Vambrace Cold Soul Review: What If Darkest Dungeon Was Harder And A JRPG?

If you don't mind being actively abused and tortured for hours on end, Vambrace can become extremely addicting for fans of either Darkest Dungeon or classic SNES RPGs.

There was a time when I was ready to give Vambrace: Cold Soul a 1/10 rating, light my computer on fire in protest of ever having played it and then hunt down the developer's loved ones in truly brutal fashion like an Asian revenge flick.

Thankfully, that time has passed on by, and now I think I may actually be legally married to Vambrace in some states due to the number of hours we've spent together. She doesn't give it up easily that's for sure, and she definitely makes you work for it.

The Harder The Task, The Sweeter The Reward

Yours truly didn't get anything but the cold shoulder on the first date with Vambrace, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the *checks notes* what the hell the 25th?!?

Yes, it took me 19 hours. NINE. TEEN. HOURS. to beat the first expedition. 

But oh man, when it finally happened, when I beat that first boss and Vambrace gave me the wink and the "come hither" finger motion, it was all worth the frustrating wait.

I think we can all agree that heroin and meth are objectively bad for you, but once you've started it's not like you are going to be inclined to stop, and that can sum up my relationship with our cold mistress during those first 19 hours.

Imagine being thrown into a long quest in Darkest Dungeon on your first time playing the game, and having absolutely no idea what provisions to bring or how to interact with objects. That's what it's like on your first time with Vambrace: Cold Soul. You will scream, and cry, and throw things, and then head into another trek through the cold frozen wastes even though you know it's doomed ahead of time.

But oh man, when it finally happened, when I beat that first boss and Vambrace gave me the wink and the "come hither" finger motion, it was all worth the frustrating wait.

 Yes, we suffered for you. Worship and adoration are accepted.

Sadly, none of you reading this are ever going to experience the pain and pleasure of that first conquest the way we poor, abused advance reviewers did.

After a mountain of complaints from reviewers (not from me mind you, I was far too browbeaten by the mistress to ever question her ways) the developers decided to slightly tone down the difficulty on the first level for the launch version.

Even with the difficulty taken down a notch, you are still going to want to read our guide not dying for any hope of not smashing your laptop to bits after freezing to death for the 15th time.

Darkest Dungeon Gets A JRPG Makeover

 Chibi world map movement!

There's no question that Darkest Dungeon is the obvious starting point and strongest comparison to make in terms of overall game mechanics for Vambrace.

The combat is set up the same, with four positions to utilize and a variety of classes that are only able to attack specific positions on the enemy side. The similarities don't stop there, either.

Resources are scarce, healing is scarce, companions to recruit are randomized so your strategy will get kicked in the teeth before you even embark on an expedition, traps are prevalent and will screw you over without warning.

In some ways, Vambrace is actually harder, however.

 The combat routine will be familiar to DD veterans

The randomized recruitment board means one of your biggest challenges is juggling companions with a high Overwatch skill to raise your vigor and health while camping versus recruiting allies who can actually be useful in combat to survive a few rooms.

Since the shops are reliant on whatever has been scavenged from open areas of the city, which items are available to buy before a quest are also randomized. You might get lucky and have plenty of vigor restoration options and awesome relics available... or you might get nothing useful at all.

Whereas DD has the light meter that results in harder enemies when it gets snuffed out, here you're battling two dwindling resources: vigor and the dreaded geist meter.

Vigor makes sense in this game, as your party is traversing a frozen city filled to the brim with ice-themed undead. Entering any room drops vigor by 1, and if it hits 0, your companion (or main character) freezes to death.

 Didn't find a campsite in the randomized dungeons? Cool, you gonna die.

As with health, opportunities to raise vigor are few and far between, so simply moving between rooms becomes deadly. Even worse is the geist meter, which also ticks up by 1 for every room you enter. The longer you stay in an area, the more the souls of the damned are drawn to your party. Stay too long, and every single room becomes an extremely difficult combat encounter.

While all this sounds like a Darkest Dungeon reskin with an ice theme, Vambrace distinguishes itself in ways that will be very pleasing to fans of the SNES era. For one, there's actually a continuing story arc and a reason to travel into the various districts of the city.

More clear cut RPG elements and nods to classics of the genre are ever present, from privates named Biggs and Wedge, to an overland map style that is pulled straight from Chrono Trigger. There are also lines clearly meant to call back to famous characters like Locke and Magus from old Squaresoft titles.

 Lingerie. The most powerful weapon in the drow arsenal is lingerie.

While this game is bleak and hard, there's also some surprising humor the likes of which wouldn't be out of place in any given JRPG... like a quest to obtain the most powerful weapon owned by the drow matriarch. 

In case you're wondering, yes, you can wear this as an outfit while battling undead and plundering sections of the frozen city. We don't even need sexy mods for this game, because it came with its own!

Was It Worth It?

  I'm partial to the Wraith Veil outfit myself

So at this point, you might be wondering... why go through all that? Why get kicked in the genitals repeatedly by a stiletto-heeled JRPG protagonist cosplaying a Darkest Dungeon character?

Here's the thing... all of the main JRPG quest lines and world-building elements to suck you into the story take place AFTER that first devastatingly hard expedition. So yeah, this game makes you work for it, but there's a payoff.

Despite taking place in one main location, Vambrace is a surprisingly in-depth world that takes familiar ideas (cat folks, elves, dwarves) and presents them in a more unique setting.

All of these different factions are forced to live and work together in extremely close proximity, with revolutionaries plotting an uprising in the slums, dwarves who want to see the status quo maintained, mysterious assassin drow keeping their own counsel, and so on.

Once you finally get a hang of the exploration and combat, there's a lot more to this than just dying endlessly while trying to make it one room further than before.

From outfits to unlock, upgraded equipment to craft, factions to side with, different party combos to try out, and an endless string of lore books to uncover, Vambrace will hook you if you're willing to look beyond the initial difficulty. 

The Bottom Line

 ...I may have actually cried a little when I beat the first boss.

Pros: 
  • Gorgeous visuals in a mashup of RPG styles
  • Darkest Dungeon combat seen through a more traditional JRPG lens that becomes absolutely addicting
  • The world building is interesting and worth exploring even with the high difficulty
Cons:
  • A word like "hard" or "difficult" doesn't even begin to cover it
  • Have you tried smashing your face in with a hammer a couple of dozen times? That's what the first mission is like.
  • The overly randomized nature of party lineup, item inventory, and dungeon rooms means sometimes you can't win no matter what you do

How best to describe the seductive allure of this punishing game? Vambrace: Cold Soul is an abusive girlfriend who got me hooked on crack, locked up my passport for "safekeeping," and now has me turning tricks on the street, but I still love her anyway.

I've literally found myself hand mapping out the number of rooms in each area to find the best way through and I can't think of a time that's happened since DOS was a thing.

If you like the idea of Darkest Dungeon's mechanics but want them transported into a unique JRPG setting, pick this one up as soon as possible... so long as you are ready to survive some serious abuse along the way.

[Note: A copy of Vambrace Cold Soul was provided by Headup Games for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
9
If you don't mind being actively abused and tortured for hours on end, Vambrace can become extremely addicting for fans of either Darkest Dungeon or classic SNES RPGs.
Reviewed On: PC

Featured Contributor

Ty splits his time between writing horror fiction and writing about video games. After 25 years of gaming, Ty can firmly say that gaming peaked with Planescape Torment, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a soft spot for games like Baldur's Gate, Fallout: New Vegas, Bioshock Infinite, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. He has previously written for GamerU and MetalUnderground. He also writes for PortalMonkey covering gaming laptops and peripherals.

Games Vambrace: Cold Soul Genres RPG Platforms PC
Published May. 28th 2019

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