Titan Souls (Review) – Titanic and Full of Soul

So I decided to do something different with my time lately, and instead of just play games, I figured I’d review them. I mean, I like writing, and I like games, so it seemed like a good idea.

Maybe I can even stop being a lazy bastard, do this on some sort of schedule and actually make something of it eventually. Who knows? Anyway, my first proper review of a game: Titan Souls

PS: Oh yeah, the review score isn’t a traditional one. It’s more akin to ProJared’s abstract “scores”. Mostly because I don’t like rating things by number (’cause I’m finicky).

Just a heads up.

“Titan” and “Soul” truly are the words to describe this beauty.

TITAN 2015-07-21 20-44-28-667Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform/s: PC (reviewed), OS X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Released: 14 April, 2015

Titan Souls is an interesting game published by the excellent Devolver Digital, a company with a knack for finding intriguing and diverse games and helping them get off the ground. Developed by Acid Nerve, a relatively new company on the dev scene, Titan Souls is one of those games that starts with a simple premise but expands it in amazing ways.

The story behind Titan Souls is a fairly basic one. Nineteen gargantuan enemies known as Titans stand between you and your goal: ultimate power and truth. Simple enough, right? The catch? You have a single magic arrow as your only weapon against these behemoths that can, and will, end your pathetic life in a single strike.

The controls in Titan Souls are simple, but in the best possible way. You move, shoot, dodge and run your way throughout the expansive world in your quest to defeat the Titans, and the controls can be learned and mastered within minutes of picking up the game, before the first Titan is even seen. The introductory scene simply plops you into the world and leaves you to it. You make your way down corridors that have carvings on the wall displaying your moves, and without one word of dialogue the game conveys every control to you, akin to classics such as Mega Man and Mario.

The titular Titans are wildly varied, ranging from brains frozen in blocks of ice to monstrous leviathans that harness the powers of lightning. Each of the nineteen Titans is its own being, and no two Titans feel the same, neither in the way they are fought nor the way they look. Each battle is a frantic mix of finding the Titan’s weak spot, locating its core, and dodging the onslaught of attacks.TITAN 2015-07-21 18-18-29-846 For as wonderful as the fights are, and for as simple as the controls are, I do have a few gripes. For starters, the player character feels slow in comparison to the Titans. This is to be expected of course, as they are meant to dwarf the player in size, strength and speed, but sometimes I found the character too slow to successfully avoid the Titan’s attacks. Even running at full speed, some Titan attacks are unavoidable, and as the run button is tied to the dodge button, if you start running, you can’t dodge until the cooldown is over. Sure, it’s only a second or two, but that second is more than enough time to be pounded into the dirt by an uncaring monstrosity several times.

The Titans too are a source of aggravation for me, or more specifically, their position in the world. The designs are wonderful, and the fluidity of their movement is a marvel to behold, but many Titans have attacks that involve sending themselves or a body part into the air. While this is fine most of the time, this means that they can’t be hit, but their attacks can still hit you. More than once I found myself attempting to dodge under a flailing tentacle, only to be smeared across the cobblestone. This would be fine, if the game made it a lot clearer that they were still in lethal range, as I assumed that I could follow my arrow which sailed harmlessly under said tentacle like a gentle spring breeze.

Back to the positives for now though; the atmosphere. The atmosphere this game has is simply breathtaking. Even within the first ten minutes of play, this feels like a truly expansive world, to rival Dark Souls or Oblivion. Given the scale of the world compared to the size of the player character, simple tasks like climbing a staircase seem monumental, as you are traversing a world that was clearly not made for you. From giant volcanoes to frozen peaks, from windswept bluffs to time-locked ruins, every area in the world is alive, despite being completely devoid of sentient life. The music builds on this, as each theme is utterly haunting yet beautifully uplifting simultaneously, and this strange juxtaposition in each piece makes you want to know more and more about the world you are in.TITAN 2015-07-21 20-38-29-408Each boss fight also ends in a marvellously atmospheric way. The screen goes greyscale and all the music fades out. The arrow is stuck in the core and must be torn from the Titan forcefully. This removal, followed by the weight behind the arrow’s release and the absorption of the Titan’s soul makes it feel like you have truly slain a behemoth and pulled its very essence from it by force. Coupled with the fact that the Titan’s only attack you after you initiate the fight, it gives a sense that you may not be as innocent as your appearance would lead you to believe.TITAN 2015-07-21 19-45-10-263 TITAN 2015-07-21 19-45-15-428 There was one particular boss fight that stuck with me and became one of the highlights of the game, partly due to the context being built by each Titan’s defeat. This boss fight is the only one in the game to have any dialogue, and this dialogue, coupled with the environment of the fight gave me such a deep insight into the story of Titan Souls and my character’s actions that I doubt I’ll forget it any time soon. It even had me contemplating what was said outside the context of the game and in my own life. It was quite chilling stuff.

The atmosphere is great obviously, but the environments look gorgeous as well. Cascading waterfalls and shifting trees are beautiful, with a pixel aesthetic to match Cave Story, Super Meat Boy, and other such titans (pardon the pun) of retro-graphics. There are even simple touches to make the world feel even more alive. Single pixels float by occasionally to simulate leaves in the wind. Footprints are left in snow and fade over time. Dust and leaves are kicked up by the player character, with more being kicked up when rolling or running. Climbable vines grow half way up walls and lead to nothing, to reinforce the fact that this is a broken and abandoned world in which nature has taken control, and nature doesn’t do things for you. It does things for itself.TITAN 2015-07-21 18-17-23-896 Tiny little things that don’t affect gameplay are present, even though they don’t have to be. It would be fine for the player to roll up stairs, as no boss fights ever incorporate stairs, but the player bounces off them instead. Rolling down stairs causes the player to roll repeatedly until the bottom is reached. Large pools of water that lead to nothing and have no purpose are present throughout the world. All these little touches make the game look and feel more immersive than games like Assassin’s Creed or The Order: 1886 could ever even hope to be. These are small, inconsequential additions that nonetheless make the game that much richer for their inclusion.TITAN 2015-07-21 20-44-41-851However, this thoroughly detailed world is somewhat of a double edged sword. The world is so intricately detailed that it can be easy to get caught on small pieces of scenery, ultimately leading to an untimely demise. More than a few times I would dodge an enemy attack only to be caught in a corner formed by pieces of rubble I thought were merely set dressing.

That, and the game’s tendency to hide Titan cores too well, can sometimes feel unfair. While unfairness is a core part of the game’s atmosphere, when unfairness causes the game to be less fun, there is an issue.

Titan Souls reminds me of Dark Souls in many ways. The Dark Souls games are oppressive and unforgiving, and the world pits you against so many enemies it can seem unfair, but you always feel like you can work your way out of it. Then you get to a boss that in one hit breaks your guard entirely, throws you to the floor and then stun-locks you until you die.

Both games use “unfairness” as a core part of their design, but it isn’t truly unfair as you always have the tools to defeat even the largest of foes. So, these rare instances of true unfairness can really hurt the game overall, and make you feel like you, as a player, aren’t wanted.

This becomes no more apparent than when fighting the final boss of Titan Souls. I won’t spoil the actual boss, just in case you want to play it yourself, but I will describe some aspects of the fight. Thematically, this boss fight is perfect. It has all the right aspects and atmosphere that it should have to truly feel like a final boss: power, speed and sneaky tactics. Every part of the boss is amazing, except for one element which drags the entire thing down. Throughout the fight, four balls of electricity will home in on the player, and kill you in an instant. This means that you can’t stop for a single second, and since firing your arrow takes time, you have to hope to high Heaven that the boss’ weak point just happens to coincide with the time the balls dissipate briefly. This reliance on luck throws out everything the game has ingrained in you from the start, and the game suffers as a whole because of this let down.

If the game ended there, I would have been sorely disappointed, but luckily, there is a “True End Boss” if you managed to find the secrets throughout the game.

And this boss was the single best fight in the game. It was absolutely perfect in every way. This boss reinvigorated me, and I didn’t stop until it was beaten. It was the hardest boss in the game, but because it relied purely on my skill as a player and it was such an atmospheric battle, I never felt frustrated. Every death was my fault alone, reminding me of why I played past the first few bosses to begin with.

That’s why my “rating” for this game is:

A flawed gemstone / 10

Had the whole game been as perfect as the final, final fight, I’d be ecstatic. However, because of the few minor issues and one major issue I described above, this game is just shy of being truly amazing. It is a flawed gem in the truest sense. There are parts that shine brilliantly and dazzle viewers, but rotate it ninety degrees and there a cracks and deformities along the back. If the entire thing was as marvellous as the front, it would be perfect, but the issues present cannot be ignored. All that said, I highly recommend people look at this gem, because the best parts are truly beautiful despite the flaws.TITAN 2015-07-21 20-38-50-621

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