“Elysia employees are NEVER allowed to refuse entry to applicants because of our own personal beliefs, and must treat all souls equally despite whether we believe they are “good” or “bad”. We believe that all souls have worth, are equal, and cannot be judged by another person’s moral framework. We call this rule the “Soul Axiom”.”
Soul Axiom is best taken in its truest form. It’s a thought-provoking tale of what-ifs. What would happen if a person’s soul could be harnessed through a collection of data inside a 3D interactive mainframe? Who decides which souls are allowed entry? More importantly, are these gatekeepers playing God?
The player is dropped into a strange world in the strangest fashion. The title opens up with the player on a flying ship that is quickly brought down by a gigantic man-bird. The player gets up in the ship’s wreckage, proceeds through sandy Egyptian buildings, takes a hover-train ride, and ends up reaching the lobby of an enormous skyscraper. This is before most of the game takes place.
The lobby area holds portals to different memory banks. When a person’s soul is stored, data from standout memories are housed in isolated world-like states. The player is faced with finding each soul and unlocking the memory. In other words, do puzzles and be rewarded with bits of the plot. The story is also expanded upon by finding the hidden collectibles called PEMOs.
The worlds are the most interesting part of the game. There are jungles leading to sacrificial murders, ice castles housing a giant chessboard, and an “Area 51” underground bunker complete with proof of alien life. Elysia’s worlds are well-thought, and unique in their environments. The player is also reminded that nothing in Elysia is as it seems, and sometimes a deeper memory changes the context of an entire world. It’s an excellent story dynamic, and it’s tied directly into the gameplay as well.
Hidden inside of each world is a corrupted memory fragment: a tiny purple box that holds potentially harmful data to Elysia’s operating system. The memory fragment in each world has been isolated until the player moves through all of Elysia’s accessible worlds. Go back through the worlds and teleport into the corrupted memory to unlock each cutscene in its entirety. The corrupted data sequences are generally more challenging than the more laid back puzzles through the rest of the game.
This was a fantastic way to incorporate more gameplay into the title, but it does come at a cost. Unfortunately, some of the corrupted fragments require some time consuming puzzle solving to access. During the first playthrough, there is no deterrent that stops the player from initiating or completing the puzzles leading up to the fragments. It makes the first run through a bit frustrating when there’s no reward for solving these puzzles. Otherwise, Soul Axiom is packed with puzzles ranging from novice to expert, and it always seems to compliment the game’s pace (generally relaxed). There were a handful of instances when the puzzle solution is loosely inferred, which will either reward a cerebral player or frustrate a casual one. The puzzles aren’t the most challenging or creative, but most of them are unique in their own right.
Soul Axiom is a relaxed, creative, puzzle-drive storyteller. It’s a must-play title beneath the surface, and that is its biggest struggle. While some of the worlds are very imaginative, there are times when level sections look too unpolished for the Xbox One. In fact, there are spurts where its predecessor, Master Reboot, looked more crisp, and that was on the PS3. Soul Axiom’s visual shortfall is arguably a result of the many different styles wrapped up into one title. In its defense, some of the lesser stimulating environments are typically saved by fun puzzles, and they are usually sandwiched between those with stronger presence. Likewise, the sound effects and music are standard at best. Ultimately, Elysia is more consistently enjoyed by the mind and not the five senses.
The worlds may be unpolished at times, but they speak volumes for the souls that created them. Soul Axiom thrives most at the basic storytelling through visualization. The worlds are frozen moments in time, but they have personality. It’s the difference between experiencing the events in a memory and feeling it with the character. It also makes the puzzles all the more engaging to the player.
The player unlocks special powers throughout the game that also enrich the gameplay experience and provide more complex puzzles. Quickly unlock the ability to dematerialize walls or platforms to progress through sections of each world. Then the player is given the ability to manipulate objects and freeze them in places that either aid in platforming or position objects to unlock doors. Eventually, the player can even launch projectiles from the character’s hands.
The gameplay is a bit harsh at times. Switching between powers is a bit sluggish, which is almost unnoticeable at first. Once the player reaches the corrupted memory fragments, some of the puzzles would benefit from a much smoother transition between powers. For example, the last thing anyone wants to worry about when running away from a giant dinosaur is the lag between projectiles and manipulation powers (and having to stop moving in order to interchange them). Similarly, the jump is pitiful. The player will realize early on that these abilities allow for puzzle depth and not for platforming, which is only disheartening because Elysia is such a grand canvas. More variety felt inevitable and it never really came. Soul Axiom delivers on this a bit with its corrupted file sequences, but the high ceiling left a noticeable amount of empty space.