The Metroidvania genre isn’t lacking for new games, but when a game sticks the formula well with good looks, good feels, and good sounds, that proper mixture is well worth giving our attention. Dear Villagers seems to be locking down that formula with its retro-style fantasy-fiction action-platformer, Souldiers. I recently got some hands-on time with an early build of this game and it’s got me ready to dive deeper into the challenging and charming adventure ahead.
Early arrivals in the afterlife
Souldiers takes place in the magical world of Terragaya. A kingdom at war is planning a strategy that puts the vanguard in hiding under a mountain. All seems well, but then they are suddenly whisked away through a portal by the power of a Valkyrie. The Valkyries enlist said soldiers in a conquest to prove their mettle as champions and partake in Ragnarok. The only issue? These soldiers aren’t dead. Not yet anyways. After taking up your role as one of three classes of fighter - Scout, Archer, or Caster - you join your fellow warriors in discovering the mysteries of Terragaya, the Valkyries’ ploy, and the challenges that await ahead.
During my time with Souldiers, I was presented with the first biome in the form of Spider Lair as my soldier and fellow brigade chased after our leader, General Brigard. Spider Lair is a maze-like underground cavern which hosts cultists, bats, and, you guessed it, massive spiders. I was also introduced to a bevy of characters that helped me along my way, including the haphazard soldiers Makerel and Gruper, the intense rogue Sinka, and the enterprising pigman merchant Balof, all charmingly expressive in the game’s pixelated art style. My fellow soldiers didn’t fair so well, so I had to lend them a hand against the subterranean pests, all the while searching for jewels that would open an extremely Mega Man-like boss door.
Souldiers has the solid item and ability progression I would expect out of a good Metroidvania, dangling treasures just out of reach and making you come back later with the abilities you need to reach them. Throughout the cavern I discovered bombs for blowing away weak rock walls, a fire elemental for burning web walls and lighting torches, and other abilities that helped me to explore otherwise unreachable parts of the cave. It did a good job of dangling carrots just in front of my face, and it has a good map and fast travel system between save points for making sure you can track those obstacles down again later when you have the right gear and skills.
The platforming and fighting in Souldiers are just outright satisfying. Once you pick one of the three classes, you are locked into that character for the rest of the game, but they play so drastically different from one another that it’s worth checking them all out. The Scout has a sword and shield for combo melee attacks and a parry that allows them to do big damage if they guard at the right time. The Archer has arrows and can throw their bow like a boomerang to collect their shots and fire off new ones fast. Finally, the Caster has a homing magic attack and can release a big blast for major damage. They can also cast an afterimage after dodging that explodes when triggered. Each character has a skill tree too so you can further specialize them with new attacks and abilities.
The elemental attributes are where the expansion of your capabilities really blossoms. At some point, I discovered an orb that imbued my attacks and armor with fire, at the cost of becoming weaker to water elements. You can switch on and off an element with ease and there were indications that there are more elements to collect along the adventure. Given that the fire also let me light torches and burn spider webs, I would guess that other elements most certainly help you navigate unique terrain as well. It’s a delightful system bolstered by the fact that you can swap elements so easily and without cost.
Ultimately, I was able to fight my way to the last jewel of the Spider Lair, which culminated in a tough and fantastic boss fight. The music throughout my searching of the Spider Lair was already good, but when I got to the boss, it kicked into overdrive with a riveting battle song. Souldiers kept me going with some pretty catchy tunes and I’m interested to see more of what this soundtrack has for us in other biomes and boss fights.
What secrets lay in Terragaya?
After my short time with Souldiers, I’m more than ready to see what else it has in store. Dear Villagers convinced me that it has a good handle on Metroidvania with Souldiers’ platforming, combat, music, and art style. The element system is a clever addition to gear and skills, not just in combat, but also in terms of uniquely overcoming various dead ends and out-of-reach areas throughout the game. Moreover, the characters and enemies are well-crafted, making for a visually delightful retro-styled 2D adventure. If this small taste is what I can expect out of the adventures in Souldiers, I’m ready to fight my way to the very depths of Ragnarok.
This preview is based on an early PC version of the game supplied by the publisher. Souldiers launches on May 19, 2022 via Steam, GOG, and Epic Games Store on PC, as well as Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.