With a gorgeous art style, an engaging story, protagonists you can’t help but like, and plenty of loot, Young Souls should be an instant winner. It almost is. But a few key elements really let it down.
You might have heard of Young Souls. Despite being publicised as a brand new release hitting PC and consoles today, it in fact saw its debut on Stadia in August 2021. But as was the way with Stadia exclusives, it entered the world with a whimper and received little fanfare. Now, it can finally get the chance to shine with its launch on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC.
Young Souls casts you as twins Tristan and Jenn, a pair of teenage orphans who have spent the last year of their lives living in a mansion with a mad-cap professor. The professor has, up until this point, been pretty secretive with his work, but when the twins find him to have vanished one afternoon, they have no choice but to sneak into his private workshop to hunt down clues as to where he might have gone. Expecting to find a standard laboratory, they instead find a gateway to a goblin realm.
It’s in this goblin realm that you’ll spend most of your time with Young Souls, exploring its many dungeons, battling enemies and collecting helpful loot and treasure. Much of your time will be spent destroying enemies in brawler-like combat, though an upgrade and loot system elevates the game to RPG status.
You’ll find loot – in the form of weapons, armour and equipment – in chests dotted around Young Souls’ environments, and you’ll also be rewarded with new gear as you take down bosses and large foes. You’ll also amass various types of gems and useful currency which can be used to upgrade weapons and armour, making them more powerful and useful than before. Coupled with an interesting XP system – which sees Jen and Tristan level up from the experience they gain only after they’ve been to sleep – Young Souls’ approach to character progression is very engaging indeed.
As is the world you find yourself in. You’re free to go between the goblin realm and Jenn and Tristan’s “real” world whenever you like, although most of your progression will happen within the dungeons of the goblin realm. But in the human world, Jenn and Tristan can visit shops to buy new trainers – which provide various benefits to them in combat – or clothes, which are purely cosmetic. They don’t wear their special goblin armour while out on the streets. That would just be weird.
With a sumptuous 2D art style, Young Souls looks divine. It’s hard not to fall in love with the characters you meet along the way thanks to their animation style. Even the enemies you’ll soon lay waste to are charming and a pleasure to look at. It’s incredibly polished and pristine – a real credit to 1P2P Studio, the two-man team behind development. The only thing that lets Young Souls down is its lack of voice acting. When the rest of its presentation feels so premium, the lack of any sort of voicing for the characters feels a bit empty. But it’s an understandable choice given its development roots – and one that is easily forgiven.
What perhaps isn’t so easily forgiven, though, is Young Souls‘ combat. This is the bread-and-butter of the game, and at its best it can feel wonderful. It’s fast-paced, requiring you to lay into your enemies with a combo of light attacks, throwing in the odd magic attack when you’ve got enough mana. You’ll also need to be on the ball with dodging and parrying to truly shine. And, if you’re playing in single player – more on co-op in a minute – you can tag both characters in and out, dealing additional damage to your enemies as you do. But fail to engage with all the systems that Young Souls throws at you, and you’ll find yourself getting flung across the battlefield like a ping-pong ball. Yes, it’s difficult, and even on the games’ easiest difficulty – suitable for children and those who want to take things easy, it says – you’ll still get your ass kicked until you familiarise yourself with all of Young Souls‘ intricacies.
The equipment you gain while playing will massively help how combat plays out for you, however. Be prepared to swap between armour sets regularly; certain areas are filled with ice-attack enemies, and so your freeze-resistant armour will come in very handy. And when you’re in the area dominated by fire enemies, you’ll want your burn-resistant armour. In terms of weapons, those with a higher rarity will have useful skills on them, such as added bleed, or an additional electric attack. Get the right combination of equipment, and you’ll make your time with Young Souls much easier.
The trouble is, that even with the right sword and the right armour set, combat can still feel messy. Particularly when there are a lot of enemies on screen. Timing a parry is difficult, especially when there’s so much going on. And enemies – in particular the flying ones – have a nasty habit of jolting out of your way just as you’re about to attack. Your own movements are also a little unwieldy, especially when it comes to dashing (which requires two quick pushes of the left thumbstick). Ultimately, it’s all just a little too chaotic to ever feel truly engaging.
It’s not the be-all and end-all, though. We wish we’d have enjoyed Young Souls‘ combat more, but practically everything else in the game made up for it, encouraging us to stay and play. We quickly fell in love with Jenn and Tristan, and wanted to learn more about them. We cared about the professor and his whereabouts. Every new weapon or piece of equipment we found was exciting, and we were desperate to level them up, to make Jenn and Tristan as powerful as they can be.
Another string in Young Souls‘ bow is the ability to play in co-op, with one player taking control of Jenn and another Tristan. It’s perhaps the optimal way to play; when you’re co-ordinated with your player two, combat can feel much more engaging (and easier). But it does mean that there’s even more happening on screen, and keeping track of your own character can be a little confusing (particularly since they both look so alike). Still, it’s worth trying in co-op, if you have another player to jump in with. Though it’s perfectly accessible as a single-player game; this is largely how we tackled it, switching between Jenn and Tristan regularly in combat.
Young Souls offers up a unique blend of side-scrolling brawler action and RPG progression, wrapped up in a sumptuous package. It’s Young Souls‘ art style and personality that really shines here; we felt a little let down by the combat, which wasn’t as enjoyable as it should be. Still, there’s a lot to like, and Jenn and Tristan’s adventure is one we’re glad we’ve been a part of.
Young Souls review – GameSpew’s score