SOULVARS Review – More soul needed

Reviewed June 26, 2023 on PC


Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


June 27, 2023





Last year SOULVARS was released as a mobile game to Japanese audiences and was automatically a hit. It received glowing reviews as gamers were captivated by its unique deckbuilding system and old-school pixel art JRPG vibes. I’m a sucker for turn-based combat and the game’s trailer emanated Persona 5 gameplay, but in a world that, as devs Ginolabo state, shows the “consequences of technology (on) humanity.” So with all these elements combined, I was pretty stoked to get my hands on SOULVARS.

Within minutes, the game throws you into its pixelated world with a tutorial that does an okay job of showing you how its deckbuilding Soulbit fighting system works. It goes step by step into the basic mechanics of Soulbits but does a terrible job at setting up its world. This wouldn’t have mattered as much if its Steam page didn’t talk up the game’s lore so much that I was excited to experience and explore its setting. Instead, the game acts as if the player already knows what has occurred and is aware of the protagonist’s goal but really its lack of narrative left me confused.

The world visually has an ominous feel, with its dreary view of silhouetted skyscrapers, rain puddles, dead bodies and abandoned buildings, you know that some crazy stuff has occurred. You as protagonist Yakumo race around the grid based world map randomly encountering enemies called Dominators and battling them using the game’s Soulbit system. Dominators are part human, part tech, and each have a glossy purple futuristic bug look, my favourite being the EvilHand which seems to be a cross between a hand and the evil eye. When you are faced with one of these enemies, the Soulbit action wheel will pop up at the bottom of the screen and offer up to five different actions that you can use to defend yourself. Some are typically standard like punch, kick, and slash of a sword but others fall in the psychic category and include elemental attacks such as fire, rock which is earth based, and wind.

Each Dominator has its strengths and weaknesses and these are displayed at the top of each battle screen. Each action that can be wielded will be shown with symbols that indicate whether the Dominator will resist, are weak or are immune to said action. I found this system a bit inconsistent; when I used some immune/resist actions I noticed that sometimes the enemy would take nearly as much damage as a weak effect. This led me to be a bit more flippant when choosing between different attacks.

When you are ambushed, you automatically have one AP at your disposal with that amount increasing with each effective hit. Possibly the coolest game play element is ARTS, which unlock during battle once you have 2 AP or more. These ARTSs are combinations of Soulbits attacks that when added together, produce a powerful action. You’ll start with three ARTS with more that you can purchase along the way. Your three starting ARTS include HeatChain (fire+fire) CrossEdge (two swords = 300% damage) and Prominence (fire + charge) these and the others you will collect will level up the more that you use them.

At first you will battle these Dominators by yourself, but quickly you will be joined by other Soulbearers who are also part of DDO (Dominator Disposal Organisation) Soulbearers are advanced humans who are immune to the powers of Dominators and they belong to, or in Yakumo’s case, work as freelance Soulbearers. These members only appear in combat and have their own special abilities that can help you defeat enemies a lot quicker than when you are running solo.

“…silhouetted skyscrapers, rain puddles, dead bodies… you know that some crazy stuff has occurred.”

When I did experience an ambush and other DDOs like Genzo and/or Izuna were by my side it was a welcome relief from moving Yakumo around from area to area in a looping trance. The gameplay and setting of SOULVARS is so repetitive that I quickly bored of the game’s world. Sure, there are different types of settings that you will encounter on the world map, but they seem to be a copy and paste of the locations that came before it just with slight changes. This was one of the ways that the game doesn’t seem to have made a successful transition to PC.

Another way is the complexity of the game’s combat systems and its reliance on the player spending a lot of time cycling through the DDO NaviMenu, which is pretty much the game’s glossary. Here you will find everything you need to know about the narrative, characters, and every detail about the game’s intricate combat system. To be honest, I didn’t get a full handle on every element of gameplay due to there being so many actions that branch off from main abilities. The game doesn’t explicitly tell you about the majority of these elements, meaning you need to seek them out for yourself.  The way these instructions are worded is also not that easy to comprehend and a lot of players may feel overwhelmed by the way the game relays its procedures to players. SOULVARS has missed an opportunity to turn a successful mobile game into a successful console/PC game by not using these medium’s potentials to its full advantage.




  • ART system leads to some pretty interesting attacks
  • Pixel art work is endearing


  • The game doesn't fully use its unique lore to its advantage
  • Complex combat system may lead players to frustration
  • Combat and setting can be very repetitive
  • Gameplay hasn't made a smooth transition from mobile

SOULVARS may have been a hit when it came out on mobile in 2022, but its PC version has not made enough changes for it to feel like it is meant to be played on other gaming devices. The game had an opportunity to increase its interactivity by including more explicit instructions, adding many more narrative elements and by spicing up the game’s landscape. However, as it stands, I’d be sticking to the mobile version of SOULVARS as the ported version lacks a lot of soul.