Game Review #475: Vambrace: Cold Soul (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Devespresso Games
Publisher: Headup Games
Category: RPG, Strategy
Release Date: 8.29.2019
Buy Vambrace: Cold Soul from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
A Pretty Face
It’s always a shame when a game excels in many places, except the gameplay. This game has absolutely beautiful art, and deserves to have that championed. I love the colors they use mixed with how well they convey atmosphere to the player; it really makes you appreciate the work put into it. On top of that, the story has a really cool setting: a wintery world filled with many races, creeds, and nations. Elves, Dwarves, Humans, and more will join the wearer of the namesake of the game, Lyric, a young woman who does not remember her past. She was drawn to an area by the Vambrace left for her by her father, and she will need the help!
This game describes itself as a roguelike-style game, featuring different scenarios as well as a high level of difficulty that usually comes down to a good RNG roll. The Music compliments it as well, featuring chilly-sounding winter themes and sparse, dank-sounding melodies as you explore abandoned mine shafts and caves. The game opens up with a good bit of exposition to try and get you interested in the story and the world—and honestly, it works! I was excited to begin my adventure, even if I wasn’t a big fan of the game from which I personally feel it took a lot of inspiration with the combat style and the difficulty: Darkest Dungeon. But honestly, my interest turned into audible groans anytime I picked it up as I began to get into the meat and potatoes of this game, and that is a sense of disappointment that is hard to describe. Let's go over a few more points for Vambrace: Cold Soul!
A Chilly Setting
Let’s give you a little more context for the things I genuinely enjoy about this game, like its settling. Like I said before, Lyric—actually, Evelia Lyric, but the game generally just goes with Lyric—is on the trail of the man who gave her the Aetherbrace, the titular Vambrace that is fused to her body, but it may be the one thing that allows her to solve the mysteries in front of her. See, her trail has brought her to the cursed city of Icenaire, which is a location currently in a bit of ruin and a bit of a predicament: first, it is surrounded by a deadly barrier called the Frostfence, which can kill anyone who touches it; and second, the King of Shades has cursed the city with the blight of Frost Fall, which has people returning from the grave as wicked wraiths, ready to create more of their own numbers as they build an army of the undead.
Lyric is the turning point. She’s the light of hope in this war, as her Aetherbrace allows her to pass through the deadly Frostfence and enter the city within! This game gives you a whole lot to process right up front—and in its defense, it is decently interesting—but the more I played, the more I just felt like I was spending more time fighting the core game design, all the clunky, poorly-designed menus, and the map traversal than I was spending actually getting into any new story beats. Unfortunately, none of the stories I ran into resonated with me quite like that beginning set up story, either. Let’s finally talk about the part that really knocks this experience out at the knees: the gameplay.
Batting a Zero
My god, the UI is so poorly designed it's absolutely baffling to me this was shipped out. Everything feels so unintuitive. I was constantly frustrated and cross referencing anything available to me to figure out what I was doing, or trying to figure out how I could change something that would normally be as easy as picking something on a menu screen. Instead, this game opts to bind different parts of the menu to different buttons, and it just feels gross to navigate.
Character data is represented on-screen as bars that are hard to glean absolute data from without again going into a menu; and then once you even get to that and learn some more about your characters, who cares? They are entirely disposable blank faces that exist to die to random RNG deaths, or bad luck with an encounter in a dungeon. That's right, outside of Lyric, pretty much everything is just being cycled through the motions and won’t last long.
The combat is mostly attacking, while you occasionally use a Flourish style move that does something a little more versatile. I honestly felt like a lot of the time I was praying to just get lucky and get a good encounter, or a lucky group of enemies—and i’m a VERY seasoned RPG player. It just… doesn’t feel good, or engaging. It's a shame that all the pretty graphics and interesting world can't take the focus off how unbecoming the combat and core gameplay it. You will wander dungeons and go the wrong way multiple times because the map provided and the game screen are completely different orientations and occasionally don't even make physical sense, it feels like.
You will occasionally encounter events that can have catastrophic outcomes for your party, and it happens enough that it doesn't feel fair. Again, it just comes back to how RNG-reliant this whole game feels. I never got to where I felt powerful as a player, or as a participant in battle. It was like I was getting along just by the edge of my teeth every time, no matter where I was, with only one character to really cling to or try to like; and Lyric isn’t unlikable, but I certainly didn’t find myself really rallying behind her or anything.
This game really feels like a shame. There're things in here that, if better thought out and more fleshed-out—or surrounded by a better core gameplay loop—that could be great! The art is, again and again, GORGEOUS and inspired-looking, the atmosphere is heavy, the music present and appropriate, but the game isn’t enjoyable to play for me, and all the pretty graphics in the world can’t save that. We're here for a game, and maybe this one would have been better suited as a graphic novel at the rate it’s going. I give Vambrace: Cold Soul a 5/10, because I do have to give credit to the great parts of this game, and some masochistic people might find some enjoyment in it.
Buy Vambrace: Cold Soul from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Follow Headup Games
Follow Devespresso Games
*A game code was provided for review purposes