Eldest Souls is a “story generation game” where players are cast as “ancestor spirits” who must guide players through a series of puzzles that are seemingly unrelated to their main quest. It’s a bizarre game that is often compared to the likes of Night in the Woods or Dear Esther, in which players are encouraged to explore the world, listen to the stories of the locals, and watch the skies for signs of their ancestors.
This past summer, I was tasked with designing a logo for a game called Eldest Souls. The game is a 2D side-scrolling action adventure that has a focus on vivid colors, unique characters, and challenging gameplay. I was previously introduced to the game by our editor, who had played through the first three levels. Since then, I was able to play through the entirety of the game, and I was hooked. I loved the level of detail and creativity shown in the game, as well as the depth and immersive story that the game developer, SkyFish Interactive, has put into its creation. The game is challenging, but is well worth the small amount of time it takes to beat it.
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Eldest Souls doesn’t hide its Dark Souls inspirations; in fact, it revels in them. The team at Fallen Flag Studio concentrated almost entirely on creating some really excellent boss battles for this boss rush game that was free of any garbage mobs of any sort. And, given how important bosses are in any Souls-like game, it wasn’t a terrible decision to make.
The genre’s signature narrative is also on show here; it’s enigmatic, cryptic, and scattered throughout the environment rather than spoonfed to the player. Eldest Souls is a neatly constructed game worth your time, with high quality (but not award-winning) pixel graphics and excellent soundtrack.
The major problems emerge during gaming, which is unfortunately the worst place for them to show. The experience is hampered by several odd hitboxes and a few dubious design decisions. The environment and storyline aren’t as interesting as they are in more narrative-driven Souls-likes.
While none of these is a deal breaker, it did cause some frustration throughout my playthrough.
Review of Eldest Souls: Made With Love
Eldest Souls is a boss rush game in which the only opponents you face are bosses with large health bars. There are no regular opponents, and the environment is mostly empty except for one save location each region, a few NPCs, and a few critical item pickups.
As a result, bosses are usually excellent. There are a total of ten of them, each with its own design and mechanics. Some of them use classic visuals, such as ice, darkness, and shapeshifting, but they all have a few surprises up their sleeves. That’s a good thing, since no monster has more than three attacks each phase, and they’re not difficult to evade once you get the hang of the dodge time.
Each boss does an excellent job of blending into their own aesthetics, taking something as basic as “the darkness boss” and flipping it on its head in new and interesting ways. Eldest Souls also toys with the mechanical assumptions that veterans of the Souls series have come to anticipate. The ice monster employs ice strikes, but it also employs the arena as a weapon.
Almost every boss has some kind of arena feature, whether it’s area-of-effect strikes, bullet hell projectiles, or something even more heinous. Occasionally, the arena joins in the fun, serving as a danger or otherwise altering the battle to make it more challenging.
Each boss battle is also distinct enough that what you learn in one does not always apply to the next. Before relearning for another battle, you’ll have a greater understanding of how your construct works in a fight and how to utilize it most effectively.
You may occasionally learn about an impending boss by looking around the region they’re in. The ice monster resides at the end of a deadly frost-covered region. The corrupted woodland is home to the animal boss. The game sometimes offers you no hints, relying on the surprise of a boss that utilizes light in a lost castle, for example.
The battles themselves aren’t too difficult to learn; fortunately, like with any set of excellent Souls monsters, the true difficulties come from mastery. The procedure is made considerably simpler by the game’s restart button, which immediately returns you to the action if you die. You have the option of returning to the area node to explore or taking on a new challenge.
It’s a great feature, and it makes sense in a game where there aren’t any mooks to bother you from “bonfire” to “boss fog.” An instant-restart option also contributes to the “one more run” vibe you get from a rogue-like game. One unsuccessful effort may soon become into ten or twenty, and unless you’re being bodied, each death will teach you something.
That information isn’t always relevant to how you approach a fight. I discovered that the game’s gameplay boiled down to repeating a particular set of actions and using a unique ability when it was off cooldown.
With this in mind, Eldest Souls’ gameplay must compliment each boss battle in some manner. Parts of it often just get in the way. There are three major problems that may make Eldest Souls’ moment-to-moment experience boring rather than pleasant.
I’ve never played a Souls-like that had perfect hitboxes all of the time, so I can overlook some of these flaws. A hitbox lingers for more than a second after the assault animation ends in one of the later battles. An area of effect attack interacts strangely with the player character’s hitbox in the same battle, causing damage to occur in an area bigger than the attack animation itself.
The larger problem, at least for me, is how boss hitboxes stop the player’s progress. When you sprint or dodge into an opponent in Eldest Souls, instead of maintaining forward momentum as you approach a monster like in a Miyazaki Souls game, you just halt.
If one is happening, your character’s animation will stop as well, and any movement you had planned will be lost.
Dodge invincibility frames do not vanish since the game still records the dodge, thus you may exploit this irritation as part of a tight-space strategy. The abrupt change in momentum, on the other hand, often placed me on the back foot and forced me to restart.
Many boss hitboxes also expand significantly beyond their pixel model or are similarly misleading in appearance. This exacerbates the collision problem and makes navigating certain venues — many of which are already tiny — more hazardous.
Thankfully, the bosses’ hitboxes are similarly janky, making them simpler to hit. You’ll be able to inflict harm at absurd angles and distances. Your character’s weapon also seems to be roughly half the length of the model, which I’m sure helps.
In Eldest Souls, dodging is crucial. The main distinction is that the stamina bar is split into three sections, and you can’t dodge until at least one of them is full. If you dodge through an attack, your stamina recharges much quicker, but if you’re caught with no charges, you’ll suffer damage unless you can perform some creative dancing.
I get why the dodge charge mechanism exists as a risk-reward mechanic that promotes smart use of the ability, however there are two issues with it.
One, certain circumstances need several dodge uses, which means you’ll be down a dodge with no option to recover it but to wait.
Two, your character travels at a snail’s pace by default, and it will be their sole speed for the most of the game. Eldest Souls is a fast-paced game that grinds to a halt if you are unable to avoid. As a result, dodging becomes more than a survival skill: it’s a fundamental mobility talent.
In Eldest Souls, character advancement does not imply increased health, stamina, or a pool of stats. Instead, there are three skill trees linked to active abilities, each of which alters your character in some manner, most notably in terms of damage dealing.
Your charged attacks have their own effects at higher levels of these trees, which is excellent since your basic assaults are useless. Charge attacks are emphasized even more since they provide lifesteal, which returns a part of the damage you inflict in the form of health. When your sword is charged, it glows bright red and strikes quicker and harder, making it simple to see when you’re performing basic attacks.
I found myself forsaking most strategy and simply screaming on monsters until they killed because to this dependence on charged strikes for DPS coupled with an early game item that immediately refills the charge on usage. I didn’t have to pause to dodge or reconsider how I approached a battle until late in the game. In other words, I could smash my skull against most opponents until I won.
Even if the gameplay was a little sour, Eldest Souls’ graphics, soundtrack, and narrative more than made up for it. Though the player character is nothing more than a colorful collection of pixels, the game is wonderfully designed. My sole criticism is the cutscenes. Even at 1080p, the individual pixels are large enough that whatever they are made up of becomes a mess.
The boss and area designs are stunning, and each place has its own own flavor. The visual and level design both indicate that this planet has passed its prime. The NPCs will tell you that, but they’re only hammering home the idea.
The music is also well-suited to the setting, and each boss theme is based on who they are, were, or represented. None of the songs will win any prizes for musical excellence, but they do their jobs effectively and establish the tone.
Finally, the tale is, in a word, enigmatic. To grasp the fundamentals, read the numerous notes and item descriptions strewn around, and then perform some interpretation to get to a conclusion.
There’s nothing unusual about the technique if you’re acquainted with how Souls games convey their tales. In terms of my thoughts on the narrative, I think it’s intriguing, but not as compelling as others in the category.
The Bottom Line in Eldest Souls Review
- Awesome boss battles that are all different and rewarding to defeat.
- Beautiful pixel art that offers a fascinating world to discover.
- Good music and a narrative that reminds me of Souls that asks just enough of the player.
- Several gaming choices obstruct rather than assist.
- Samey battle that requires less resources than it should.
- Hitboxes with a janky feel
Eldest Souls is a game with fantastic bosses that is hampered by several questionable gameplay design choices. It has good graphics, and the developer team clearly poured their heart and soul into creating the greatest boss rush Souls-like they could.
They outperformed all expectations, creating a planet ravaged by ancient cataclysms and inhabited by frightening creatures. Despite its tiny size, it’s a world you’ll want to explore since the difficulties and mysteries at its core are intriguing enough to warrant exploration.
Eldest Souls is a game for lovers of the Souls-like genre who wish to face off against the gods of a deserted country and discover the world’s mysteries.
[Note: The copy of Eldest Souls used for this review was supplied by Fallen Flag Studio.]
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