I honestly can’t make my mind up about SolSeraph.
Spiritual successor to ActRaiser, released on the SNES in the early 90s, it has the same combination of 2D platforming and city-building. Well, I say city-building; here it’s more like tower defence. And the whole thing has a hint of a 16-bit whiff about it.
Playing as Helios, the Knight of Dawn, it’s up to you to help humanity overcome the forces of evil. Across multiple locations you’ll develop settlements, set up defences to protect them from waves of monsters, and then take the fight to them in their lairs until the big nasty in each location is eradicated. Only then will the settlements you’ve developed be free from danger. The question is: do you have the patience to complete the task?
Each of SolSeraph‘s handful of locations is accessible via a world map, and you’re pretty much free to tackle them in any order that you want, or even switch between them midway. Before you get down to the nitty-gritty of building a settlement and defending it, however, you need to complete a platforming stage. And it’s during the first one of these that you might start to suspect that SolSeraph isn’t very good.
Imagine a typical 16-bit platformer remastered for the modern age, but without any tweaks to the gameplay or animation; that’s what SolSeraph‘s platforming sections are like. And it’s a pretty bad platformer that’s been remastered as well. Movement feels stiff, jumping feels floaty, and your attack options are limited. What’s worse, though, is the design of the platforming stages. Sometimes you’ll have to make leaps of faith into the unknown, and occasionally enemies such as spiders will only appear as you’re jumping up to a ledge. Make contact with them and you’ll lose some health and also get knocked back – hopefully not into a pit of doom.
You’ll also engage in platforming sequences as you go about liberating each location from its evil forces. Every time you attack a lair you’ll either be taken to a full stage or a short wave-based battle. Beat it, and you’ll either be rewarded with a health or mana upgrade, making subsequent platforming sections just that bit more manageable. After clearing all of the lairs in a location, you’ll be able to enter a final platforming stage in which you can tackle a boss. Beat that and you’re likely to acquire a new skill, such as healing, filling the screen with water or summoning lightning.
If you’re reading this the platforming stages probably don’t sound too bad, but they’re honestly pretty awful. Many of SolSeraph‘s enemies are just downright irritating to combat, such as worms that roll around even after you’ve blocked them with your shield. Some enemies fly or jump into the screen in a really awkward manner as well, making them hard to hit until they’re an imminent danger. And SolSeraph thinks throwing every enemy it can at you all at once is fun, and it’s really not. It’s just frustrating given the poor controls and limited combat options. There are brief moments of fun to be had, but you’ll merely tolerate the game’s platforming rather than enjoy it. Those without patience or determination are likely to just quit the game.
Thankfully, SolSeraph‘s settlement-building-cum-tower-defence gameplay is better, although rather basic. Every settlement starts with just one house, and with the five set of hands it provides you can set about gathering resources to expand. Building a timber mill is usually your first port of call, as wood is necessary to build every structure available. You then might want to build a farm or two so you can build more houses and support more people. But you also need to be mindful of the impending enemy attacks that are just around the corner. You’re going to need to build some defences.
Enemies attack in waves, with a timer at the bottom of the screen counting down to the next assault. You can cut the timer short at any time you like if you’re keen to give your defences a workout. You have access to barracks, watchtowers, magical contraptions, spikes and more. Initially your options are limited, but more structures open up as you play. You also gain access to some structures that boost the abilities of those near to them, but they have such a short range that they’re a generally a waste of resources. Especially when you consider that enemies only move along a set path.
Monsters only like to travel along paved paths, apparently, which means that all of your defences should be lined up at the side of them. It’s also wise to place wooden spikes actually on top of paved paths to slow down any monsters travelling by foot. If any monsters do manage to make it past your defences they’ll crash into the fire at the heart of your settlement. And if the fire goes out during any wave, that’s it: game over. Although a very generous save system means it’s never really a hardship.
Inbetween waves of enemy assaults, you need to mount counter-attacks on their forces by creating paths to their lairs, which are shrouded in darkness. Build a temple near them and send someone to pray at it, however, and the darkness is dispelled, opening the lair up for attack. And you know what happens next: the 2D platforming commences. Clear all the lairs on a map and the path is opened up to the boss. Beat them and enemies will no longer spew forth, allowing your settlement to live in peace. Rinse and repeat for each location until the game is over.
I’ve spent so much time shouting at the screen while playing SolSeraph. I’ve shouted obscenities because of the awfulness of the platforming sections, and I’ve shouted when I’ve sent people to pray at a temple only for them to sail around in a boat endlessly. It’s not a great game, or even a good one. And yet, for some reason, I’ve felt compelled to play it. I’ve persisted with it despite its issues. That’s got to mean something.
I can’t recommend SolSeraph on the whole because that would be silly of me. Its issues are obvious and pretty problematic. But there will be some players out there that will possibly like it; those who have a fondness for games from yesteryear, that don’t mind a bit of janky platforming and basic tower defence. SolSeraph is a bad game, but there’s just something about it. It’s unlike anything else currently available, and if you have the patience for it you might find it strangely enjoyable like I sometimes did, but also occasionally mightily frustrating.