Soul Sacrifice is batshit crazy. And that's awesome.
I didn't know this when I played a carefully guided demo at E3, but my hand was being held through the game by the Sony Playstation staff. At GDC, they just had Soul Sacrifice sitting there on a Vita in the middle of the show floor. I picked it up, went back to the loading screen, and started a new game.
Soul Sacrifice opens with you laying in a cell where you can only crawl. As you watch, a man in a nearby cell is about to be taken by a creature that looks like someone stuck two zombies together that are slowly becoming more like skeleton than anything else. The man reveals an arcane power, and your captor, the Sorcerer Magusar, appears and devours his soul in a flashy explosion.
And then the game actually starts. In the rubble of the explosion, you find a book with a striking resemblance to the Necronomicon from the Evil Dead films. This journal calls itself Librom and is very much alive; in fact, it's the driving force of the narrative.
As Librom reveals its past as a journal of a prior sorcerer who had partnered with Magusar, you enter into what is probably one of the more insane opening bits of gameplay I've played, as the two of you take on a giant human-headed snake-beast thing. While you cannot actually lose this encounter, it perfectly explains the scope and style of the game. The encounter ends with Magusar deciding that in order to defeat the foe, he must use “The Black Rite” which ends the section of gameplay.
When you pop back to your cell, Librom tells you that he holds Magusar's secrets; if you read him and relive the past of the prior sorcerer, you can discover them. He also tells you that certain portions of the journal can be rewritten or erased with the aid of moisture from his eye called Lacrima (before yelling at you that it isn't tears).
Shortly after, you begin the journal from the beginning, partnering with a sorceress on elimination quests to kill monsters. Hints from the book along the way reveal that you are a sorcerer-in-training undergoing the "Sorcerer's Ordeal." Text before the mission from the book tells you that you must sacrifice the monsters even if you see their original forms.
This makes up part of the primary game mechanic. After you beat a monster, it reverts to its original form (or forms, if it is made up of multiple creatures). For the first sets of monsters, their original forms turn out to be harmless rats or house cats. You can either sacrifice them to gain more power or save them to increase health, building a karma system into the game. From them you also receive items that can be sacrificed in spells; basically, limited-use weapons that can be mapped to your controls.
So what makes the game spectacular aside from the fun, brief missions (perfectly timed for a handheld game) is how the way your interaction with Librom develops the story. Librom claims he can save you and is a fantastic character, a sardonic asshole who mocks you at the same time as he appears to be trying to use you for his own ends.
You know that Librom is almost certainly lying to you in some way; that whatever his plans are for you, they probably aren't in your best interest. But it's also like you're compelled to keep playing to see just what the demented book has up his sleeve in his quest to undo Magusar. That he is a sorceror's journal who asks you to subtly rewrite him makes it that much more intriguing.
Design-wise, Soul Sacrifice looks kind of like an elephant graveyard acid test. The world is all volcanic glass and towering spires, while the enemies are blackened husks with segmented body parts and sharp protrusions. It's like a marriage between metal album covers and someone's absinthe-fueled goth fantasies of the realm of death. It's badass.
Soul Sacrifice is the only game I've yet played that makes me seriously consider purchasing a Vita. I want to see what Librom's up to that badly and just what turned Magusar into the beast he's become.