STAFF REVIEW of Eldest Souls (Xbox One)

Friday, August 27, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Eldest Souls Box art Bosses are meant as a way to be not only be a reward of sorts for surviving through a level, but to also challenge you and test the skills you’ve amassed so far up until that point. Boss fights can be very memorable experiences, as they’re usually quite challenging and act as a gatekeeper, making sure you have the skills and abilities to defeat them before moving onto the next chapter of a game. That is with traditional game design though, so what happens if you take the rest of the ‘game’ out and simply just leave the bosses only?

This is essentially what developers Fallen Flag Studio has done with Eldest Souls, getting rid of all that unnecessary ‘filler’ of normal enemies and exploration, opting for a unique Boss-Rush soulslike experience instead. Eldest Souls simply pits you in one boss battle until you’re proficient enough to defeat them before moving onto the next. Those that enjoy the difficulty challenge from the Souls games will feel right at home, for others, you’re going to want to make sure you have a backup controller for when you inevitably want throw yours across the room after an hour of dying to the same boss repeatedly.

While there is an overarching narrative, it’s clearly not the focus here. You’ll get snippets here and there but no major cutscenes or revelations for the most part. Man managed to fight back against the Old Gods, eventually imprisoning them within the sacred walls of the Citadel where they still remain. In retaliation, the Old Gods released calamity upon the world and now most of mankind is gone. You’re one of the sole survivors, the only one that can change fate. Armed with a massive greatsword made from pure Obsydian, you’re tasked with uncovering the mysteries of the Old Gods and saving the world before it’s too late.

Having a game describe itself as ‘soulslike’, I already knew I was going to be in for a rough time with some extremely difficult challenges. Given that Eldest Souls is a boss-rush game, you only get the best, and hardest, parts of the game one after another. Manage to survive and your character will grow in skill, able to take on the next boss challenge that awaits you.

While the boss fights back to back are the hook for Eldest Souls, there is some light exploration as you go from area to area before taking on another boss. There’s a few NPC’s to speak and interact with, some offering minor sidequests or rewards if you can find certain objects hidden along the way. It’s clear that a lot of work went into creating this world but there’s very little to do within it aside from taking in the beautiful pixel artwork.

Combat is where Eldest Souls excels. Fast paced and deliberate, you’ll need to have quick reflexes and be able to learn from your mistakes when you take on each boss a number of times before finally figuring out their attack patterns and tells. Bosses rarely let up, always keeping you on your toes, and that’s before they go through a number of phases, altering their attacks and becoming even harder as the fight goes on. I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent well more than an hour on a single boss before being able to defeat them, making the satisfaction of doing so that much better.

Being able to, and knowing when to dodge is going to be the only way you survive in Eldest Souls. If you’re a Dark Souls player that spam rolls in combat, you’re going to have a bad time. You’re only given a limited amount of stamina, so you won’t be able to freely dodge constantly; you’ll need to be much more deliberate when you do so, learning to make use of that moment of invulnerability.

Utilizing a top-down view, this means there’s also some bosses that make use of some projectiles that will make you feel like you’re playing in a bullet-hell. While there’s only eight or so bosses, they are all quite varied, each with their own attack patterns, phases and difficulty. It’s clear that these were created with a lot of thought behind their design, each challenging you in completely different ways.

While it would have been a decent experience to have a Boss-Rush mode with typical combat, there’s a really unique mechanic that really made me enjoy its combat even more. You have a light attack which is where you’ll do much of your damage, but there’s also a charge attack that will dash towards the boss and do heavier damage. This charge attack also fills a meter that will then heal you for any subsequent attacks. So it’s not like you have to be perfect for each boss fight, as you can do a charge attack then some light attacks to refill your health, but knowing the timing to do so is where the skill comes in.

There’s also a variety of different skills and abilities that you can freely swap on the fly between battles depending on what suits your playstyle. There are three different skill trees, and you can only utilize one at a time. Windslide favors those that want quicker movement, Counter allows you to deflect attacks and Berserk Slash is more offensive based moves. For each boss you kill you get a crystal that can be slotted into these trees, allowing you to customize your abilities to suit how you play. Being able to respec for free at any time means you can experiment with what build works best for you on each boss until you can finally defeat them.

The 16-bit style aesthetic is done wonderfully, as the characters and bosses are done with pixel perfection, having a surprising amount of fine details. While the world you explore between bosses is beautiful, it’s empty but makes for some scenic backdrops. Audio is done just as well; even though there’s no real dialogue, the soundtrack is done fantastically and suits the mood and tonality of Eldest Souls perfectly with epic and chaotic battles.

If you’re a glutton for punishment there’s more than enough challenge here for you. Souls fans will no doubt be able to finish the game in a few hours the first time through, but there’s New Game+ and more in store for those that want to grind even further and challenge themselves to the limits. I’ll admit, I’m still working on trying to best that final boss on my first playthrough, but I’m not getting as quickly frustrated as I do with regular Souls-like games.

For under $20 USD, Eldest Souls offers tons of replayability if you’ve got the will to endure its extreme challenge. When you die dozens of times to the same boss but start to learn their attack patterns and intricacies, you can start to see progress in your skills once you wipe away your tears of frustration. Once you finally do best that boss you’ve been stuck on for well over an hour or two, the satisfaction is insurmountable and thrilling when everything finally goes to plan.

**Eldest Souls was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.6 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.3 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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