The Dark Souls of the Colossus — SINNER: Sacrifice for Redemption combines established mechanics, but adds its own twist.
Whilst it wasn’t the first of its kind, Dark Souls has created its own genre. Over the past few years, the series’ instantly recognisable combination of punishing difficulty and enormous bosses has been transplanted into countless other games in an effort to capitalise on the success that it’s had. SINNER: Sacrifice for Redemption wears this influence on its sleeve with its gothic style, combat system, and reliance on learning patterns for success — doing little to differentiate it. However, SINNER does have a mechanic that is quite unique and leads to the challenge presented being significantly different to other imitators.
You play as a man who is seeking to both understand and atone for his past sins. He travels to a mysterious land seemingly populated by ghosts to sacrifice a part of himself and face his past in the form of personifications of his sins. After arriving in an underground cavern, he travels to the surface and finds seven portals that lead to seven giant monsters who he must defeat to find peace.
Right from the start, the Dark Souls influences are clear, you’re introduced to light and heavy attacks, switching weapons and items, and blocking and dodging, complete with a health and stamina bar. Attacks, blocking, running, and rolling all drain stamina, which recharges fairly quickly, whilst being hit drains health that also restores but at a much slower rate. In this early section, you’re able to fight a few ghosts to get used to the combat, but even these opponents are fairly tough considering it’s only the opening area. Don’t get used to fighting these though, as the bulk of the game is a boss rush, which becomes clear once you reach the surface.
You are presented with a number of plinths that each hold a description of the boss it leads to, with each being themed around one of the seven deadly sins. Before you can face a boss though, you are told you must make a sacrifice. This comes in the form of a permanent loss of an ability, skill, or statistic meaning that to progress you must gradually make yourself less powerful. This is something of a unique system and gives you the idea that you are leveling down rather than up as you become weaker and weaker as the game progresses. I would liken this to a reverse Mega Man, as there is clearly a most efficient order to face the bosses, but rather than ensuring you have the right weapon this is about ensuring you haven’t lost a crucial ability needed to stand a chance.
Whilst this is an interesting mechanic, and something I haven’t seen before, I feel it wasn’t taken as far as it could have been. SINNER lacks a class system, and whilst each sacrifice is themed around the boss’ sin, perhaps being given a choice of what to sacrifice for each boss would have given a feeling of personalising your character. Further, some sacrifices feel far more significant than others. A loss of attack power can be mitigated if you’re capable of dodging well enough to survive a long time, but another sacrifice causes you to become stunned when you run out of stamina which is much tougher to deal with. The game also lacks weapon and item variety. You’re limited to two different swords, one large, one small with a shield, and four items, none of which change throughout the game. There’s a lack of variety here which is a bit of a shame.
The lack of variety in character growth and weaponry is in no way extended to the bosses though. A boss rush game lives and dies on the opposition you face, and every creature you face in SINNER is wildly different from the last. From a bloated undead corpse that opens its torso to devour you, to a head-swapping, lightning-charged women (who’s design seems inspired by Beauvoir from Nier: Automata), no boss is even remotely similar to another. The design of each one is also wonderful, with fantastic animations and a lot of detail in both the character models and the arena in which you’re fighting. Whilst I may have just come out of an incredibly grueling battle, I would always be keen to have a go at the next simply to see what I would be coming up against. Each boss also gets a brief, well voiced, cutscene beforehand to explain the history behind them.
Beating these bosses is very satisfying, as some of them are incredibly tough, leading to many failures as you figure out the rules, mechanics, and attack patterns of your current opponent. Sadly, the controls sometimes conspire against you being as they aren’t quite as sharp as I’d like them to be. I never felt as though I was stopping quickly enough when I released the left stick, and I sometimes swung at an enemy expecting a hit, only to find I was too far away. A little more time tightening up these issues would have made a big difference and could have made some seemingly unfair deaths avoidable.
What’s also an issue with deaths is the frame rate. SINNER is a very pretty game — to my mind — with lots of detail on everything, regardless of being a character or the environment. But, it seems like the game struggles from time to time (at least on a regular Xbox One). You can go from smooth to quite stuttery in at a moment’s notice which can be a significant issue when perfectly timed dodges are the order of the day. Enemies in this game hit very hard, so a missed dodge when the frame rate has dropped can be more than a little irritating.
If you can overlook these issues, however, you can have a pretty solid time. Finding a boss too difficult, and then going back to reclaim one of your abilities (reviving the boss in the process) before taking it down is rather satisfying. In some ways, this is a puzzle game as you work out what you can afford to give up to defeat a challenging foe. If you found a boss too easy, maybe revive it and reclaim your lost skills to make tougher bosses less challenging before returning to that easier one weaker, but still able to defeat it. SINNER is a solid, albeit flawed game, and if you’re after a unique take on the Souls formula then you could do far worse than giving this a go.