Huh! Toooo funky, too funky in here! Yow!
It's a little known fact (you wouldn't believe how little known) that I share my birthday with the Godfather of Soul, and this has been a problem for me. You see, James Brown was born before I was, so he got in line first and took all the funk, rhythm and soul that I never got to have. The man has more style in his left wrist than I've got in my whole body.
Fortunately for me, 'Soul' is the latest big thing in video games, so perhaps the gaming world can give me back just a bit of what god saw fit to give Mr. Brown. What the hell am I talking about? I'm talking about Soul Blade, Soul Reaver, Soul Fighter, Soul Trap, Soulblighter, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and Soul Calibur. But mostly I'm talking about Soulbringer. Yahey! Jump back, kiss myself!
Soulbringer just happens to be the newest RPG from Interplay. This should be great news, since Interplay has been the king of PC RPGs for several years now, hands down. Brilliant Interplay games like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Fallout 2 have caused me to tell vicious lies repeatedly to my girlfriend just so that I could play for another hour or two. Soulbringer, however, is not quite so brilliant. And while it is a fairly solid RPG, it has a mixed bag of problems and it will never seriously jeopardize my romantic relationship.
However, when my girl is not showering me with affection (or just throwing things at me), it's not so bad to take on the role of... err... the unnamed adventurer and star of Soulbringer. People just call you 'Mister' or 'Traveler' or 'Hey You.' You can customize your stats pretty well, especially as you go up levels, but you can never give yourself a name.
Anyway, your father (the guy who apparently forgot to name you) has died, and you must go in search of your uncle Andrus in the hamlet of Madrigal. Easier said than done. Madrigal is plagued by bandits and, when you finally find your uncle, he tells you to get a job and bring him 200 gold. So much for family ties.
After a while of killing bandits and skeletons and being pretty weak, you'll suddenly discover that you are the reincarnation of the 'Warlock' or 'Soulbringer'. Now you can teleport from town to town, people call you 'Sire,' you have a magical castle full of useful servants and all sorts of kick-ass perks. Of course, now you also have all sorts of diabolical and powerful enemies as well. Your character's abrupt status change is pretty strange, and I couldn't shake the feeling that it originally was supposed to happen much later in the game. I have no direct evidence for this, but Soulbringer just seems as if the plot was restructured at the last minute, leaving the story oddly paced and disjointed.
The graphics are also a strange sort of mix. The landscapes are all 3D, but the enemies and characters (including your own) are sprites. This is not as bad as it sounds; these are very clever sprites that change and overlap to make a pretty good imitation of 3D. It looks a lot like the graphics from the excellent game Myth: The Fallen Lords and allows you to have battles with large numbers of people, demons, spiders, whatever, all fighting it out at the same time. However, while the characters all look pretty good from a distance (via the standard above-and-behind camera angle), they just don't hold up when you get in close to the action.
The best part of the graphics are the combat scenes, featuring some of the most realistic motion-captured fighting moves and best hit detection I've ever seen in an RPG. Plus, it has a unique 'combo' system that lets you design your own fighting combos for each weapon. But although they look nice, it's still mostly just a matter of you and the enemy hitting each other until the weaker one goes down.
I've read some other reviews that complain about the awful sound, and I was ready to do the same thing, until, out of sheer desperation, I tried playing the game with Disc 2 in the CD drive. After playing for 25 hours with crappy sound, suddenly I had... Music! Voices! All kinds of missing stuff! I can't tell you how much it improved the experience.
Now, I wouldn't normally even mention something like this except that it doesn't tell you to do this anywhere in the game or in the manual. Obviously some of my fellow reviewers missed it, as well as some of you kind folks out there in the real world. In fact, it's a pretty lousy manual altogether, barely telling you how to do anything and leaving the confusing magic system entirely up to you.
Another problem with the game is the poor interface. Dealing with your inventory is a major chore. Un-equipping a weapon, drinking a potion or casting a spell can be a real pain. In fact, if you ever forget what a particular spell does ('firebolt' is easy enough, but what about 'holy presence?'), you can't even read up on it without going back to your magic castle.
All this aside, however, Soulbringer is a pretty good romp. It's got decent graphics, lots of depth, a cool combat system and it's really long. Really, really long. That's one of the best things about RPG's - if you enjoy the trip, you'll get plenty of entertainment time for your money. And what could be more important than money to you, or me, or the "hardest working man in show business?" How about soul?