Vambrace: Cold Soul (Xbox One) Review

By Josh Di Falco 16.10.2019

Review for Vambrace: Cold Soul on Xbox One

Every so often, a game comes along that brings the right charm and enough ingredients that it threatens to be a sleeper hit. At least, by playing the first few hours of Devespresso Games' latest, Vambrace: Cold Soul, it feels that way. This is a rogue-like experience that plays out on a two-dimensional plane, with turn-based combat, and an impeccable art style that helps to enrich the world of Dalearch. Unfortunately, the magic around this adventure slowly dissipates as it tries to recreate the same experiences that are better found elsewhere. After reviewing the game on the on the PC and on the Nintendo Switch, let's see how the Xbox One version fares.

The main character of the piece is a mysterious, young woman named Evelia Lyric, who has sought out the frosty world of Icenair in search for answers in relation to her recently deceased father. Wielding the family keepsake 'Vambrace,' Lyric is bestowed with the power of destroying the fatal Frostfences that enclose the town. Prior to her arrival, the denizens of Icenair had been hunkered into the land below Dalearch, due to the Shade King and the spell that he has cast over the world. Lyric must assemble her party-of-four and venture to the land above to slowly rid the world of the Frostfell and rescue the possessed demons that do the Shade King's bidding. This premise is all the context that is required to set Lyric off on her journey, as well as the answers she hopes to find regarding the notes from her father's journal that she must find. It is important to note that the Frostfell are ice fences that have kept all the residents trapped - and touching these causes immediate death to anyone, except Lyric of course.

Visually, Vambrace: Cold Soul is a wonderful looking title that successfully recreates the gothic/victorian setting that seems closer to a Van Helsing story, combined with the magic of fantasy-trope races such as the Elven and Dwarven races. Each of the races keep to themselves in Icenair, with tiny pockets of the city dedicated to each of the races. The art style does a great job of showcasing their differences, while also keeping to the clichés that most fantasy-lovers will recognise. However, beyond the veil of designs, art and skins lies the gameplay. Most rogue-likes don't need to have a strong story if the gameplay can hold up well enough to be replayed over and over without feeling like a major grind. In the beginning, the gameplay shows a lot of promise with what it could do. Vambrace plays out on a 2D vertical plane, with the party venturing through "dungeons," though they take the shape of neighbourhoods in here.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on Xbox One

The four party members each have a health orb and a vigour orb that basically acts as a secondary health orb. The reason for this is that a dungeon is made up of a sequence of rooms or screens, and moving through each one will cost one vigour point for each character. So, if Lyric has 14 vigour points, then after the 14th room, she will die. If any of the party's health drops to 0, then they also die. Vigour is a limitation designed to make adventuring just a tad bit more difficult. Luckily, there are items that can be looted from treasure chests and debris that can be used to craft potions to refill vigour. Each room within a dungeon has a randomised event that plays out - from a 'chance' encounter that can either hamper or improve Lyric's team to a random battle against some of the nastier enemies. Battles take place with a turn-based system, and the fight screen is split up into four sections, which each of the party members are designated to. Party members have three attacks or moves, and they can vary from long, middle or short-range attacks. Knowing which members can strike from each range is paramount to choosing the battle formation.

This means that getting the best effect from the party is having the long-range fighters at the back of the formation, with the short-ranged at the front. This entire element of the battle is a nice touch that could have been a leapfrog mechanic for more advanced attacks - but unfortunately, it isn't as deep as it could've been. The formations determine which enemies the fighters can attack. So, the enemies have their own formation, and the short-range fighters can only attack the enemies at the front of the opposing formation, for example. Three attacks or moves make up the move-list of each of the party members, and they range from varying sorts of attacks and stuns, to healing or buff-inducing moves. Unfortunately, three moves per character is as lacking as it sounds, and it would've been nice for more moves to join the arsenal as the party progressed. Three moves mean that most fights end up being the exact same - the enemies change, and their attacks change, but the method to beating them is pretty much the exact same all the way through. Fights lack a certain strategy, and this is due to lacklustre move-list available to the party members.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on Xbox One

The allure of turn-based mechanics is the chess-like experience that can be had, and Vambrace fails to replicate this. Or at least, the developer partially make this work for the first couple of hours. However, once it becomes obvious that there are no new moves or variety of moves to join the fray, then the repeating battles begins to become a grind to the end without a deep sense of progression. The best part about turn-based battles is trying to outwit the opposition, and Cold Soul lacks a real threat of the opposition, save for the boss battles that the party encounters at the end of each chapter. While potions can be crafted to regenerate lost health or vigour, Cold Soul limits the exact timing of their use to be at randomised campsites that are located within the dungeons. So, if a party member is on the verge of death, they cannot just heal themselves until the party reaches a nearby campsite - which is made even more frustrating when the group doesn't know where the campsite is. But sometimes, as is par for the course, the group can just simply be screwed over by the randomness of the generated rooms, and the dungeon may not even have a campsite.

...Oh, and the party has a limited amount of time to clear that dungeon and get to the end room. Taking too much time, or in this case, going through too many rooms, will fill up a green meter that basically means the ghosts have arrived, and they present a much greater challenge than the lowly enemies up to that point. Making matters even worse is that these ghosts need to be battled in each room until the end of the dungeon, so it is in the party's best case to get through the dungeon in the quickest time possible. Treading through the same dungeons wouldn't be an issue if they all didn't look the same. Here, there is a lack of variety in the location designs, and because of this, it hardly feels like the party is progressing at all. Coupled with the fact that one bad decision can wipe out the progress of the party, and the gameplay quickly deteriorates into a grinding slog of mindless battle sequences to reach the end of the chapter.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on Xbox One

There's a range of skills and attributes that Lyric must factor in when selecting her party at the beginning of a hunt. For example, traps are littered throughout dungeons, thus having a character with high points in 'awareness' increases the party's chances of avoiding the trap. Likewise, Lyric cannot just open any chest, as it was awkwardly showcased in the game's opening tutorial when Private Biggs forgets how to open a chest. A character with high points in 'sleight' can open chests and increase the loot that can be found. Vambrace: Cold Soul falls with the battle sequences. The dungeon-roaming element is cool, and the mystery surrounding each random event that the party encounters range from deciding whether to approach a ghost dog, to deciding whether to eat the food off the buffet table or venture deep into a cave that just happens to be in the middle of one of the rooms.

These events play out in cut-scenes, and they are randomised with the results of what happens, based on which choices Lyric has chosen to do. Even the world of Icenair is one filled with many characters that are happy to chat and give Lyric side quests to complete. Characters help to create greater context to the situation, while helping to make the town feel alive. Each time Lyric enters the marketplace and the audio of the town-chattering is a nice touch, for example, that makes the town feel liveable. However, all of this is just a façade - and the world does indeed stop moving when Lyric leaves the screen.

Screenshot for Vambrace: Cold Soul on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Vambrace: Cold Soul is not bad, but it quickly becomes a mindless, repetitive, grinding slog of the same battles that require very little strategy, not to mention the lack of any sort of enemy variety. Enemies come in different forms, but basically consist of similar attacks, with varying curses, and Lyric and her party members are hardly any better. The gameplay loop of exploring, fighting and healing only suffers due to the tedious battle system and the similar-looking dungeons. Beyond that, the story and lore of Icenair is a rich world that deserved better treatment, as the various codex entries enrich the world. Vambrace: Cold Soul had a lot of potential, and while it pulls off some things well, the mechanics hold back an experience of what could've been.

Developer

Devespresso Games

Publisher

Headup Games

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 Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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