Behind the scenes of upcoming hack-and-slash Soulstice

Developer Reply Game Studios may be based in Italy, but its latest game’s soul is rooted firmly in Japan. A dark fantasy hack-and-slash, Soulstice looks and plays very much like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta; it’s a game that thrives on fast combat and devastating, satisfying combos. Fabio Pagetti, Soulstice’s creative director, is unabashed about the game’s far-eastern influences: beyond video games, its characters and location are heavily inspired by anime and manga. “Here at the studio, we are all into dark fantasy – Japanese dark fantasy in particular,” Pagetti says. “Any Berserk or Claymore fan will be able to see that our game is a heartfelt tribute to those worlds and characters. I think ‘tribute’ is a key word here, because as much as we love those works, I didn’t want the team to copy them or their style. We’re Italian, and I knew that we’d have to find a way to elaborate on those references while also staying true to our own style and heritage.”

Soulstice tells the tale of two sisters with a particularly fantastical relationship: one, named Briar, is mortal, and skilled at wielding a gigantic sword. Her sibling Lute, meanwhile, is a ghost, and gives Briar superhuman strength via a crystal planted in her chest. It’s a pairing that gives the game a twist to its combat: while Briar deals physical attacks with her sword (and other weapons acquired as you progress), Lute can weigh in with her supernatural abilities. “Briar doesn’t simply react to what happens on the battlefield: she’s free to set the pace and drive the action because her sister Lute is there to assist and protect her with her powers and abilities,” Pagetti tells us. “As such, Lute excels at crowd control, counters, and some ranged attacks. Some of Lute’s actions are contextual and can be customised through a system of powers and traits, while others require direct input from the player.”

Collectively known as a Chimera, Briar and Lute will encounter a wealth of horrifying enemies on their journey

In terms of difficulty, don’t expect the punishing brutality brought into vogue by FromSoftware’s output; instead, its combat is more akin to the “free flow” of western titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor, says Pagetti. “Regardless of that ‘Soul’ in our title, ours is a [pure] character action game. It has style, combos, ratings, over-the-top boss fights, challenges… There will be several difficulty levels to make sure that everyone can enjoy the experience too. Those who are more into the story and the characters can choose to start the game on the Easy setting, while seasoned players looking for a challenging and rewarding experience with a deep combat system won’t be disappointed.”

Soul Survivor

Compared to its previous game, the VR title Theseus, Soulstice represents a major step up in scope – meaning the studio itself has had to grow in size to meet the demands of development. “With the release of our previous game, Theseus, we had a team size of 13. However, as we began preparing for Soulstice, we knew that we would have to ramp up our workforce significantly. At one point we were close to surpassing a 50-person team, with 15 external collaborators who had been working closely with us throughout the entire project.”

This larger team has spent the past four years refining what Pagetti describes as a “double-A” action game: an experience that can hold its own against some of the finest titles that have emerged from Japan in recent years, such as Nier: Automata and the aforementioned Bayonetta. Certainly, Soulstice looks the part based on the hands-off demo we’ve seen so far: its setting, the benighted, monster-infested city of Ilden, is a strikingly oppressive cluster of medieval-inspired towers and eerily deserted streets. The creatures that emerge from its shadows are a varied bunch, too, ranging from hideously mutated townsfolk to huge, more outlandish bosses, such as a giant, shrieking, disembodied head. Soulstice targeting current-gen systems has allowed its developer to pack plenty more detail and atmospheric effects into the game, Pagetti tells us. “Even though the graphics in Soulstice aren’t photorealistic, we’re pushing the limits of current generation consoles,” he explains. “The character action genre requires some really solid performance, and we still want the game to look and feel great with its art style. This is a new-gen game, through and through.”

Refreshingly, Soulstice is a resolutely single-player experience, much like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry before it

With Soulstice due to launch on 20 September, Pagetti and his team are concentrating on bug fixes and overall polish. It’s a “big game for a team of this size”, Pagetti admits, but like the fighting duo in the game itself, Reply Game Studios has battled through a wealth of challenges – not least a global pandemic – to make its hack-and-slash opus. To quote a line from Soulstice’s trailer: “As long as we’re together, we’re not going down…”

Genre Hack-and-slash | Format PC  /  PS5  /  XB S/X | Developer Reply Game Studios | Publisher Modus Games | Release 20 September 2022 | Social @Modus_Games

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