Reviewed by Thomas
- Developer: Devespresso Games
- Publisher: Headup Games
- Release Date: 29/08/2019
- Price: $24.99 / £19.99
- Review code provided by Devespresso Games
Dark and unsettling games are my favorite this time of year. As the season changes from bright and sunny summertime to the morose autumn. The chill in the air seems to seep into the World more and more. The darkness of night steadily creeps forward as each day shortens in preparation for winter. Spring is the time for new life and birth whereas it’s counterpart brings the fall of leaves. Once vibrant trees appear dead and decayed, skeletons of their former selves. Shops display ghouls and ghosts as haunted decor is set out for Halloween. Houses take on similar transformations with faux spider webs adorning the corners of their doors. Zombies and tombstones dot the yards. Bats and broomsticks are visible everywhere you go. Enter Vambrace: Cold Soul, an atmospheric roguelike fantasy-adventure.
I See Dead People
Vambrace: Cold Soul is packed with history and lore. The prologue sets the stage with cryptic relics and letters. Recounted with wonderful voice acting we learn what drives our heroine forward. Reeling from her father’s demise, Evelia Lyric is left with a mystical vambrace which is said to be the key to entering a cursed city. Icenaire is frozen over and beset by evil forces. Spooks are around every corner and factions vie for control as they search for supplies. Below the surface is an underground refuge called Dalearch where various races have succumbed to their imprisoned fate, venturing out only when necessary. Evelia works with the local factions to uncover the mystery surrounding the curse and why her father summoned her to such a perilous place.
Do You Want to Play a Game?
Exploration is the key to survival and unraveling the secrets of Icenaire. As such, you’ll assemble a party of three adventurers to join Evelia. Once emerged from the safety of the caverns below, you set off in a zone with roughly ten areas to search. Trying to visit each area can be lethal so I often took the shortest route to the end. For each chapter in the game there are about half a dozen zones which need to be cleared to reach the boss. The events in each level is randomized. Meaning you may find a camp for a brief reprieve, or a horde of undead ghouls. Traps litter the ground no matter where your party treads. If you stay in a zone for too long, things only get worse.
Combat is turn-based and initiative determines who acts first. In battle you have to manage hit-points and health, while exploring taxes your vigor. If either fall to zero then it’s lights out. Your party members will slump to the cold earth, never to wake again. If Evelia drops, she is carried to the underground and the journey begins again. If at any point you leave in the middle of your saunter through a map, you’ll have to start over once you return to the surface.
Vambrace certainly has a chilling air to it with foreboding around every corner, yet nothing so dreary to halt my progression or keep me up at night. Elements uncovered during exploration could yield mixed results. Battles were rarely so difficult to sack my team and make them slog from one point to another hanging on by a thread. Opening chests could do more damage than raging cultists. Occasional events seemed to have a 50/50 chance of a positive or negative result. Overall, Vambrace: Cold Soul felt more like a survival management game than anything else. Proper balance and care of you team could see you to the end of a chapter relatively fast. Though rushing with little regard and poor planning will have your team limping to their deaths.
The gameplay is moderately paced and never got tiring. There was a nice balance of battles, safe areas and random events. Though I did encounter the same event within the same zone, it wasn’t the norm. The exploration lends itself more toward a narrative experience than a punishing ordeal.
I found the artstyle refreshing and adequate. Each area is uniquely detailed. There are two different viewpoints. When moving around the town you view your character from a bird’s-eye perspective. Being able to freely roam the underground refuge made me feel safe. Perhaps not as cozy as home, but a humble escape for the residents of Dalearch. When you enter a building or explore different areas above ground, Vambrace takes on a 2D perspective. Graphics layered in the fore and background of your party imitate a three-dimensional appearance and looked authentic. Some of the character movement is stiff but it worked well with the overall presentation.
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
The haunting tunes are subtle in Vambrace: Cold Soul. They add ambiance without overpowering the setting. The music plays softly in the background with eerie sounds of creaks, groans and drifting wind. There is a bit of voice acting which adds to the narrative tone. The actors do a great job giving the impression they are in a dreary world while clinging to slivers of hope. During exploration and battles, the voice acting gives way to simple grunts. It would have been nice to have more dialogue interspersed throughout the experience.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Fall Asleep
From a technical aspect there were a few issues that became more noticeable with time. Long load screens will try your patience as you start your save or transition from the lower to upper world, or vice versa. Beyond those points, the loading during exploration isn’t bad. The other recurring issue is on the world map from the bird’s-eye view. The screen stutters as you move around. This happens in both docked and portable mode on the Nintendo Switch. The experience is great on the television but handheld mode is how I spent the majority of my time.
Vambrace: Cold Soul ushers in a somber mood from the start that doesn’t let go. Playing in handheld mode accentuates the forlorn feeling in the best way. Vambrace strays from the brutal punishment that other games it echoes focus on and instead bolsters a main heroine with a gripping story. As we move into the autumn season with Halloween and winter to follow, this is the perfect time to pick up this atmospheric adventure and pull the blankets tight. The minor technical flaws aren’t enough to shut the doors on this expedition.
- Compelling Story
- Dreary Setting
- Chilling Adventure
- Ghoulish Load Times
Vambrace: Cold Soul has a chilling ambiance which begs to haunt your your Switch.