“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34
A weight surrounds you. You’re not sure whether to cheer in elation or hang your head low in shame. You’ve just bested a titan – a guardian of sorts, which held within it an immense power known as a titan soul – and now, the world is quiet. And just a bit less magical. You’re not sure why you’re here or why the titan had to die, only that you feel stronger now. Wiser. You head off into the wilderness, eager to slay another.
Welcome to Titan Souls, a game that grew out of a Ludum Dare jam with the theme “you only get one.” This is a gauntlet of boss fights, where each foe only takes one hit to kill, and you only get one arrow to fire. The challenge, and the fun, comes from the ways in which Titan Souls constructs its encounters around these two simple rules, often forcing you to get creative in the ways you dispatch them.
One titan might hide its weak spot within a giant, gelatinous blob that must be split by your infinitely-retrievable arrow until nothing protects it. Another titan might constantly face you as it shoots projectiles, forcing you to attack from behind by firing your arrow ahead of time and then luring the monster into a position where magically drawing the arrow back to you will hit it. Each time your aim must be pixel-perfect, as being even a hair shy of your target necessitates another attempt.
You don’t just charge headlong into battle with a titan; you study it, analyze it, and solve it like a deadly riddle. You’ll die many times as you attempt to figure out what you need to do, but respawns are quick and the rush of eventual victory propels you onward. No titan feels cheaply designed, so once you’ve bested one of these creatures, you feel encouraged. You know that you’re stronger, smarter, and ready to face another challenge.
All told, there are more than 20 bosses to do battle with, though you won’t need to defeat them all to see the credits roll. If you’ve got the time, patience and skill necessary to take them all down though, I highly recommend doing so. Not only is each boss unique and fun to fight since they simultaneously function as puzzles to solve as well as foes to slay, but taking them all down will grant insight into the world Acid Nerve has built; previously unreadable runes translate to English, and you begin to understand just what the titans really are.
A haunting soundtrack, swimming in acoustic guitar, piano and reed instruments, creates a sense of age and loss.
This is not to say that Titan Souls will satisfy those looking for a plot-heavy experience, however. Even with the translated runes and true final boss defeated, I was left scratching my head. A story that can be interpreted many ways is one thing, but Titan Souls‘ tale is so threadbare as to be borderline indecipherable.
It’s a minor setback though, considering how much the game gets right. The world is not particularly massive, but large enough to make you feel isolated and insignificant in comparison. Strange ruins – not to mention the titans themselves – are designed in such a way that you can’t help but wonder where these things came from and why the area seems so desolate. Simple pixel art lets your imagination fill in the blanks, which I quite liked – there’s nothing more existentially terrifying than what your mind can dredge up from its own dark depths, after all.
A haunting soundtrack, swimming in acoustic guitar, piano and reed instruments, creates a sense of age and loss – until you begin a battle, and the tempo rises to give the feeling of action, drama, and urgency. Strong melodies make each tune distinct, and I can easily imagine the Titan Souls soundtrack playing on my iPod. Preferably on repeat.
Once you clear the game, new modes are unlocked, making titans faster and more difficult, giving players just a single life, or removing the ability to dodge-roll out of harm’s way. These modes and the obstacles they throw at players transform what would otherwise be a 3-5 hour experience into a much richer, replayable journey.
Titan Souls is both shallow and multi-faceted; it’s hard not to think of it as a sort of top-down, pixel art version of Shadow of the Colossus, but there are also plenty of original ideas to explore, discover and interpret, both in and out of battle. There’s meat on these bones, and there should be; they’re titans, after all.
Now if only I knew what I’ve been doing so I knew whether to ask forgiveness.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4, using a code provided by the developer.
- Boss fights are challenging, but fair – none feel insurmountable
- The world is mysterious and barren, but beautiful
- Excellent musical score with unique sound structure
- Unlockable modes make multiple playthroughs enticing
- Simple gameplay concepts are immediately understandable
- Without tackling hard mode or seeking out every boss, the game is short
- Incomprehensible story