• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

From Zero to Hero



SOUL SUNDER’s red-headed spunky heroine ZERO used to be blonde cutesy 9-year-old ARYA LANDALE, until she changed her name. She was the older sister of the childishly brave ALEX LANDALE and best friends with tomboy brunette MYRA WHITEWIND. When a terrifying spy plot emerged in their plaintive town of ORIAS, they ventured out to follow a strange man to some mysterious ruins at the foot of the town’s cliff, on the opposite side of a slime-infested forest. They did so in the pitch black of the night. ARYA was the well-behaved older sister, ALEX the impulsive younger brother. The Kiyoma was a shield around ORIAS that kept the Miasma creatures at bay. ARYA’s father struck a deal with CIERAN the spy, because of a debt. The scene is foreboding.

After catastrophe happens in the cave, the Kiyoma shield disintegrates, and evil Miasma blast engulfs the town. Everyone flees, but not all succeed. ARYA is shamed by the townsfolk for waking the gate, and forced to flee ORIAS. She calls herself a new name – “ZERO” – to avoid being noticed from now on. This transitions the game from the Childhood Arc to the Adulthood Arc. The gap is nine years. She calls herself ZERO because she is a real emo now and thinks she is worth nothing.

ISAAC WEST, thief and point man, is introduced in the Adulthood Arc as a significantly fun counterpoint to ZERO’s seriousness. The initial dynamic between ISAAC and ZERO is cute and possibly romantic, but his personality changes during the game to reveal that he is also a thinker. His playful cunning is soon drowned by the gloominess of the party’s circumstances, and part of his redemption involves bringing his joyous nihilism back to life. He lives in the pursuit of meaning, which he calls “not being bored”.

Soon after, we meet MYRA again, ZERO’s childhood friend, but MYRA does not recognize ZERO because she dyed her hair. MYRA lost her ability to walk when the Terminus Gate near ORIAS erupted into a sphere of raw energy, consuming everything nearby, including her legs. ORIAS is now a ruin, and several inhabitants died. Now MYRA is in a wheelchair but she’s a good thief too. Now the three must venture into Purgatory, unravelling the secrets that are inside, and discovering the reason why they have been drawn to this place.

“Doing what you want to do, not what should be done, I really should think about that.”


SOUL SUNDER is a first RPG, and it is a tour-de-force. The game features brutally difficult survival-based gameplay. Developer Red_Nova (REMNANTS OF ISOLATION, THE GIFT, PSYCHOSTASIS) displays immense directorial control over the plot, characterization and the deliberate pacing of scenes. His self-professed lack of artistic eye is a humble deprecation. Even though the maps might lack the strikingly picturesque earthscapes of some of the more notable titles that frequent the screenshot threads, the mapping and aesthetics here are more than serviceable and never distracting, and they are, above all, functional. Besides, the explore-and-loot style of exploration begs for this minimalist layout of dungeon decorations, allowing for tiles that truly stick out to be places for items, ripe for the picking for those who are finely attentive to detail. This game is an amalgam of dungeon crawler and survival-based mechanics with a largely linear plot.

The game is centred on guilt, regret, loss and grief. Guilt over things you’ve done. Guilt drove ARYA to do what she did, to become ZERO, and it’s been eating her up inside, that and her consuming regret. Having played another of Red_Nova’s games (THE GIFT) in the middle of completing this one, I feel I may have discovered a common thread in his games. I perceive them to be sad stories that prey on a person’s guilt and regret. They manipulate you and they make you feel bad about yourself and they make you examine yourself to see not only that you realize you are trash, but helps you determine what kind of trash you really are. This is a feat in disguise. The secret ingredient of SOUL SUNDER is that its truths are not far removed from the real world. In its cynical realism, it strips the RPG genre of its candy-coated optimism and determines not to sell you anything else to fill that hole. The story also strips you, the player, of your pretensions, but then holds back from re-educating you with the “correct doctrine”. Then it encourages you to think for yourself what the answer might be.

This game has exceptional storytelling. Red_Nova is one of the best story writers on this site. His dialogue is believable, and his story arcs exist in a huge way. This game has prime writing. The player punches are strong with this one. Get ready to be hated by almost every single person in the game for one reason or another. This makes sense; a primary theme of the game is guilt. In general the game is not afraid to make you hurt, and bad. I wouldn’t have been surprised if everybody had died in the end. Note: Everybody does not die in the end. I hope that doesn’t qualify as a spoiler. I mean, this isn’t Macbeth. (Sorry if I just spoiled Macbeth for you. Don’t ask me about King Lear.)

The game utilizes camping sections where you talk to each character and gather their opinions about things, as well as gather gameplay facts that come in useful if you actually remember them. Generally, I didn’t. Also, MYRA can craft things. ISAAC has miasma powder that acts as prevention against monster attacks while the party sleeps. This allows the party to camp in any specified camp zone in Purgatory, even though there’s Miasma there and you’d otherwise be in danger.

Is it all your fault?

Through ZERO’s 9 years of seclusion, she had become an antisocial non-team player. Over time, there are many revelations about the character’s true feelings towards each other, but just before they break up, the team starts to bond. It doesn’t stop from there. ZERO remembers how to talk to people nicely. The denouement of the game, the Third Act in particular (that is, the 4th and 5th Stratums), has stunning revelations. Every character brings powerful performances to the table. If there was an Oscar for Best Acting, I think I’d give it to MYRA, who seems to knock it out of the park in every scene she’s in. I know that seems illogical because they aren’t actually actors, but it felt real in a way that they were giving performances of depth, and MYRA’s resonated with me, particularly because of her flawed and interesting personality. She’s a real scene stealer.

There is always a twinge of cynicism that acts as a safety net to stop scenes from becoming overly sentimental. When emotions run high, which is often, Red_Nova proves adept to depict realistic behaviour and do what art should do, but most games fail to achieve – truly reflect the human condition. The themes of the game are surreal and heavy. There are embodiments of things like regret, grief and anger that you must battle. These contribute to the story and sometimes make it more of a battle between emotions within the characters rather than between the characters themselves. They will visit their own internal demons. ZERO has the biggest demon of all.


As for gameplay, there are two versions of this game: CASUAL and SURVIVOR. I chose the SURVIVOR setting. I regretted it. It is a very difficult setting that forces you to use resource management skills from real life, and convert them into the game. If you’re not good at budgetting, you might not be good at SURVIVOR difficulty. It should be noted that those who choose SURVIVOR difficulty choose to stare death full in its face. I am one of the Survivors, and I am proud to have survived. NPCs tell you how to play the game naturally. There are choices in the game that are not obvious. Some of them are extremely fringe, but it’s nice to know that the options were there. In my fantasy world, I would have liked to have seen a Telltale-like percentage breakdown of “88% chose this option, 12% chose that option”, but I know that would be unrealistic without internet connectivity capabilities. The flow of knowledge and teaching is not done by overtly spoken tutorials, but instead lets you figure it out for yourself. It is intuitive and highly entertaining to figure things out for yourself.

The first forest level is very difficult. To attack costs 1SP. To guard regenerates 2SP for ALEX, and 1SP for ARYA. Characters use SP for both “Drives” and Magic. It’s a nice balance. Arya can use a “Drive” called Superguard that costs 3SP and guards the entire party from all damage. The initial scene requires a very tight grip on what you use and when you use it. It’s probably the portion of the game that sticks the closest to its aim of being a “survival RPG” just because the constraints make the usage of items easier to monitor, both for the player (in purchasing/using items) and the developer (in balancing these items). The initial scene is actually one of the most balanced portions of the game. Some while later it becomes more frustrating to manage your resources.

Some stuff you can do in this game.

Equipment can make players learn Drives, but only when wearing that specific piece. All enemies have one physical weakness – strike, slash or pierce – and you can figure out which one by highlighting the enemy and pressing SHIFT. An NPC told me this in Haven town, but I forgot it almost instantly, and I only remembered it just now because I was rereading my notes. It probably would have come in handy during the battles I struggled with. There are “extra” item slots for items and equipment that you can use to wear any items. For example you can wear 4 hats or 4 capes if you like, even if you don’t have 4 heads or 4 backs. It’s great.

One thing that lacked in this game is that I only truly knew the power of each item by the time the game ended. For example, I learned that Acid Flask was really useful only when I was fighting the final bosses. Red_Nova also told me via PM that Throwing Knives were useful to defeat the final boss, after I had much stress trying to finish him off. But I eventually defeated the final boss using Adrenaline Shots, which are the equivalent of Revives, and can save you a lot of heartache if your enemy one-hit-KO’s your dudes flat every time. And it had made me cry every time.

I feel that, despite Red_Nova’s ambitious and likeable attempts to create this into a survival RPG, the balance is too frustrating during late game. Battles are mostly fun, but especially towards the end they become quite difficult to win without feeling pain, and I ended up running away from nearly all of them. This is probably to my demerit, because I ended up feeling like I was too weak for the final boss when I met him. But I finished him off eventually (after too many tries).

This tip will give you LIFE: throwable damage items should be your bread and butter. Basically just throw everything harmful at the enemy, and they will die. Items will deal more reliable damage (in my experience) than many of your weapons/drives, and they do not cost any SP. Experiment with each move/item and write down how much damage each skill/item does, then just spam the one with the most damage. That’s how I got through. It probably wasn’t the best plan, but it worked in the end.


SOUL SUNDER is Red_Nova’s rebuttal to the community of naysayers that reject RTP-dependent conventional games as being not worth playin. It only takes a gem like SOUL SUNDER to make one remember what a good decent game is really made of, and it makes some other games look like popcorn where this is where the real meat and potatoes lies. No flash, all substance, all day.

I give this excellent yet slightly difficult survival RPG a 4.5/5. Full recommendation.

Play this as soon as possible.


Pages: 1
Sir Redd of Novus: He who made Prayer of the Faithless that one time, and that was pretty dang rad! :D
Thanks so much for the review, Cash! The story and dialogue were easily the hardest thing to get right for this game, so seeing that you loved it put a big grin on my face.

I'm really happy you liked Myra as well. She was easily the hardest character to write, and sometimes I'd waste entire days just trying to figure out the tone for her dialogue for a single cutscene! I tried to keep the whole, "being in a wheelchair," thing from become her sole character trait, and it sounds like it came through!

It's a bit concerning that the lessons about item use and management were learned near the end of the game, though. Perhaps it was because the game was too difficult initially? The Childhood Arc was as hard as it was so players wouldn't be able to just mash attack and get through it, instead needing to learn the game's mechanics in order to survive. Perhaps I need to reinforce those lessons in the beginning of the game with some extra dialogue like in Casual Mode? I'll have to figure out some way to drive in those lessons to players regardless of which difficulty they chose.

Overall though, I'm overjoyed you liked it! And thanks for the bugs and typos reported in your PMs. I'll get to work on the issues you addressed.

Just a quick correction: Arya is the YOUNGER sister of Alex. Not the older.
You're magical to me.
This is an excellent review! ^_^ I definitely feel SS needs more attention (it was my vote for the Game of the Year in the Misaos) and I'm so glad to see it getting more praise :D
Got any Dexreth amulets?
While I personally think a few statements in this review are somewhat exaggerated, I agree wholeheartedly with its general sentiment. Soul Sunder really does a great job at conveying its atmosphere, and the increased importance of items during combat is a nice twist that few games manage to pull off successfully.

P.S.: As great as Myra is, I always found Isaac to be the real scene-stealer. It all depends on personal perspective, I guess.
Guardian of the Description Thread
I still have to finish this game (I know. I suck.), but, after finding the Flame Idol, I found myself an action cycle that seemed to work really really well. With boss fights, I believe my experience was like Cash's here: I found the need to focus on survival through First Aid Kits and Adrenaline Shots. And I went through a lot of them! I didn't really have the space for Throwing Knives, Firebombs, or what-not, since I needed to have the healing there!
Sir Redd of Novus: He who made Prayer of the Faithless that one time, and that was pretty dang rad! :D
This is an excellent review! ^_^ I definitely feel SS needs more attention (it was my vote for the Game of the Year in the Misaos) and I'm so glad to see it getting more praise :D

I'm humbled, unity. The fact that 5 people voted it for Game of the Year is nothing short of amazing! Also seeing the votes for Soul Sunder in all the different categories as well has put a big, stupid grin on my face.

P.S.: As great as Myra is, I always found Isaac to be the real scene-stealer. It all depends on personal perspective, I guess.

I'm really glad that there wasn't a general consensus of one character overshadowing the others. I couldn't have asked for a better reception than diverse opinions on the characters!
Pages: 1