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Vambrace: Cold Soul Review

Edited by: Amanda Lillie

Vambrace: Cold Soul is a turn-based roguelite developed by Devespresso Games and published by Headup and Whisper Games. It's being compared to Darkest Dungeon, and although I haven't played that title, it's not hard to see why. The two share a lot of similarities, such as a 4v4 battle structure, unpleasant effects (like Fear or Terror), character permadeath, healing or inspiration opportunities at camps, and even the art. Both are brutal, RNG dungeon crawlers that happily provide a daunting challenge.

THE BURDEN OF THE VAMBRACE

You play as Evelia Lyric, a woman on a quest. Her recently deceased father left behind an inscrutable book and a vambrace called the Aetherbrace. Following her father's instructions leads her directly to Icenaire and the city of Dalearch, where your journey to save the city begins. Only you can save the city because you're wearing the Aetherbrace, which won't come off your arm no matter how hard you try. Since this vambrace holds the power the city is in desperate need of, you choose to wield that power to save everyone, in no small part because you're still looking for answers regarding your father's mysterious book.

While I don't love the story, I don't hate it either. It suffices and manages to be interesting enough most of the time. While there are some memorable and intriguing characters, I felt that there were too many to keep track of. Eventually I found myself losing interest in trying to keep up with the various dramas between characters that inevitably cropped up for quests, since I had trouble remembering who was who and what their motives were. Instead of offering depth to the story, I found these narratives to be mostly superficial and lacking emotional payoff. You will need to pay at least some attention, however, as you will make important decisions later on based on the information you gain from these conversations. Fortunately, although the material gets wearisome, it's not completely dry.

ARTWORK

The art is easily the best part of Vambrace: Cold Soul. The desaturated color scheme and anime style is well suited for conveying the bleak, cold world that is as beautiful as an abandoned stone house on a snowy landscape under moonlight... because it mostly looks like that. New areas borrow from older ones, but each dungeon has its own distinct feel. As for characters, most of the important ones look unique, although nameless guards and cloned citizens also populate the game, helping you know who to talk to or not. I do wish that the characters you can choose from to add to your party were more distinctive, but their look is dictated by their race and class, with trivial differences, so they feel generic after a while.

The developers intelligently designed a 2D world that feels real and is without distractions. For example, despite spending most of your time perceiving dungeons and buildings in side view, whenever you're in the streets of Dalearch you'll be a sprite looking from top-down perspective. This provides you with a better sense of the city's geography than if you were to remain in side view, traversing the city laboriously through a series of lefts, rights, ups, and downs after each screen. Truth be told, the side view gets annoying after a while in buildings, dungeons, and districts for this reason, as it becomes disorienting. Each "room" blurs into the next as you scan it for any sign of what you're looking for and rush on — so it's a relief to have this small break from that perspective, however short it may be.

GAMEPLAY: BE READY TO GRIEVE

You're up for a real challenge in Vambrace: Cold Soul, even on Normal difficulty. I sunk eighteen hours alone into my first run, which only got me about 65% of the way through the story before I was completely stuck. On my second run (despite having learned from my mistakes), I didn't even get that far. One vexing reason for this is the inability to heal or use items except while camping. There are guaranteed camps in between every level of a dungeon, but the more important type of camp is found by chance, so you never know if you'll find it when you really need to. These superior camps allow a party member's Overwatch skill (which is only good for this purpose) to heal or inspire the entire party without having to use any items, which is invaluable for keeping your party from dying.

Luck is definitely a factor here — not only for the dungeons themselves, but nearly everything else as well. Getting attached to your party members, therefore, could be a huge mistake. Once they die they're gone forever... theoretically. The funny thing about that is that there are so few names, looks, and abilities potential party members can have that the next time you have the opportunity to pick up a new party member, there's a good chance you'll find one identical to any that died.

To further safeguard you from needing to grieve over the loss of a party member's personality is the fact that they have none. They have no backstories, no interesting dialogue, and no reason to emotionally invest in them. With that being said, you might still mourn their loss because, without a full party, you'll likely have to leave the dungeon and go through it all over again. That’s because it's nearly impossible to stand up to a boss battle without a full party, and there is very little chance that you'll encounter party member candidates inside a dungeon, and even when you do, they won’t be worth the expense. The most realistic option is always to head back to Dalearch and choose new, free party members and restart the whole dungeon again, however frustrating that may be.

HEAL, BLOCK, LOOSE ARROWS, REPEAT

Battles are stilted, frustrating, and repetitive. While there's a "fast forward" key to help speed them along (thank heavens), that merely makes it a fraction less painful. Animations and sound effects for battles are adequate, but not great. Being turn-based, you can strategize, although there's really not all that much you can do to make a difference. Each character has only three unique moves, one of which is a no-brainer to use as soon as it becomes available because it's your strongest move.

GETTING AHEAD

You can exit a dungeon at any point, which will save your party members if they haven't died, and you'll still be able to keep all your loot. This forgiving aspect of Vambrace: Cold Soul almost feels like cheating because it's so out of place with the rest of the gameplay. You can be careless in fights and take extreme risks in the dungeon as long as you’re thinking of it as just for collecting loot. This helps you build up enough resources to craft items that can help you when it comes time to do a serious dungeon run. Even having items equipped to enhance your party's stats doesn't guarantee you'll be able to beat a dungeon. Only Evelia can level-up (by way of occasional Perk points that you can spend to raise her stats), but since her stats are so terrible at the start, it doesn't make much of a difference and therefore your party will never feel particularly strong.

YOU MIGHT WANT EARMUFFS

The voice acting is somewhat cringe-worthy to me, as the actress says everything in such a dramatic way that it feels unnatural and soap opera-y. Once you're past the intro scene, you thankfully won't have to deal with it anymore, as everything is text-based. Evelia or the occasional other character might say a word or two out loud (like "Hello"), or grunt, but that's about it. The music, on the other hand, is very well done. I loved the soundtrack the whole way through; it heightens boss battles and otherwise adds great atmosphere, being simultaneously uplifting and haunting.

MAKING THINGS PERSONAL

There are twenty-six outfits for Evelia you can unlock by completing voluntary side quests. These outfits aren't solely superficial, since they can be equipped for special stat increases. Some of these outfits are amazing (if not exactly practical in winter-time weather) and I think the developers did a great job. My only complaint is with the lack of customization everywhere else. I wish there were more equippable items overall, more than one item slot per character, more classes, more variation in faces and names for your party members, and more combat moves. There is no real sense of progression or investment in your party members because they don't improve with time. If they could gain experience, for example, then I would've become more emotionally invested. As it stands, everything is expendable, unpredictable, and unsentimental.

6

The Verdict: Good

Vambrace: Cold Soul has a strong foundation that needs a few tweaks and some sprucing to become truly amazing. Gameplay can be addictive due to its difficulty, but there's no way to avoid grinding. If you're looking for an unforgiving roguelite that's easy on the eyes, then look no further — but if you want a complex story, deep characters, and emotional impact on top of that, then you'll want to look elsewhere.

See About Us to learn how we score

Tiffany Lillie
Written by
Tuesday, 09 July 2019 10:20
Published in Adventure

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Proud Editor-in-Chief here at OPNoobs, Tiffany is ready and willing to help sentences in need. (Sometimes all she can do is make them comfortable before they're deleted.) Her hobbies include trying to survive in Don't Starve: Together and designing 3D houses in Blender to upload to the virtual world of Second Life. Originally from Canada, Tiffany says "about" strangely sometimes (but it sounds nothing like "aboot") and she's enjoying her transition from snow to rain in Seattle. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, majoring in English and minoring in Philosophy and Writing & Rhetoric. She believes thinking helps writing and vice versa.

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