The game boots up to some of the most beautiful and peaceful piece of music to grace our ears in recent years, in a similar fashion to Xenoblade Chronicles. This is hardly a surprise since the soundtrack was composed entirely by Yasunori Mitsuda, who produced the soundtrack to the aforementioned Wii RPG and other Monolith Soft games like Xenogears and the first Xenosaga. The whole soundtrack is actually very reminiscent of his earlier works for Squaresoft, with a few tracks being very much reminiscent of Chrono Trigger and the overall tone akin to that of Chrono Cross.
This music sets the right mood for the entire adventure as it follows a military organisation called the Secundady, more specifically its 7th Division called Pharzuph, as it goes on missions across the world aboard its ship, the Schildkröte (German for “turtle”). The world and its inhabitants are threatened by alien life-forms -- Visitors -- who can possess the body of living creatures and cause disturbances in the flow of a magic force. Known as Soma, this energy is used in technology and people have progressively become very dependent on it in their everyday lives (Final Fantasy fans can replace Soma with Mako, and the resultant picture will be eerily similar), so any disturbance in its flow proves to be a big source of problems for the populace. Secundady takes care of Visitors and the game starts with the Pharzuph being sent on a mission to investigate a Soma disturbance in a forest, likely caused by Visitors. They come across a cocoon that they first think houses a Visitor, only to find out that it in fact contains a young girl who they take back aboard the Schildkröte. She has amnesia and only remembers her name: Idea (pronounced “Idéa”). The rest of the Soma Bringer follows Pharzuph's investigation of Soma disturbances and clashes with a group of strange blokes who seek to control vast amounts of Soma and seem to know more about Idea than what the protagonists themselves know.
Though not very heavy on plot, the game has enough storyline to keep you hooked and wanting to know more. It is divided into chapters, each corresponding to a certain region of the game world. In this sense it is very linear because you can't explore the later locations early on, rather tackling each of them one after the other. Each region typically has a village where you learn about the main plot from important characters, resupply items, and gather information, as well as undertaking a minimal amount of side-quests -- there is only about a dozen featured in the entire game. Outside of the village is the field where battles happen, and you progress through the game by achieving different objectives as you explore. Exploration in the early stages is pretty straightforward, with very few branching paths, but things get more interesting and intricate as the journey continues.
However, before you can even start the adventure, Soma Bringer will first of all ask players to choose a Pharzuph character, choosing from six. Whichever is chosen doesn't seem to have any direct effect on gameplay, other than showing some extra scenes that can only be seen from the perspective of a certain character. This adds some longevity as playing through with different characters give a rounder picture to personal motivations, but it does not reveal much more in the main plot. Next is choosing a character class; Kampfs, Soma (generic mage) or Gunner, determining starting stats, and what equipment can be used. Whilst any weapon can be wielded, there are class-specific special attacks, techniques and magic, along with skills that are assignable to hot-key buttons. The power of your skills can be increased using ability points, of which you gain three every time a new level of experience is reached after defeating a set number of enemies. Ability points can be removed from a certain skill and reassigned to another one whenever you want, which leaves room for testing different combinations.
Likewise, each level-up grants three character points, which can be assigned to different basic stats -- strength, magic, vitality, and agility. Don't care for defence and want to go all out on pure strength? Nothing prevents you from doing so, but you can't reassign character points like you could with ability points, though, so be careful with what you go for, otherwise you could screw up your character. As levels increase, certain ranks are reached, which are a prerequisite for equipping key pieces of equipment. For example, you could very well need to be Rank 3 to be allowed to equip a certain shield. However, you will typically never run into a piece of equipment that you can't wear because your rank is too low, as long as you do the usual bit of level-grinding along the way.
As in other games of this ilk, the pieces of equipment worn and the weapons being wielded in Soma Bringer will determine the final effective stats by adding boosts on top of the basic numbers. For instance, the attack statistic is based on both strength and the attack power of the weapon. Also, the different pieces of equipment that can be bought or found can carry a boost effect. Objects without any bonus are represented with an icon that has a white backdrop, whereas those that have one are coloured. Those with a blue backdrop, for example, have only one bonus, whereas yellow, green, and red have an increasing amount of bonus stat boosts. The better the colour, the better the stat boosts are, too! The more superior pieces and weapons usually won't be found in shops, but are rather randomly dropped by enemies or found in chests lying around in the field of battle, prompting you to explore as much as possible the large outdoor areas in the hope that you will find that rare super-effective green or even red weapon that can give a 30% attack boost. Enemies drop chests of different sizes and colours, with the silver and golden ones holding the best items. Doesn't that remind you of Xenoblade Chronicles? More often than not, you will find some very interesting red items that are only interesting for a character belonging to another class, which can be frustrating. It is interesting when playing in multiplayer -- more on that later -- but not so much when playing in solo.
Stat boosts can be further enhanced by attaching an orb to those objects. You can either buy orbs or get them from defeated foes, and fuse them to a certain extent to make them into better orbs. Then they can be attached to any piece of equipment (only one orb per piece). Detaching them requires a special “Detach Orb.” If such a system sounds familiar to you, that is probably because this system in Soma Bringer likely served as the basis for the gem crafting system found in Xenoblade Chronicles. The process of adding, fusing, and detaching orbs can only be done aboard your ship.
The environments can be vast and exploration can take you far from the village and your ship in the area you are exploring. To help you travel quicker, though, Soma Gates are scattered around the world, letting you teleport to any other one that has already been activated in the same area. Alternatively, you can buy or find portable Soma Gates that only work from where you are to the village and disappear once they are used again to go from the village back into the field. That way going back to your ship is made easier, which is very handy in case you want to rethink a strategy, buy potions, switch orbs, and so on.
Battles are very similar to those in Secret of Mana in that you attack foes that wander around directly in a very generic Action RPG fashion, but with some added tweaks. The main one is the break system. Repeatedly hitting the same enemy will break its defences, making it more vulnerable to attacks for a brief period of time. It works the other way round too, though, so the player has to pay attention because your character is also susceptible to this. Most enemies are pretty generic, but the game has plenty of completely optional bosses. Those will often drop the best equipment so you will want to fight them as much as possible, but they sustain more damage than your usual enemy. Again, Xenoblade Chronicles features a throwback to this, in the form of its “unique enemies.”
The battlefield is rendered in 2D, whereas your characters are actually pleasingly detailed 3D models (by DS standards, anyway). The backgrounds are not exactly pre-rendered but rather a combination of hand-drawn, highly detailed pre-rendered graphics with more old school tile-based 2D graphics. Very large tiles are used so that the scenery doesn't appear quite as blocky as old production standards from the 16-bit era. Characters and enemies can appear small on the screen, so making out the action isn't always easy, which is why a very useful five-level zoom function was implemented, plus an auto-zoom feature that zooms in on the action when a clash between you and an enemy occurs. That zoom, however, applies no filter to the 2D backgrounds, meaning that the closer you get to the action, the more pixelated the otherwise good looking backgrounds become, which is very ugly on the highest level of zoom. The limitations of the DS itself are to be blamed here. Otherwise, Monolith Soft has done a great job of making Soma Bringer look good, but it has obviously been outclassed over the years by other better looking games that came out since this game’s 2007 launch.
Last, but by no means least, is the multiplayer aspect where one player can work through the story for a while and then invite one or two other friends to join in, as long as they also possess a cartridge. The game then picks up the story from the earliest point found where the player who has made the least progress had previously stopped, furthering only the save for that player, advancing the others' story as soon as the less advanced player caught up. Players can exchange the weapons they find, which is why you find so many weapons that may not be of much use to you as when playing alone, only to be able to pass them on to your friends when you meet them for a multiplayer session. This is a great element, provided you know someone with a copy of Soma Bringer, of course, which is unlikely unless you have friends who also like to import Japanese-only titles. When playing solo, though, the other two characters accompanying you on the field can be chosen manually and assigned basic behavioural skills that are carried out by the AI. They are not completely unhelpful, which is a good thing and comes as a nice surprise.