Review: Young Souls

Young Souls, a new beat-’em-up/dungeon crawler hybrid from developers 1P2P, is the type of game that’s incredibly fun, where the sheer enjoyability coming from the core gameplay loop essentially drowns out whatever flaws there might possibly be. It helps that most of the flaws don’t detract from the experience, instead just having you wish there was more to experience (arguably the better flaw to have), but a lot of the fun comes from just being a satisfying, old school-style brawler.

Young Souls is the story of Jenn and Tristan, an orphaned pair of twins that have been taken in my a mysterious professor (simply known as “The Professor”). The two have apparently had a hard life and are basically seen as mysterious hooligans by their town’s residents, and as such don’t care much for others and are still struggling to even think of calling the Professor “Dad.” But it turns out that’s now the least of their concerns when it comes to the professor, as they find him kidnapped one day, dragged into an underground goblin world (or “Gobbons”). And it only gets weirder when one of the goblins, Baldwin, retreats with our duo and lets them know that the Professor has actually been helping to try and broker peace between the human and goblin worlds for years. But now the current goblin ruler finally wants back on the topside that their kind has been banished from, and so Jenn and Tristan have to halt their plans to build a destructive machine while saving the Professor in the process.

The process in question, mind you, involves gathering as many sharp weapons and pieces of armor as possible and going to town on several goblin hordes. The basics involve a standard beat-’em-up formula, one with light attacks, charged attacks, dashes, blacks, parrying, special attacks, etc. Kick the butt of one batch of enemies, get the “GO!” sign, advance to the next. It’s a formula that players will be able to easily get the hang of, and Young Souls perfectly utilizes it, with combat being nice, fast and smooth, requiring proper timing and attention in order to excel. It plays exactly like a truly refined great of the genre, one designed so that you can potentially handle a team of a half dozen goblin soldiers and archer without taking a hit.

Where Young Souls starts to truly stand out from the pack, though, is when it begins to incorporate its dungeon crawler/RPG mechanics into things. Be in various chests you unlock across the way or rewards you earn by taking out certain enemies, you’re gifted with various swords, daggers, helmets, armor and more. Some have buffs like leeching life from enemies or allowing you to summon spiders with mana gained by hitting enemies, and possible drawbacks like not allowing you to parry, providing poor resistance against elemental attacks and more. And some allow you to upgrade them multiple times with certain materials you come across, after you’ve freed the correct prisoners. And each of them have different weight levels that can affect your speed, the weapons each have their own range and playstyle, etc. There’s a ton of fun to be had in hunting all these tools down, trying them out, figuring out a good balance, and more.

There are the dungeons in this dungeon crawler, or rather the various goblin world biomes that you travel through. You travel to them via warp gates, and once you’ve successfully found and activated a gate (typically after a fierce battle), you can exit and come back to it at any time using a computer in the Professor’s secret lab. And you will have to exit and come back, because Young Souls is far from a linear beat-’em-up. Certain areas of each level act as small hub worlds, with some leading to the path forward, others leading to recommended side areas, paths leading to treasure rooms, boss rushes, mausoleums where you test your might against ghosts of legendary goblin warriors, and more. While each has its recommended levels to be at and some paths are locked until you get certain keys later (and some paths having certain chests to backtrack to later as well), you’re encouraged to explore as much as possible in order to reap the rewards.

Then you have a quaint town hub as well where you can access the Goblin Market, the Solid Sneakers store where you can get footwear with even more enhancements, the Happy Fit gym where you can exchange a token you get every two levels for extra stat boosts (even if you have to go through annoying mini-games there to get the best results). While a lot of beat-’em-ups feel like they can be best appreciated by fans of the genre and fighter fans as well, Young Souls’ use of dungeon crawler elements as a way to encourage exploration and working out the best playstyle suited for you means that it’s a brawler that feels accessible to all kinds of players, pro or otherwise. You can seemingly work with any set of weapons and armor, test out the additional accessories like bombs and arrows, find something comfortable or switch things around, and things still feel as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

It helps that Young Souls also seems to have this perfect level of challenge throughout most of it, be it when confronting hordes of enemies, massive bosses or even massive bosses that can summon hordes of enemies. Though note the “most” there, as there are two annoyances that hinder the difficulty. One is the cooldown timer on concoctions that you can use to refill health and mana, which feels too long at times. It’s possible to refill your health with one, only to suffer a devastating attack immediately and find that you can’t take a second one for what feels like a minute. Not helping matters is that this cooldown is for all concoctions, so if you lose health after taking a mana concoction, well, sucks to be you at that time.

The second annoyance is that while the level design is well done and has a nice variety of enemies in each zone, the beginning of the final world leading up to the endgame is frustrating. Without going into spoilers, you basically have to experience a section of the game that would have a From Software title blush in envy over its punishments, and goes against its strengths. It’s the one time I fully admit to using the accessibility settings (a nice assortment of them, though). Thankfully, though, it only lasts for a relatively short while, with the final stretch returning to normal.

Said final stretch, though, is actually preceded by a boss battle in the aforementioned annoying section, but one that actually hit hard. And by that, I mean not in terms of being difficult, but rather how it delivered a strong hit to the gut. Despite how cartoonish it may seem on the surface, especially with Jenn and Tristan’s penchant for swearing up a storm at times (something even the game calls out later, and for those who prefer, there is a profanity filter), Young Souls actually has strong writing, especially as it advances and we learn more about each character’s role in this war and how it’s clearly affecting them. It helps that every major character is unique and likable in their own way, even with the major goblin generals and how they can range from comical to menacing, or anything in between.

On top of all of that are the visuals, which have this perfect fantasy style that isn’t afraid to feel light and more comic-ish. It’s colorful and sharp, giving the characters their unique looks that all perfectly showcase their personalities (especially when it comes to the bosses). The animation is nice and fluid, and the contrast between the 2D characters and the 3D world is beautiful as well, with each world having its own distinctive flavor. The soundtrack is also perfect, ranging from ominous battle music to the zippy tune in transition screens that won’t leave your head for week. But the true cherry on top, as mentioned in our last preview, is how Young Souls perfectly manages to make a game best suited for two players work for those going solo, mainly by having you switch between characters at the push of a button, even allowing forĀ a Marvel vs. Capcom-style striker attack with correct timing. It’s a balance that’s welcome in these retro throwbacks. The only downside is the occasional graphical glitch seemingly not accounting for two players, like having one slide into place, but it’s worth it.

Closing Comments:

1P2P have delivered a stylish and superb adventure with Young Souls, a dazzling hybrid of brawlers and crawlers (dungeon, that is) that’s perfectly suited for all players while delivering an amazing and challenging experience, one that will have you searching every path and going over every weapon, with every trip into a level leading to some form of satisfaction in one one way or another. Whether you enjoy hack-and-slash or punch-and-kick, or just any game in general, Jenn and Tristan’s journey is one more than worth taking.

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