Titan Souls Review
Reviewed on PC
→ April 13, 2015
With no more than a bow and a single arrow, Titan Souls’ nameless child protagonist is a pure symbol of skill over style. He’s a small, barefoot, and seemingly insignificant David in the 16-bit shadows cast by the many hulking Golaiths that tower over him. And fittingly, just like the two-dimensional sprite of this boy, Titan Souls is itself an unassuming and short expression of mechanical excellence. Though the sparse fiction of its fantasy world takes a backseat to the exacting top-down arcade-style boss battles, felling the gargantuan creatures with feats of precision is an intense gauntlet where one mistake means instant death. Titan Souls’ great challenge is mastering these arenas and besting your own past performances in a game of escalating difficulty – and it’s a greatly rewarding experience.
The spartan nature of Titan Souls is best summed up by the way it demands that you make every shot count. You have a bow and the ability to fire one single arrow – the longer you draw the bow, the further and faster the arrow travels – but the farther you shoot it, the tougher it is to retrieve and reuse. You can walk, run, or roll to go pick it up, or use your Force-like will to pull it back to you (at the cost of planting your feet). That’s it. This is your entire toolkit when tackling creatures that spit fire, swing boulder-sized maces, and conjure all sorts of lethal magical forces.
And though scant in ways to interact with the world, what’s here is snappy and fluid. I always felt as nimble and precise as the boy on screen appears, which is necessary when you’re running for your fragile life while waiting for that golden window to appear. The simplicity is refreshing, as it scoops out the fat that so many games layer on with so many variables and strategies.
Here, there is only one strategy: Learn where to fire your arrow and practice until you hit your mark. Each clash with the varied range of titans is excellently engaging, forcing you to learn their movement patterns, attacks, environments, and weak spots where a well-placed arrow undoes their imposing stature. And as if these hulks were goading you into their grasp, the glowing chinks in their armor are almost always plainly visible, yet painstaking to reach in the ensuing maelstrom of attacks that will snuff you out on contact. Victory is always just an arrow away.
It’s fortunate that these engagements are so creative and meticulously constructed, because the experience is generally devoid of anything else. The world proper is very much a hub that non-linearly connects the usual suspects of fantasy environments: the lava region, the snow area, the forest section, and their appropriately themed encounters. However, there are no minions or monsters to slay en route to a boss fight, so while the 16-bit-style art is endearing, there’s little to really see or discover beyond the caves, paths, and stairways that lead toward your next bout with a titan.
That same scarcity applies to the very loose story that ties it all together. It’s told through a few ambiguous cutscenes, cryptic murals etched into stone, and a single encounter that offers some narrative pseudo-explanation. Titan Souls is less a world in which one can get lost and more an obstacle course of mechanically challenging boss battles, though the superbly soothing acoustic strings that create its soundtrack make the repeated trek between fights much more enjoyable.
But as so much of Titan Souls is trial and error, and death comes so quickly and repeatedly, developer Acid Nerve has wisely scattered checkpoints throughout the smaller environments, minimizing what could otherwise be an immensely tedious journey back to an encounter. I found one or two battles to still be a noticeable shade too far from their respective checkpoints – a 10 to 15-second run – but the majority of the fights are helpfully just a few seconds away after death, which I absolutely appreciated when a titan ostensibly had my number.
Yet through perseverance and improvement, I conquered all of Titan Souls’ nearly two dozen titular beings in approximately four hours. And with all said and done, I admit to wishing there were more of these creative engagements to test myself against – that’s less a slight toward Titan Souls and more a symptom of the great satisfaction to be enjoyed from each victory.
It doesn’t end that quickly, though; this is a game that’s meant to be replayed, and replayed again, though due to the lack of randomization, the means by which it refreshes itself may only intrigue the most dedicated players. Once completed, you restart the same crucible to beat your tracked clear time with a smaller number of deaths, doing it faster and more efficiently each time. Modifiers like Hard Mode – which recycles each fight’s formula but ramps up the speed and difficulty – along with the aptly named No Rolls mode, and Iron Mode where a single death restarts the game, slightly extend the experience, but only for those who want to conquer their own imperfect reflexes as much as the titans.
PlayStation 4 Version
The current-gen console version of Titan Souls is as great as the PC version in every technical way. Additionally, the fact that Titan Souls almost requires controller support means that the PS4 version automatically comes with the intended control peripheral. However, if you’re a bigger fan of a non-Sony, third-party controller then PC is a totally comparable experience.
The addition of the Share button on PS4 is actually incredibly useful for Titan Souls. As titans will occasionally crumple in mere seconds thanks to a one-in-a-million shot, now you can save those moments forever. And you should, because it’s quite possible they’ll never happen again.
Of the current three versions of Titan Souls available, the PlayStation Vita is my least favorite. Though technically fine and on par with the console and PC offerings (outside of some noticeably small text on the main menu), the smaller scale is certainly noticeable. While it may not be an issue for every game, a game like Titan Souls, ostensibly about firing arrows at exact angles to hit extremely small targets, suffers under the reduction in size. I found the precision of combat to take a hit, but otherwise it’s an equally fine and functional portable alternative in every other way.