What is it that makes a good role-playing game? Well, for starters it needs a great storyline to hook you in, satisfying combat, an intriguing cast of characters and a host of interesting locations. For the most part, that’s all good and well. However, one thing that the majority of role-players have in common, despite containing all of the above, is usually a stress-free journey in order to promote the story and the adventure that ensues. We all know that in real-life though, were we to ever embark on a similar journey through a fantasy world, it wouldn’t be such an easy task. After all, you’d have to plan your journey, make sure you have the right provisions for whatever circumstance you may face and you’d have to make sure you have a party of fellow travellers who can all bring their own skills to ensure survival. In large, it is something that is rarely covered by role-players, until now that is, with Devespresso’s Vambrace: Cold Soul as it freezes a release onto the Nintendo Switch.
This rogue-like, 2D role-player holds many comparisons and writes numerous love letters to its inspirations from Darkest Dungeon. In many ways, this plays a very similar game with specific party sizes and combat positioning, item rarities and a series of randomised elements. However, Vambrace: Cold Souls is a much colder and unforgiving adventure, one that will take many journeys and experimentation before you get to grips with its intricacies; but is also a more rewarding experience for it. The reason for this is down to the level of planning you need to take on board with you, as well as a sprinkling of luck.
The game revolves around the story of Evelia Lyric, a young woman who finds herself drawn to the city of Icenaire; a place that has been secluded for many years by an impassable shield that freezes anyone who touches it. However, with a magical vambrace and a series of codex pages left by her late father, Evelia is able to pass through the seal where she ends being caught up within the resistance movement that conspires against the evil rule of the King of Shades and his spectral warriors; as well as discover the secrets behind her father’s vambrace and the coldness that lurks within the city itself. Within Icenaire, lies the district of Dalearch. From here you can fetch a series of quests, interact with key characters and build up your party; as well as kit yourself out with a series of items that may be needed to help you on your quest.
However, this isn’t a journey that plays out like other role-playing games. The district of Dalearch lies underground and houses a series of locations from the local inn to the guard’s planning room. While traversing this district, the game takes an overhead view, whilst a series of arrows highlight important places. Once you enter the interior of a building though, the view changes to a 2D perspective where you can interact with characters, the environment and find the missing pages of your fathers codex to piece together the lore of the land. When you undertake your mission objectives, you then proceed overground into the glacial wastes of Icenaire. Again, this element of the game takes on a 2D setting, although it contains a series of paths that becomes an important element within the gameplay.
In order to be successful within the game, you need to plan in advance of your journey. From a recruitment board, you can pick up to three other members to make your team. This is a random element and a smidgen of luck can come into play here. Each of the characters possess attributes that relate to certain skills. These can range from trap detection to chest opening and merchantry to overwatch; an important asset that provides some recovery when setting up camp. This becomes vital, as a number of elements fight against you as you undertake your journey. Each character contains a level of vigor which is essentially how much resistance you hold to the cold conditions; once it drops to zero then your character dies. As well as this, you also possess a geist meter. This measures the amount of geist gas that resides within the streets of Icenaire; let this build up too much and the forces of evil begin to hunt you down.
Each of these attributes, vigor and geist, adjust from the number of locations you visit. For each room you pass through, the geist increases and vigor decreases. Certain actions can also affect these values, making your decisions along each journey a mindful exercise. As you journey towards your objective, you can pass through a series of towns, each of which are mapped out for you. The key to combating the elements is by planning your moves to accrue loot and finding codex pages, whilst exiting the town before the cold gets you or evil finds you. It sounds simple in theory, but in reality, it’s a gruelling task that requires a lot of planning and careful thought. You’ll undoubtedly die, and die a lot. Stick with it though and you soon learn all of the game’s mechanics and become victorious; and that’s only the first mission. However, the rewards are worth more than their weight in gold, as the game only truly opens up when you have figured it out and the experience it awards is certainly a rewarding one.
Throughout your expeditions, you’ll encounter all manner of events, from traps to enemies lying in wait and camping out to opening chests. Again, depending on each individual attribute, your success lies solely in the skill of each member of your party. However, combat has a more tactical style of play attached to it. You can position each member of your party in order to execute long, mid and short range attacks. In a turn based mechanic, you select each member and choose a target for them, or you can choose to heal, defend or utilise a particular ability. Combat encounters can be particularly tough, making the element of the geist meter even more important. However, you can camp at certain spots or consume items in order to regain your health and vitality.
Although the game is largely similar to Darkest Dungeon, Vambrace: Cold Soul contains enough variation and elements to make it its own. The story contains a continuous arc that gives you a valid reason for venturing out into the wastelands of Icenaire and its learning curve offers a satisfying reward. In fact, there are a huge number of elements at play here, all of which can be difficult to master at first; If I’ve missed any, then you’ll soon find that it’s hardly surprising. However, the game never, ever feels bogged down by so much going on. There’s no upgrading system here, at least in terms of stats, but you can craft more powerful items to give you a better standing for your next journey and the recruitment board offers a randomised number of party members. Stores are reliant on whatever can be scavenged and also offer randomised elements; making each venture above-ground a unique experience each and every time.
Overall, Vambrace: Cold Soul is a hardcore role-players dream. All of its elements combine to produce a tough, yet rewarding adventure that forces you back in over and over again. Once you click with the game, it takes you to a whole new level and invests you fully into its lore and world around it. The game looks beautiful too, with a nice detailing to the graphics and a protagonist who is suitably strong in their persona. There’s simply so much to the game, that it becomes a joy to play; even down to changing the numerous outfits of Evelia, some of which can be quite revealing, especially in the cold! On the surface, this may not be a game that looks appealing to you, but much like an iceberg, delve into its icy depths and you’ll find a role-playing game hidden away in here that will warm your heart and invest you into its world.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Vambrace: Cold Soul Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Vambrace: Cold Soul provides a chilling challenge, but much like an iceberg, look beneath the surface and you’ll find an RPG to warm your heart.