Some games test your nerves and skills, pushing them to the limit. In fact, in recent times there has been an influx of games that are high octane and punishing; with those hardships comes a sort of gamer with patience and Matrix-like skill levels. Then on the other side, there are those games which test you with nothing more than to walk through a series of environments, experiencing the world, pushed along with a nice story.
Game developer Tonguç Bodur excels in these types of experiences, providing players with low-priced story-driven adventures – games like Lucid Cycle and The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna. Finding the Soul Orb is another one of these games but this time there is some combat to tackle as well. So come with me and I will tell you a story of werewolves and kings…
Finding the Soul Orb is a narrative-based, story-driven adventure game with some puzzle-solving elements and crossbow-fuelled combat. The story is very much a tale within a tale, playing out as you travel across different landscapes, happening across little candlelit circular areas. Standing on these trigger texts about the world, and the journey you are on. You also get to meet the titular orb, all via dream-like sequences where it talks to you directly.
The story tells of a kingdom, set in medieval times, that is plagued by werewolves and where the subjects are ready for revolution. In the past, the high wizards created an item called the Soul Orb. This protected the kingdom well, but now it’s gone. It’s up to the hero, Alexander, who keeps getting dreams about the orb talking to him, to go out and find it, saving the day.
I am a fan of Tonguç Bodur and the way he experiments with a story, both in written and visual terms, across his growing catalogue of games. This isn’t one of my favourites though and that’s because it feels a bit more traditional than the usual fare. It’s only in some of the visuals on the journey that the more imaginative storytelling comes into play, with strange visions and giants hovering across the landscape.
The gameplay mechanics work a mixture of ‘walking sim’ and a ‘combat puzzler’. It’s a linear journey that takes you through a mixture of landscapes, working over twelve chapters. Its candlelit story hubs are the signposts, but you can’t really stray away from the main path. There’s not much to do either, as you walk slowly, or press a button to go a bit faster. As you progress through the first level you will eventually get a crossbow and here you can shoot things, like the good old favourites like exploding barrels which then open up doorways or clear the pathway forward. There are switches you can shoot too, opening gates or lowering bridges.
The other use for the crossbow is to use it in traditional terms – to shoot the things that are attacking you. In Finding the Soul Orb, those things are werewolves. Word of warning, if you’re coming to this game for the exciting combat then this won’t be for you. Werewolves roam around and you get the chance to fire off a couple of shots from a distance before they even notice you. When they do they run at you – quite slowly, mind – you can take them out. It’s certainly not DOOM and the gameplay mechanism feels a bit redundant and not very impressive when you compare it to combat found in other games. I’ll give the developer some credit for trying to add new stuff, but it’s not great.
Visually, Finding the Soul Orb does brilliantly, especially with its lighting and outdoor environments. There’s a real mixture in locations and strangely surreal or abstract images that the game developer does so well. His vision of scale and space is imaginative and inventive, however, when it comes to the levels in the caverns it becomes a bit pedestrian and overly familiar.
The soundtrack works a nice mix of emotive tracks that go beautifully with the journey, along with some more urgent numbers for the combat. Strangely there is one bit of voice work which stands out, mostly as it just pops up halfway through.
There’s no debate that Tonguç Bodur knows how to create a game, yet whilst Finding the Soul Orb has some good bones to it in terms of the linear narrative journey and artistic visuals, it isn’t one of his best games. Still, there’s enough here for us to look forward to the next.
Finding the Soul Orb is on the Xbox Store