Soma Bringer – What Came Before Xenoblade

In episode 2 of Let’s Discover we take a look at Soma Bringer – an action RPG released for the Nintendo DS in 2008. It was developed by Monolith Soft – the creators of (among other things) Xenoblade Chronicles.

Soma – a mysterious energy that permeates every living being. It can be harnessed using a device called a “Soma Cage”, and utilized in a myriad of ways – from something as simple as heating up water to enhancing peoples’ combat abilities. However, any imbalance in Soma causes parasitic monsters – Visitors – to show up and start wreaking havoc. The military organization Pharzuph was created to fight these beings. 

Welt is on his first mission as a member of Pharzuph when he meets an amnesiac girl – Idea. Just where will their meeting lead…?

The video is a brief overview of the game: my personal thoughts are under the cut.


 

Soma Bringer 1.flv_snapshot_01.35_[2017.07.28_14.25.23]

Soma Bringer is a game I desperately wanted to like – both when I played it for the first time around 8 years, ago and now when I finally imported it from Japan. If only because of the gorgeous soundtrack.

You see, I can enjoy a game with a mediocre story, but stellar gameplay (Fire Emblem: Fates comes to mind) or one with a great story, but unpolished gameplay (e.g.: Tales of Symphonia, which didn’t age well.) But what happens when a game is lacking in both departments?

This might sound a bit harsh. I don’t think Soma Bringer is a horrible game, but…

Okay.

First, the story. You know how most RPGs have you start out all alone, or with one or two friends? Well, how would you like starting out with your end-game party? This doesn’t sound like such a terrible thing, but for me, personally, it takes a bit out of the feeling of discovery. Of meeting those new people, getting to know them, finding out what their motivations for joining you are. Of course, this is done so that you can pick any of the characters to play as from the very beginning, so that you can do multiplayer from the very beginning. And I think this is the core issue: Soma Bringer was created with multiplayer in mind, which is fine in and of itself, but meaningless to anyone who imports this game.

Soma Bringer 1.flv_snapshot_12.21_[2017.07.28_14.26.17]

Now, if only the characters in your party were interesting… But even though all of them get their own character “arcs”, they still feel shallow and wooden. Even Welt, the supposed “protagonist” isn’t an exception. Idea is the one who gets probably the most focus, but somehow it doesn’t make her any less bland.

While the world of Soma Bringer is bright and colourful and you get the feeling they put a lot of thought into it – if the in-game encyclopedia is anything to go by – to me it felt like little more than “Fantasy Setting #15355”.

But, okay. So evidently, they put more effort into the gameplay, with the story being more of an afterthought. That’s okay. Plenty of games do that (it’s a bit iffy when it happens in an RPG, though…)

The gameplay, though… Maybe it’s because I never liked Diablo-esque games (Torchlight bored me, for one), I had a hard time enjoying the battle system in Soma Bringer. After the initial excitement of being allowed to choose from a whooping six classes, and seeing all the different weapons and skills wears off, you realize just how shallow the customization really is.

SB character creator.mp4_snapshot_01.23_[2017.07.28_14.27.00]

“Shallow.” I keep using that word. Yes.

No matter which class you choose, for the first 3-4 hours (the first act) you’ll most likely find yourself spamming the same one or two skills (plus your main attack) over and over again, and sure, you can swap weapons if you get bored. You can reassign your AP (ability points) whenever you want to swap your skills around, but then you quickly notice that the weapons honestly don’t differ that much.

To give you an example: on my main save file I chose Somas (a mage) as my class. Somas get access to four different elements – water, fire, earth and wind. Sounds like a lot of variety, but actually, the skill trees for those four elements are (for the most part) little more than reskins of each other. Yes, fire might do more damage, water freezes, earth slows enemies down and wind has a bigger knockback, but all four elements have the same three basic skills: a bolt spell, a cone (area of effect) spell and a passive skill that enhances the power of the respective element. The other classes follow a similar pattern, and the different weapon skills don’t feel different enough to make you really want to try out all of them.

This gets a bit better as you level up and unlock further skills, but this takes a while, and even late-game there’s still not that much variety.

Soma Bringer 9.mp4_snapshot_11.42_[2017.07.28_14.27.50]

Other than that, the combat itself feels slow and clunky, and I often found it a bit tricky to actually hit the enemies, but hey – maybe I’m just bad. When fighting, there isn’t much more to do than just hit your skills and maybe run around for a little bit when you get low on HP (there’s a bit more running involved when playing as a mage, that I’ll admit.) The Break system makes it sound like you have to time your attacks right to interrupt the enemy, but doing this on purpose is  tricky, and mostly it’s going to happen if you just keep attacking anyway.

That’s just the thing with me and Diablo-esque games – if I’m playing an action-RPG I want to be running around, getting combos, dodging the enemies’ attacks. I might not be good at it (Lord knows I’m terrible at action RPGs), but I still prefer it to just standing around and taking the enemy’s hits on the chin.

I’d rather play a good turn-based RPG then.

If Soma Bringer had at least managed to make me give a damn about the characters or the world, then maybe I would’ve looked past the boring gameplay. If the gameplay was fun, then I’d probably overlook the mediocre story. But when both failed to impress, I felt myself getting bored.

With all that said, I don’t think Soma Bringer is a terrible game with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It’s got a great soundtrack, it looks fantastic for a DS game, and if you enjoy this type of gameplay more than I do, then you might find yourself liking this title. All in all, I don’t regret getting this game.

Maybe I’ll even finish it at some point.


And that concludes my 9-years-too-late review of Soma Bringer. If you have any questions, comments or suggestion, feel free to leave a comment!

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