In the game, you play as troublemaking twins Jenn and Tristan, who spend most of their time skipping school, using salty language, and generally being disaffected youths.
However, when their adoptive guardian (The Professor) goes missing, they search his lab and discover that he has been taken by Dwarvengobben: the despotic ruler of an underground civilization who seeks to wage war upon the surface world.
So, the twins arm up and go to save the professor the only way they know how: by causing as much trouble as possible.
This was on my wishlist for a couple of months before I broke down and bought it. It was a couple more months before I could play it because the Wife was playing through Hollow Knight, and there was no way I was going to miss that (she kicked its ass by the way).
Once I was able to sit down and actually play this game, I was pleasantly surprised. I expected it to be good, but it went above and beyond my expectations.
Harkening to a Bygone Era
Like I said near the beginning of this post, Young Souls is an action RPG with the heart and soul of a beat ‘em up. So, you can do all the standard RPG stuff: level up, get new equipment, and upgrade that equipment using resources you find while playing. However, all of this is within the framework of the beat ‘em up games of the late 80s to early 90s.
This was great in a number of ways.
The first of which was, of course, nostalgia. It had been a long time since I’d played a game that prompted me to continue to the next area with a big arrow pointing right and the word “GO!” screaming at me from the side of the screen. Needless to say, it was a sight for sore eyes.
The second way in which Young Souls is great is that it has couch co-op. This means I got to enjoy this title with my lovely wife. I played as Jenn, fully clad in heavy armor and wielding a two-handed weapon, and she played as Tristan in light armor, wielding daggers.
It was awesome.
Ready to Rumble
The combat in Young Souls follows standard beat ‘em up rules. You can move left, right, up, and down. But, you can only attack left and right, making some fights harder than others. There is also a bit of Darksouls DNA sprinkled into the combat, since you require stamina to attack and perform any evasive maneuvers. This makes the combat more weighty than most contemporary beat ‘em up or hack and slash games.
Your starting move set consists of:
- Block: Negates a certain amount of damage based on the weapon or shield you have equipped
- Parry: Completely negates damage, and can reflect projectiles, if you block just before being struck
- Dodge Roll: Moves you out of the way of attacks, and provides a brief window of invulnerability
- Dash: Sprint left or right at the expense of stamina
- Slide Kick: if you press dodge while dashing, you will perform a slide kick that can interrupt enemy attacks and possibly send them flying
- Special Attack: A powerful attack that uses mana. The type of attack is dependent on weapon, and some weapons have different special attacks based on the direction you press before executing the attack
- Grab: It would not be a beat ‘em up without the ability to grab and throw your enemy into other enemies
The game is pretty hard at first, especially if you play on the recommended difficulty. However, once you learn to use every move at your disposal, it becomes a fair amount easier.
You should also be aware that the directional inputs for attacks (meaning pressing up while swinging your weapon) can produce different types of attacks. With two-handed weapons, you can perform an upward slice, sending enemies flying into the air, or a leaping downward smash, both of which can be used to great effect.
Objects of Power
Adding another layer of complexity to the combat of Young Souls are the accessories. These are weapons and items that you can use to complement whatever fighting style you have chosen. They are as follows:
- Bow: shoot arrows from a distance
- Grappling Hook: pull enemies toward you, or pull yourself toward enemies
- Bombs: Throws an explosive (has friendly fire)
- Warp Medallion: teleports the player forward a moderate distance
- Vampire totem: Creates an area of effect that drains enemies of their health and gives it to you
- Mine: Set a mine that detonates when enemies get near (has friendly fire)
These items are invaluable to any build, especially because they require no resources to use — only a cooldown period. You can even upgrade them using Guardian Tears, an item dropped by almost every boss in the game (also the only item that forces you to read a “You just picked up a new item” description every time you pick up the first one after fighting a boss).
Heart and Soul
To complement the game’s solid combat is a very well-done story about love, loss, and discovering one’s self. This is exemplified in the twins who, while crass and surly, are loveable in a roguish way and have a certain believability that is sometimes lacking in video game protagonists.
What I found most interesting about the way the story is told, was how the twins interacted with the game’s antagonists. Their relationship starts off with pretty standard Saturday morning cartoon stuff. Dwarvengobben starts by sending his generals out one at a time to defeat the twins, and saying and doing some pretty cliche things.
However, by the game’s conclusion, everything is awash with the grays of morality.
This tonal shift happens gradually as the twins deal with the repercussions of their actions and the actions of those around them. It was a welcome surprise from a game with such a disarming art style.
Rough and Tumble
While there was a lot to love about this game, there were some not-so-great things about it as well. These mostly boiled down to technical issues, bugs, and the occasional bad decision on the developer’s part. I’m going to do this in list format to save time.
- Sometimes one of the twins would phase through the floor, or start off an area in the floor
- Wearing a hat would sometimes cause your character to turn invisible
- Level-up screens would show up late.
- If you picked up an item just as a cutscene was starting, you would get the item, but its model would remain on screen anyway
- The screen focuses predominantly on Tristan, meaning that if you play as Jenn, you might end up doing a lot of fighting offscreen if you get —even remotely— separated
- Some clear hits on an enemy would not register
- The “you just got a guardian tear” description showing up EVERY TIME you pick up the first one a boss drops
Other than the guardian tear thing, these were only minor annoyances, but they were frequent enough to be immersion breaking.
I Stand With the Stone
Overall, Young Souls was an awesome game. It was a bold mashup of genres that ended up working incredibly well together, especially when combined with its amazing artwork. The combat was fun, if a little hectic at times (especially if you play as Jenn during co-op), and had enough weight that you could feel each attack and the impact it would have on any particular battle. Even the story, which starts off with a cartoony monster-of-the-week feel to it, evolves into something more mature and heartfelt and asks some more mature questions of its young protagonists.
I’m giving Young Souls a steadfast 8.5/10. It could have been a standard beat ‘em up, but it was so much more than that, and it deserves to be recognized for the accomplishment that it is.
Honestly, I probably would have given this game a slightly higher score, but after reading the unskippable “You just picked up a Guardian Tear” message for the thousandth time, I may have lost my cool and started screaming at the screen.
I may —in fact— still be screaming, because I KNOW I PICKED IT UP! YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME EVERY SINGLE TIME!
I swear, I’d rather take robo-calls trying to tell me about my car’s extended warranty.