I never thought I'd be one to wax poetic about difficulty in video games, but here we are. Souldiers is hard -- very hard. I'm one that'll plow through brutal games like Sifu and Elden Ring with ease, but I think Souldiers doesn't like to play it fair. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, for while this is indeed very challenging and I'm still progressing through it, Souldiers is a game that deserves to be savored and not rushed.
In Souldiers, you pick between three classes and embark on an adventure utilizing various elemental-based powers to take on deadly monsters, gargantuan dungeons, and perilous bosses. All of this takes place within a large, semi-open 2D world that requires platforming and ingenuity to solve many of its environmental puzzles.
Souldiers Will Beat You Down
It's hard to narrow Souldiers down to a specific genre, but if I had to specify, I would call it a mix between a Metroidvania and Soulslike. It definitely belongs in the realm of games such as Hollow Knight with winding, sprawling maps, and progression based on gaining new abilities and overcoming insurmountable foes. But while games such as Elden Ring are fair to their players -- every death feels earned due to your own ineptitude (in my experience, at least) -- Souldiers is not kind to its player.
Choosing between three different classes, I picked the Scout. The Scout uses a sword and shield, and they can block attacks, parry, and slice and dice various enemies. It's more my style to get up close and personal, but there are those who may prefer the two other ranged options in Souldiers, one which utilizes a bow and the other magic powers. Whatever you choose, you're going to have a unique skill tree you can allocate points to in order to unlock new skills, which definitely adds to some replayability. Looping back to the whole discussion on difficulty, I can say after trying both melee and ranged, you're in for a tough time either way.
Enemy design in Souldiers is varied and every baddie will telegraph different moves that you can react to. While you'll get used to battling plenty of different enemy types, they're always consistently annoying. An overabundance of flying enemies makes Souldiers a true pain to play at times, requiring burdensome jump attacks that might hit while also defending yourself against incredibly pesky -- even cheap at times -- attack patterns from all manner of flying foes. I can't say the ranged classes would fare much better than the Scout's melee, as precision aiming with the bow and arrow class felt rather imprecise, even with a controller.
The cornucopia of annoying flying enemies is accompanied by equally infuriating ground-based foes. Attack patterns are often too difficult to parry and your best bet is to dodge and attack. God help you if you're swarmed by multiple enemies at once because you're in for a difficult fight. I felt like the progression system didn't set me up for success in Souldiers, so while I was gaining levels and increasing my abilities and health, foes became equally more powerful. There isn't a point when you're deep in a dungeon and you feel like you're finally able to overcome monsters that were previously giving you a lot of grief. While you can upgrade the damage of your weapon and the effectiveness of your shield, I didn't feel like it helped all that much in the long run.
The environments, from more open areas to sprawling dungeons, are also quite unforgiving at times. Dungeons are where you'll spend the bulk of your time in Souldiers, and you'll contend with enemies while trying to solve environmental puzzles. While admittedly, these puzzles are quite clever and rely on abilities you unlock as you progress, Souldiers needs to take a lesson in moderation and scale the dungeon design back a bit. Many of these areas are far too big for their britches, leading me to wander around aimlessly trying to figure out where on earth I should go next. Backtracking in said dungeons is quite rampant and, though it is a Metroidvania, it's difficult to distinguish areas you should backtrack to once you unlock a certain upgrade. Don't even get me started on the various traps that are often invisible just out of the screen's visual radius -- that makes backtracking even more of a hassle.
What motivated me to knock my difficulty down a notch to the easiest of three modes were the grueling boss battles. These bosses have a lot of health and it doesn't seem like your character dishes out enough damage, and you need near robot-like precision to block most attacks consistently. With a potion supply that empties far too fast, bosses are a lot to contend with and will really push players to their limits. It's when you finally defeat them that you feel a rush of satisfaction, only for it to dwindle away as you go on to your next frustrating encounter.
But Here's the Good Thing About Souldiers
The upbeat and nostalgic appearance of Souldiers' GBA-style graphics really hides the fact that you're in for quite a thrashing. It is a colorful and charming looking game with an incredible and equally nostalgic soundtrack. The environments are full of so much detail and meticulous care when it comes to the spritework and background art, and the first time you walk into Souldiers' main hub, a bustling city, you're immediately engrossed. I truly did fall in love with the incredible animations and massive creativity put into Souldiers. It made my plight a bit more tolerable when I've got pretty things to look at.
You're also likely to notice how buttery smooth Souldiers feels. It's one of the finest controlling 2D games out there, and if a game feels good to play, you can only complain so much. Yes, I give a lot of grief to Souldiers for how brutally difficult it is, but I cannot fault it for being a competently-made game. That's why I preferred to, instead of rush through and give in to my frustration, take my time and savor the gameplay. In doing so, I found Souldiers to be a more enjoyable experience, and I think you will too. I should not forget to mention, there is a good deal of content here. It's a game with side-quests, bounties, useful trinkets, and upgrades that you can either find or buy. I'm just very impressed.
While I'm still making my way to Souldiers, I hope people understand there's no need to rush. There's tons of content to explore and plenty of ways to upgrade your character to make your experience easier. And yes, you're likely going to find Souldiers to be deceptively difficult, but don't let it deter you. Instead, give it some time, and you're likely to realize there's a lot to like here.
TechRaptor played Souldiers on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.