Review: Smoke and Sacrifice (Switch)

A work of art… although it sometimes burns.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 06/06/2018 13:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Fantastic style; varied crafting system; cool fantasy storyline
Poison Mushroom for...
Gameplay can be unforgiving; frustrating inventory management system

The first year of a system’s life can be a barren time, but there’s hope: year two often is one of the most plentiful. This is certainly true of Nintendo Switch, which has seen a steady diet of new titles in its sophomore year. The eShop is one of the real stars of this parade, as it has allowed developers to create or port titles to the system at less cost than it would take to create physical games. Smoke and Sacrifice is part of that year two run. It’s a multiplatform title, released simultaneously for Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC (Steam), with a launch price of $24.99. Officially, it’s billed an action RPG, but that label needs some serious qualifying. It’s more properly known as a crafting-based action RPG, where player enhancements come, not by way of experience points or leveling up, but by creating bigger and better weapons and gear. This approach is perhaps most famous in the Monster Hunter series, but it’s also present in smaller games, such as the indie title Crashlands for mobile and PC.

The story of Smoke and Sacrifice revolves around Sachi, a young single mother who is forced to give up her firstborn child in a village ritual… only for catastrophe to befall the village shortly thereafter. What happens next is a fantasy adventure (with a touch of steampunk) set across a variety of locations, each with its own wonders and challenges.

The artwork and sound are exquisite. Just about everything sports a hand-drawn look, from Sachi to the living things around her, and the music and sounds are haunting. The setting, with its unconventional take on a day/night cycle, really shines in the design. It tantalizes with visual cues early on that suggest that this world isn’t nearly everything it appears to be.

The combat will be broadly familiar to action RPG veterans. Players can attack, dodge, and (later on) defend and, as the game progresses, Sachi develops a growing arsenal of weapons and armor to help her brave the increasingly challenging dangers. Throughout the game, Sachi interacts (and completes quests from) various characters she meets, all while dodging foes. There aren’t much in the way of safe spaces, though, so even in places where transactions can be made, danger may not be far away.

There is a learning curve to Smoke and Sacrifice, in part because the game drops you in the thick of things with little in the way of a tutorial. It’s likely that you’ll spend the early part of the game picking things up or roaming around without really knowing what it’s all for, and it’s conceivable you might even get yourself killed a few times early on just because you ventured someplace deadly without realizing it. Save spaces are dotted through the landscape but aren’t everywhere, so it’s quite possible to wander into a new land, spend 10-15 minutes exploring and then get unceremoniously blown up by a monster before locating the next save spot.

In Smoke and Sacrifice, inventory and crafting are life and death. There are no healing stations or things like that, so the only way to recharge that health bar is through what you find yourself. By the same token, the character is only as strong as her weapons and armor, which are crafted by recipes using the various materials the player manages to acquire. And there is stuff to find everywhere. Seemingly every tree, animal, box, and mound has something to offer, although determining which does what is a process, like much else in the game, of trial and error. Still, there is a satisfaction that comes from finally creating that new weapon that gives you a better fighting chance against that titanic monster whose hide you so desperately need.

The inventory system, is a pain. It’s got two basic problems: 1) it can’t be sorted and 2) it’s limited. The first problem emerges a short ways into the game when trying to, say, differentiate between healing items and gear. It’s as if you threw your entire life into one bag and now you’re rummaging around for it. Mercifully, the game is paused when the inventory screen is open, but it’s still annoying combing through to see what healing items you’ve got.

The second problem— the limited inventory— is equally annoying, especially as players venture farther into the game. At some point, players will start running out of space, and at that point you’ll either have to start dropping things or find a way to store it. The presence of chests throughout the land offer one solution to the inventory problem, but it creates the old-school dilemma of having junk strewn all over the countryside. It doesn’t have to be this way: the Monster Hunter games have massive inventory caches to minimize the problem of inventory crowding, while Crashlands solves this problem with an unlimited and automatic inventory management system. Smoke and Sacrifice would have been a much more enjoyable game had its developers borrowed from the Crashlands model.

Because this review is based on a pre-release version, and because this is a brand-new IP, there’s always hope that some of these annoyances will be remedied in future patches. Despite some of the aggravations, Smoke and Sacrifice is a fascinating entry into the Switch lineup, and is worth a look for players pining for a crafting-based action RPG on that system.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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