There have been a plethora of titles giving gamers a shot of retro nostalgia recently and SolSeraph is next in line. This time around, SolSeraph seems to be taking inspiration from the SNES classic, ActRaiser. But what initially seems to be a sweet homage to ActRaiser, eventually falters, as SolSeraph can’t capture the same endearing balance of action platforming and top-down strategy that made ActRaiser a classic.
As a hybrid between the two genres, SolSeraph’s strategy sections are immensely more satisfying than the side-scrolling action parts. These sections aren’t incredibly deep but that bodes well for how it controls on an Xbox controller. Many top-down strategy games falter when it comes to having manageable controls on a gamepad and, thankfully, SolSeraph excels in this regard.
SolSeraph’s strategy elements may be simplistic, but they are satisfying enough. Building homes gives you villagers to use in battle, whilst farms provide villagers with food. Erecting lumber mills supplies you with wood. Wood can be used to build every type of building etc. Having a comfortable amount of villagers will be essential to defending your base against waves of monsters as defence buildings all require manpower. Though, defence buildings don’t need too much strategy to maintain. Barracks add ground fighters, archer towers can take care of airborne enemies, and magic towers can attack rows of monsters at the same time. You can also place spikes and bombs on the roads to delay your enemies. Ultimately, it’s not as deep as other strategy games, but it’s laid back enough to be enjoyable anyway.
Enemy attacks never come as a surprise since they always follow a specific path to your village. Though, these roads do come in from multiple directions, so there’s always a decent amount to have to juggle and take care of.
Of course, all of this would be quite dull if you were merely a spectator, but as the demi-god, Helios, you can contribute to the fight. Flying around the map, players can strike enemies down with lightning, slow down time and send down a powerful unit to help the fighters. It isn’t much, but Helios’ powers add some much needed urgency to the otherwise passive waves of enemies.
The entire objective of these sections is to push back the enemy as far as possible to reveal enemy lairs. After this, Helios can fly in for some side-scrolling combat, but most of SolSeraph’s issues arise from these segments.
From the pace of combat, to enemy placement, SolSeraph can’t quite seem to pull off these levels. Movement is sluggish and not in an endearing, ’90s throwback sort of way; it’s just unresponsive. Helios can only dodge backwards, so positioning him is always tricky. In areas with multiple enemies surrounding the screen, moving a lot, in general, just becomes unintuitive. The only real viable strategies are to play it safe and go slow or try to run and avoid all enemies in a level.
This wouldn’t be quite so annoying if it wasn’t for the unpredictable nature of enemies. Goblins and orcs will jump at you, at seemingly different lengths each time. This makes it difficult to plan for an encounter and outmanoeuvre them. Enemies also push you back quite drastically every time you bump into them, which also wouldn’t have been a major issue without the way enemies move. Many jump onto the stage from the background, spiders will drop from above with no warning, thorns will sometimes litter the ground and archers will occasionally stay in the background, meaning there’s no way to take them out. This leaves very limited space for you to use to your advantage and ultimately makes many combat scenarios frustrating.
Whether you’re defending your village from monsters or striking them down on foot, SolSeraph isn’t much of a looker. Monster designs are quite generic, from green goblins to regular spiders. One enemy type is literally just a red blob. A blob that bounces. The different maps you visit do have their own biomes with your typical icy map, forest map, desert map, and so on. This does add some visual variety but none of it is very inspired.
Similarly, SolSeraph’s narrative is equally underdeveloped. The only motivations the antagonists have is that they’re jealous that humans have the power of… imagination? And that’s all that’s really given in the brief prologue. The story doesn’t go anywhere from there. Helios has no interesting development, lines or backstory. Each map does have a small cast of characters though; they add some nice world building and interactions to bridge the gameplay sections, but these are minimal improvements. Largely, SolSeraph’s story is essentially non existent: pretty much it’s just there to service the gameplay.
Overall, SolSeraph on Xbox One is a tale of two games. On one hand, it’s a fun, accessible strategy game that works surprisingly well on console. On the other hand, it’s a bland and annoying action platformer. Without any interesting narrative threads or distinct art design, SolSeraph doesn’t do much to stand out or excel. But if you do have nostalgia for ActRaiser, SolSeraph can, at least, scratch that itch.