly with each upgrade.
The systems feel incredible when mixed together, and the game’s six+ months in early access was definitely time well spent. One area that does hurt things a bit are the graphics. They’re not bad but a few times I lost enemies in the terrain or the constant foreground obfuscation causing my player and enemies to become gray shadows made things difficult to track. Let’s get more into the graphics.
What Is That Running Animation?
Unsouled uses the tried-and-true pixel/polygon look that benefits greatly from being affected by lighting. It never looks great, but the animations can be incredible at times and the area variety kept things from feeling stale. The camera is typically directly overhead and will zoom in or out depending on the location. Cutscenes at the end of and in-between missions look good, though the female character that is typically in them has incredibly bouncy breasts because of course. Even in this low pixel look, you can tell a lot of time and effort was spent on the “jiggle factor”.
One of the odder things graphically is your character’s running animation. He looks like he has a full load in his diaper, it’s leaking into his shoes, and he’s poo-skating across the ground whenever you run side to side. In a game with so many fantastic animations, it stuck out as oddly hilarious to me, though with the generous stamina system and chained together dash moves you don’t see it all that often.
The music is solid and fits the mood of everything well. It was oddly silent during the first act, and I wonder if that was intentional or a bug because the rest of the game constantly had music playing. Sound effects are about what you would expect and there is no voice acting to be found. The translation is of high quality though the main character is an outright prick most of the time and not likable. Though that was lessened when I went back to acts and found more side stuff which enlightened the prince enough for him to not be a gruff jerk to everyone. I really liked that part of things, if you go head down and look for quick revenge he never grows. Take your time and learn what is really going on and he does.
I was shocked by how incredible this game feels to play. Paired with a solid story, great music, and surprising depth it’s an easy recommendation on Game Pass or for its $20 price tag at launch. Whether you’re looking for a balls to the wall thrill ride or something that feels great and is chill to play you can customize the difficulty how you see fit. If anything you’ve read about here sounds interesting then you should check this fantastic game out.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh|
|Release Date||April 28th, 2022|
|Rated||M for Mature|