The ‘Souls’ adjunct may draw comparisons to From Software’s seminal Souls series, but Acid Nerve’s Titan Souls shares much more in common with Shadow of the Colossus than it does Hidetaka Miyazaki’s magnum opus. As you traverse the rolling green hills, snowy mountainsides and volcanic caverns of this desolate and ancient landscape, you’ll uncover slumbering titans that must be felled. As a young hero armed with only a bow and a single arrow, defeating these gargantuan foes is a treacherous task akin to David and Goliath, particularly when a single hit is more than enough to bring about your untimely demise. The titans, too, share this precarious one-hit fate, leading to frantic encounters where the first hit is also the last, levelling the playing field as you go toe-to-toe with these archaic monstrosities in what is a fiendishly difficult game.
In the 5 hours and 39 minutes it took to finish, I killed 18 of 19 possible titans (some are hidden and you only need to defeat 11 to access the final boss) and died a total of 210 times. Frustrating as the vast majority of those deaths often were, Titan Souls never feels unfair. Each death – each time my flesh was pulverised into dust, flayed by a scorching laser beam or pierced by a gigantic arrow – was my fault and my fault alone. I never should have rolled into that attack or backed myself into a corner; this is my 20th time doing this fight – I should know better! With no character progression to speak of, it’s up to you to improve upon your own skills using the limited tools at your disposal. Beyond the one-shot bow you can also summon the solitary arrow back to your person like Luke Skywalker, deploy a handy evasive roll and break out into a nimble sprint.
“Titan Souls is all about working within excruciatingly small windows of opportunity”And you’ll need all of these abilities as you run the gauntlet of titans. Many of the bosses and the solutions for defeating them are devilishly designed, with the more rudimentary deficiencies being no less challenging to overcome. The solution may be simple enough – a massive, spin-dashing yeti has a bright pink backside as a particularly obvious weak spot – but firing a perfectly accurate arrow in the split-second you have to do so is anything but. Titan Souls is all about working within excruciatingly small windows of opportunity. Of learning a pattern, figuring out a puzzle and being in the right place at the right time to fire the killing blow. More often than not this requires practise and plenty of patience. Other times it comes down to pure luck – a fluke shot in the heat of the moment.
Each titan is wonderfully varied in this way, forcing you to adapt from battle to battle. There’s the jagged, electrified sea creature that attacks from the murky depths below, the bulbous poison spewing plant, with its vicious and perpetually rotating vines, or the undead knight and his supernatural archery skills. No two bosses are alike and each is memorable in its own unique way. Yet, as each one topples, there’s none of the melancholy or sense of loss that was so evocative in Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece as one colossi after another was felled. In Titan Souls I only ever feel resentment as the aggravating bastard is finally put to rest. Victory is met with a fist-pumping, cuss-filled outburst, and only a tinge of satisfaction or accomplishment. The purveying feeling is of relief – the relief that I won’t have to repeat that battle ever again.
It’s part and parcel of the concept, but this pervasive difficulty will prove to be a divisive factor for many. After dying against one titan a dozen times with no progress – no closer to discovering its weak point – it can feel like you’re pounding your head against a wall while simultaneously rubbing stinging nettles on your cheeks. Respawning only compounds the frustration as it often forces you to walk for 10 or 15 seconds to get back to the boss every single time you die. It’s incredibly grating.
“There’s no ebb and flow to these battles, no dramatic comebacks or mounting tension, and no sense of rhythm”In these moments Titan Souls can feel slow and plodding, and then it’s not – it’s anticlimactic. You’ll enter the boss room and awaken the beast, the phenomenal score will roar to life, and within a matter of seconds it could all be over. You’ll either die or fire off a miraculous shot that halts the titan dead in its tracks – accomplishing something you’ve just spent the past 20 minutes agonizing over. The music screeches to a sudden halt as the colour is drained from the screen and an ethereal light engulfs our little hero in a blinding white flash. It’s all over.
There’s no ebb and flow to these battles, no dramatic comebacks or mounting tension, and no sense of rhythm. Each fight starts at full speed and never lets up; such is the effect of its anomalous conceit. It would be exhausting if the fights weren’t over so quickly, but that’s where the sense of anticlimax seeps in.
The aforementioned score, at least, is beautifully haunting, sombre and purposeful, gradually sweeping from the dulcet plucks of a Japanese koto to the wailing riffs of a heavy metal guitar. The art style, too, is wistful despite its relative simplicity – the world of Titan Souls so delicately designed in forlorn mystique. Yet there’s sparseness beyond its titan encounters – a lack of adventure. For what started out as a Ludlum Dare game, it’s fascinating to see Titan Souls evolve from its humble beginnings and still maintain an adherence to identity and a unique concept. That this concept proves to be both frustrating and anticlimactic is disheartening, and it’s difficult to recommend as a result. There’s a spark here, though, and certainly a handful of memorable moments. There are just as many that require restraint, lest you put a controller through your TV.