Vambrace: Cold Soul

Have ever wondered what it would be like to be The Chosen One? The saviour and hero to the downtrodden? All because you’re different than the others? It seems to be a popular trope since well, for a very long time in media as far as we know. When a character is looking for the answers to questions descended upon them as their relative’s biggest wishes, it brings forth both the best and worst of the character, hence, character development gets a hold of the script and the story makes an effort to progress. This enables a rich narrative that empowers any type of media, especially video games. Vambrace: Cold Soul is one of many examples, developed by Devespresso Games and published by hybrid games publishing/developing company Headup, is a harsh, beautiful and dark story portrayed with elements of an interesting narrative, creative RPG turn-based strategy elements and breathtaking graphics, but for some reason conflicting gameplay mechanics. Available now on Steam (PC/Mac), XBOX One (Chorus Worldwide), PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch (Headup).

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SO WHAT’S THIS ABOUT?

Vambrace: Cold Soul is a gothic horror turn-based strategy RPG, with a similar vibe to Red Hook Studio’s acclaimed Darkest Dungeon. Set in a mythical world in which lies the city of Icenaire, enchanted by the King of Shades to be kept in a permafrost trapping all residents underground while being tormented by undead, wraiths and other unspeakable horrors at the surface. Out of the blue, Evelia Lyric, a woman shows up outside of the Frostfall barrier that kills to the touch, but manages to get through and inside Icenaire with the help of the mysterious Aetherbrace vambrace that her father bestowed upon her to look for answers in this blasted city. Icenaire residents run the word as fast as the wind, soon Lyric becomes their beacon of hope.

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INTERESTING, SO WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU DO?

The goal of the game is simpler said than done. You play as Evelia Lyric, you tell people of Icenaire what you’re capable of and your purpose on reaching them. Officer entities gain your partial trust, and set you to embark on missions at the surface to clear the smaller Frostfall barriers and eventually free the people with the Aetherbrace. You can recruit up to 3 companions with you from a decently large pool of characters to go out and make some noise.

The game plays as a 2D Side Scroller. The main hub however moves as a top-down view map of Icenaire, it grants you access to many points of interest such as NPC narrative progression Barracks, Prison, Races’ dens, as well as provision supplies like the foxier Market, the Tavern as a healing fountain, Hunter’s Camp for recruitment and a workshop for crafting needs.

The aim of the game is to recruit your perfect team loadout from various classes offering different skills and abilities, this will enable you to take on missions on the surface and fight the horrors that await. The game gives the player a specific route plus side quests throughout 7 chapters, dwelled with butterfly effect decision choosing and permadeath to your companions.

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WAIT, HOLD ON, IS IT A ROGUELIKE?

In a sense, yes. The game offers a lot of replayability as one single playthrough will not be enough to learn the whole story (plus get you all the cosmetic costumes for Lyric, ehem).

Moving on, when you embark on missions, the game changes to the beautiful hand-illustrated graphics made by Minho Kim, and your party of 4 moves on a 2D side scrolling map from room to room, each with randomized encounters, whether they be an ambush of wraiths, a random encounter that can either affect your character negatively or positively, loot room with a side a mimics, or a camp to rest your party. At the end of the long map, and as long as you keep your party’s both HP and Vigor up, you’ll eventually reach the boss that will progress the story.

The game makes this gameplay interesting and unique in every encounter thanks to offering so many different classes for your companions. After a lot of trial and error, I discovered the ideal set of friends would be the Fusilier (a dwarven marksman that can shoot close-mid and long range targets), Celestine (a beautiful elf that plays the role of the tank, granting allies shields and stunning enemies for a few turns), and the Shadowmancer (Damage over time/turns against enemies). Your 4th character will always be Lyric, who uses her crossbow for long range targets and her mountain pike ala Lara Croft to deal good close range damage. For every class, including Lyric, they have 5 different traits that make the random room types easier, however each class has each of this traits with a set number by default that can only be specifically decreased or increased by crafted relics and the workshop with materials obtained as loot.

The traits go from 0 to 5, 5 obviously being the best benchmark. The first Trait is Combat skill, which essential is just how much damage the character does. The second trait is Sleight; characters with a high number on this have better chances of obtaining loot from containers and chests, sometimes giving you extra materials and an all around good thing for loot runs in general. Next we have awareness which grants characters the ability to see traps nearby and avoid them entirely, this trait doesn’t have to do with camping however, that goes for the next trait which is Overwatch, allowing characters to amuse the party and increasing their health and vigor if successful. The final Trait is merchantry which makes hustling give you better prices at shops, however this turned out to be a wasted perk in the long run.

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OK SO, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Here’s the deal, obviously the game performs as a roguelike and is meant to be harsh with the permadeath and scarce resources and opportunities to heal up while having to go through random encounters, but the game itself is easily exploitable.

If you’re a Pokemon fan, you’ll know how easy it is to min-max these types of games. In this one, it allows you to retreat the expedition whenever you wish, of course it makes you lose all your progress on that expedition, but you keep all the loot! It is a very forgiving experience all around, as you can just grind loot and make loads of Hellion (paper currency), same as placing all your materials for crafting in a huge container with a bunch of slots that can be accessed from every convenient spot in the main hub.

Now this could have been worse. Sure you can store up on resources from multiple runs and get yourself geared up with good relics for every character and then breeze through the dungeons, but your recruited characters don’t exactly “level up” or gain experience, other than Lyric further on in the story with new perks and what not.

This is my love/hate relationship with Vambrace: Cold Soul. I’m personally a fan of empowering my roster to ridiculous lengths, but there needs to be a balance when the game claims to be extremely difficult, yet it limits player’s RPG experience. When you recruit a character, it feels like a trading card, something you can’t change its attributes in any way other than the gear that affects the traits, but that’s just it, there’0s very few customizable aspects.

Even when you go through an abysmal run at the surface, all your characters are near their demise, have a lot of debuffs from the random encounters or from enemies, the fact that you can just retreat, go to the tavern, and sleep for all your matters to go away and get full HP and Vigor back up feels game breaking and very, very exploitable.

GRAPHICALLY AND AUDIOVISUALLY SPEAKING

The game looks gorgeous, that’s just a fact. The color palette is on spot fantastic, character design, while being a bit on the fan-service side, are still appealing and interesting. The user interface is bulky and covers quite a bit of the screen, but it makes it work with it’s crystal clear aesthetic, only issue would be the font used for it. Such an amazing logo for the game, yet they decide to go with a font in which lowercase and capitalized letters conflict between each other as they vary in the lower and higher X bars. As for icons, they are very well made and work intended for every menu, making navigation intuitive and of course a very straightforward tutorial that while it may be simple at first, it's always good to check back and go through trial and error for the stuff it misses out.

The music is atmospherically pleasing for such a cold heartbreaking scenario that is Icenaire. It has passive tones for the right places as well a beat pumping action for those very, very, VERY tense fight encounters where you know victory relies on whether that one character in your party will land the hit or not. The OST is quite well balanced for the most part, and always appreciate an effort for developers to give characters a sense of voice, even if it’s not voice acted which I would of loved, but grunting is fine.

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WHAT WOULD YOU WANT, IDEALLY?

Vambrace: Cold Soul is a fantastic and addicting JRPG-style game. But it feels very bare bones. Ideally I would want the RPG aspect to be cranked up to the max. Make your recruited characters have more charisma other than Camp and Tavern extra dialogues, make the be customizable A LOT more and not feel like disposable trading cards, they are from different races, different ideals and views on life on this forsaken world for crying out loud!

I like that you can exploit some aspects for the grinding part, but it's almost futile and unnecessary so you don’t break the game, but so what? Crank up the difficulty ten-fold, but allow characters to grow in power ridiculously as well to compensate.

It may be preferences of course, but in such a rich genre it feels limited. There is still hope for growth for the game, as developers listen carefully to player feedback and update it as regularly as possible, but sometimes we can’t fight against creative ideals and just let them be as they are what gives a game it’s essence and doesn’t turn into “another one of the bunch”. But any who, if you love cute waifus (yes, I went there) in a gothic-horror roguelike, look no further for a charming fantasy story that Vambrace: Cold Soul offers.

Review code provided by Headup for PlayStation 4

4

In Short

  • + Beautiful hand-illustrated graphics, character designs and clean UI for the most part.
    + Intriguing narrative with a lot of mistery and branching decisions offer replayability
    + Well balanced OST, sound FX and sound cues
    + Simple strategy gameplay but takes time to master

  • - Game gives tools to min-max your characters but at the same time limits you to upgrade them with just relics, making them feel disposable compared to Lyric's upgradable perks.

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