Grazing Hell in Shikhondo: Soul Eater | PLAY Exclusive Physical Release
Shikhondo: Soul Eater is a shooter like no other. Out now for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, this Korean-developed title takes players on a journey through the skies as they shoot down grotesque ghouls and multi-faced monstrosities that puts the “hell” back in bullet hell!
Here’s why we dig this demon-blasting shooter:
Shikhondo: Soul Eater was developed by the team at DeerFarm, a small Korean studio. DeerFarm were part of the ‘doujin’ game scene and largely made unofficial games based on existing properties like Love Live. That’s not exactly the kind of thing that’s easy to legally release to a wider audience! DeerFarm have also previously released their own games based on the Touhou series of doujin shooters, so it’s no secret they’re fans! The Touhou games helped popularize the ‘danmaku’ school of bullet hell shooters that are all about evading elaborate ‘curtains’ of bullets. If you’re familiar with the Touhou titles, you’ll see a similar gameplay style in Shikhondo: Soul Eater. DeerSoft’s latest title also taps into the same mythological aspect as the Touhou games. They’re not nearly as cute, but the characters are inspired by all kinds of Asian myths and folklore.
You get the choice between two characters at the start of each game: a female interpretation of a Korean death god or a girl with a giant gun. Not exactly the easiest decision. Each character has a different shot type but they have the same mission – shoot down everything in the way and take these monsters’ souls back to the underworld . That’s really all there is to the story. In true shooter style, expect to jump straight into five stages of non-stop action, each ending in a showdown with some horrifying boss monster with even more horrifying bullet patterns! It’s the standard faire for the genre, but Shikhondo: Soul Eater has some pretty interesting mechanics not found in all shooters. As players shoot enemies, the characters are also harvesting their souls. Each soul multiplies their score, but they need to be gathered quickly or this multiplier will start to disappear. This means that players after the highest score possible will need to master “chaining” enemies together by shooting them down in sequence for a bigger bonus.
There’s also a “grazing” mechanic in Shikhondo: Soul Eater, which rewards players who fly fearlessly close to enemy bullets. Grazing against bullet fills up the character’s soul gauge; stick close to shots for long enough to activate a “Soul Collect” mode. This helpful mode turns all the bullets onscreen into souls, dramatically increasing your score and making your own shots more powerful. Since it gives players some more breathing room and lets them turn the tables, it feels great to activate this boost during a tough boss fight. Given how later stages cover the whole screen in bullets, filling this gauge shouldn’t be much of an issue, but it makes for an interesting risk/reward mechanic. Of course there’s the risk of flying too close to enemies, but players might also want to risk saving the Soul Collect for when there are as many bullets onscreen as possible. But I’m in a miserable place on the leaderboards so don’t take my word for it!
There are also icons that act as a screen-clearing bomb or extend your soul release, although unlike similar shooters they don’t replenish when you lose a life so they need to be used sparingly. Being able to instantly clear the screen with a well-timed Soul Collect is useful, but players can’t rely on it too much. Quickly reacting and memorizing attack patterns is still key. It’s clear that DeerFarm understood what works about the genre and why these kinds of ultra-hard bullet hell shooters can be fun. The way the enemies just keep on coming, offering up all kinds of creative attack patterns to deal with places players into a trance. Even with the Soul Collect, the pressure is relentless, overwhelming and oddly relaxing. When playing a shooter like Shikhondo: Soul Eater, there are no distractions to worry about or complex controls to grasp. Players are free to just focus on the moment to moment gameplay of dodging, shooting and occasional soul-harvesting.
The game can be punishing, but players are free to continue as many times as they like as they practice each stage and aim for better scores and that elusive perfect run. Few things in games can compare to the feeling of getting through a stage filled with waves of deadly attacks without losing a single life – aside from making it through the whole game and conquering that “one-credit clear”. That sense of satisfaction is hardly unique to Shikhondo: Soul Eater, but the game stands out by having an atmosphere that a lot of other shooters lack. I don’t usually appreciate the stages in these kind of games, but I couldn’t help but gaze at the lavishly illustrated settings that scroll by beneath all the carnage. Shikhondo: Soul Eater does a great job of adapting Asian art styles, both in the setting design and the depiction of monsters from various cultures. The visuals are eye-catching without distracting from all the action.
Shikhondo: Soul Eater‘s soundtrack is also great. Given the use of traditional art styles and creatures, the music is a little more electronic than I expected, but it works well. At first I thought it was lazy when the stage music kept playing even when fighting the boss at the end, but Shikhondo: Soul Eater surprised me here. After weakening the boss enough, the real fight begins with an ear-piercing scream and a shift to the creepy battle music. Though their regular forms are already monstrous, these transformations are full-on body horror, with forms straight out of Junji Ito’s nightmares and even more fearsome attacks. Like the Touhou games, these lengthy boss encounters are a highlight as they bombard you with different patterns of bullets before they’re finally brought down with one last shriek.
If you’re up for a challenge, it’s possible to play through all the bosses in sequence with the game’s Boss Rush mode. As for other extras, this console release comes with co-operative play and an enjoyable “Extreme” mode that makes the Soul gauge fill faster but only gives you one life for the entire game. Even more interesting is a “Custom” mode that lets you alter the rules of the game to your liking. Don’t dig the whole grazing system? Just set a different way to charge the soul gauge. It’s not unusual for shooters to let players tweak the difficulty and number of lives, but letting players change the way the mechanics work gives Shikhondo: Soul Eater a lot more replay value.
With its interesting twist on the usual shooter mechanics and beautiful presentation, Shikhondo: Soul Eater should be on the radar for shooter fans. It’s not as polished as a Cave shooter and the new ideas don’t drastically shake things up as much as something like Ikaruga, but it’s a solid game that fans of the genre will appreciate while remaining fairly inviting to newbies. And of course, if you like playing the Touhou titles, you’ll get a similar mix of Asian monsters and elaborate bullet patterns in Shikhondo, just with a significantly darker mood.
Curious about Shikhondo: Soul Eater?
Eastasiasoft have you covered with a physical limited edition, which includes an exclusive copy of the game’s soundtrack. There are still some copies of the limited PlayStation 4 release available, which can be played in 4K on the PS4 Pro. On the other hand, if you prefer playing shooters on the go you can pre-order a physical copy of the Nintendo Switch version, which will be shipping later this year!