Vambrace: Cold Soul (PC) Review

By Renan Fontes 29.05.2019

Review for Vambrace: Cold Soul on PC

In an era of gaming so captivated with what came before, nostalgia has become quite the selling point - and not just nostalgia, but homage as well. Inspiration is a useful tool, one inherent to all forms of medium; all forms of art. Designing a videogame is no different. An idea must come from somewhere, and most titles can be traced back through a thread of inspiration. Problems arise, however, when inspiration comes from a title that is perhaps too recent. Vambrace: Cold Soul clearly pays tribute to Darkest Dungeon with its overall design and gameplay, but it very much crosses over the line of homage into downright derivative rather quickly.

In much the same way Darkest Dungeon opens with a brief tutorial mission, as does Vambrace: Cold Soul. Frankly, the concept is quite universal regardless of genre, so some forgiveness can be doled out, but Davespresso clearly knew what game they were paying tribute to with their opening. When the Steam Store page outright points to Darkest Dungeon as a point of inspiration, comparisons become a given.

Both tutorials play out more or less the same, with players controlling a party designed for the brief tutorial stage. The party can move left or right, interact with the world around them to pick up loot or avoid traps (which handle suspiciously similar to Red Hook Studios' take on the matter). Much, if not all, of the gameplay elements can be attributed to a different title. Which is in itself a problem.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on PC

Battles play out almost exactly how they do in Darkest Dungeon, albeit with a turn order at the bottom to remove a level of randomness. Party members have their own health meter which naturally results in death when it reaches zero, along with a stress analogue depicted in yellow. It's one thing to lift the movement mechanics and battle system, but it's another to directly take one of the core mechanics of another title and slap where it doesn't exactly belong.

There are light horror elements at play, but the overall tone and atmosphere is genuinely quite playful. The poorly named 'Spooks' litter the land, but the very first one that protagonist Lyric encounters is friendly, affable, and playful, undercutting their presence as a terrifying force of nature. Even their designs are rather jovial, making the use of a stress system completely out of place. It's just a leftover from another, better game.

Narrative-wise, Vambrace does have the decency to pave its own path on every level. There's no Lovecraftian influence, and the story is staunchly character-driven. Evelia Lyric is hardly the most compelling main character in the medium, but she develops consistently and coherently over the course of her journey. She has a clear purpose, a clear arc, and a clear voice - traits that aren't always present when it comes to videogame character writing.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on PC

In truth, despite some convoluted plot moments, and a constant struggle to introduce new characters into the story in a way that both makes sense in-universe, while giving audiences a reason to care about new additions to the cast, the script is a definite saving grace. The decision to chop the story up into chapters is a simple one, but it allows each major story beat to include a proper beginning, middle, and end, all while widening the scope of the greater universe.

On that note, the title boasts The Elder Scrolls as a source of inspiration, and this is an instance where lifting after another franchise has helped Vambrace find itself. In regards to lore, everything is well put together. Even the most minor of details are fleshed out thanks to the codex, giving the impression that Icenaire is a lived-in setting, with actual history.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on PC

Unfortunately, all of this isn't enough to salvage the core gameplay. This is basically Darkest Dungeon with an anime aesthetic, and a lower difficulty curve. While that might sound appealing to some, it's worth noting how little the title brings to the table in terms of movement, exploration, combat, and progression.

Combat gets the worst of it, lifting everything from the title it is homaging, and adding virtually nothing of its own. Character attacks are based off positioning, battles are long and meant to be exhausting, and strategy is emphasized over overt RPG elements. Even building a party happens shockingly like how it does in Darkest Dungeon, albeit with Lyric permanently stuck in the party.

It's frustrating just how safe Vambrace plays out in regards to gameplay. There is zero confidence in its own ability to weave unique combat that suits its setting. The visuals are gorgeous, the music is wonderfully appropriate, and the atmosphere is frankly better integrated than any of the franchises it's lifting inspiration from, but the gameplay is so half-baked, so thoughtless, and so derivative, that it can't help but ultimately hurt the experience in the long run. Vambrace: Cold Soul isn't bad by any means, but its blatant insecurities regarding combat make it hard to recommend.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Although the developers' love for the craft and medium is on full display at all times, Vambrace: Cold Soul does suffer considerably from just how much it proudly lifts from other titles. Rather than carving out a new path for itself, this rogue-like is more than content playing its homage straight, leading to one of the most derivative battle systems this generation. This isn't to say there's no merit to the project. The atmosphere is top notch, and only heightened thanks to a great score and gorgeous visuals, but this title never quite manages to carve out an identity of its own. It boasts an engaging story that's presented well, but its thoughtless gameplay will be too hard for most fans of the genre to stomach.

Developer

Devespresso Games

Publisher

Headup

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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