Sofiya and the Ancient Clan is another mediocre faux-retro platformer

Another week, another indie faux-retro title that doesn’t get things quite right. Thankfully, Sofiya and the Ancient Clan is nowhere near the mess that is Arsonist Heaven, but it’s still a game where its devs really should have done a bit more homework before committing to their project. Because while it looks nice, there’s just some fundamentally unsatisfying elements to the gameplay that spoil the experience quite significantly.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan originated as a hentai game on Steam called Sexcraft: Sofiya and the Lewd Clan (NSFW, obviously), which should give you an idea of where this game’s priorities lie. The consolised version from localiser-publisher eastasiasoft — much like Plunderer’s Adventurers before it, which was actually from the same developer — cuts out the explicit sexual content and tones down the erotic CGs to a more “ecchi” level.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan

In the original Sexcraft, the game involved the titular heroine Sofiya blasting enemies with her magic and then having sex with them to finish them off. In Sofiya and the Ancient Clan, meanwhile, shooting enemies a few times simply causes them to fade out of existence in a distinctly unsatisfying manner; there are no unique death animations or even sound effects here.

This is just the first of many things about Sofiya and the Ancient Clan that feels unsatisfying on a primal level, but let’s rewind a moment and look at what this actually is.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan

In Sofiya and the Ancient Clan, you take on the role of Sofiya, a witch who is intrigued to investigate the stories of another magical clan that once lived in the world. She sets out on an adventure to discover the ruined headquarters of this supposed other clan, all the while conscious of the fact that doing so may well end up making her something of a pariah to her own people.

It’s an interesting setup, but unfortunately very little is done with it over the course of the game. Scattered around the game world are various diary entries that theoretically tell the story, but it’s plainly obvious that these were always more intended as a means of delivering saucy CGs than actually providing meaningful narrative development.

And some of those CGs appear bizarrely incongruous, such as one where Sofiya is panting and grunting for no apparent reason — presumably this was a sex scene in the original, but it makes zero sense here.

Uhh… are you… are you okay there?

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan is a side-scrolling platformer. Sofiya is a fairly agile, responsive heroine who can double jump, setting a good initial impression. Basic controls are responsive, making getting around the initial stages quite straightforward.

Things immediately start to fall apart when you encounter your first enemy, though. Sofiya is painfully slow to fire her magic, with an inexplicably long cooldown between shots, and no animation cue indicating that she’s “recharging” or otherwise not ready to fire again. This feels like a game that really wants to have some button-hammering “run and gun” combat — particularly since there are very few enemies in the game that can be dispatched with a single hit — but instead the pacing feels artificially constrained.

Much like the complaints we had with Arsonist Heaven, Sofiya and the Ancient Clan completely lacks any sense of hitstun or knockback when dealing damage to enemies; they just keep approaching you mindlessly if you’re in their line of sight, or wandering around on their set paths if they don’t know you’re there. There’s no sense of impact to the combat, and this is only compounded by the unsatisfying death non-animations, where they simply fade in to the background.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan

A lot of Sofiya and the Ancient Clan’s enemies are largely irrelevant, mind, because you can easily avoid them by jumping over them, and the only things they drop are HP and MP-restoring items. These have a drop rate so high that it makes taking damage from combat pretty much meaningless, eliminating almost all challenge factor from the game.

The remaining challenge factor comes from some seriously questionable level design that most other games of this type have already phased out by this point. I’m talking instant death scenery elements (that aren’t necessarily obviously dangerous when you first see them). I’m talking instant death pits. I’m talking blind jumps. I’m talking a camera that perpetually appears to be slightly misaligned to allow you to see what you might be leaping into — though thankfully there is at least a classic Sonic-style ability to hold up or down on the D-pad and see above and below you.

Probably the most egregious fault with Sofiya and the Ancient Clan’s level design is that its stages are so fucking long — and dying resets you right back to the beginning, regardless of whether said death is from combat (unlikely) or an instant kill trap (very likely). Each of the game’s three “Chapters” is split into a huge number of sub-stages, but each individual sub-stage is so large and lengthy that being set back to the beginning of one is a significant waste of time.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan
Oh hey, a blind jump into an instant-death pit.

Challenging games are all well and good, but when you can be put in this time-wasting situation from a simple misstep or not understanding that a particular scenery object is dangerous, it just becomes exceedingly annoying and frustrating after a while. The game would have been much better served taking an approach similar to the excellent Wife Quest, which features lengthy “worlds” split into bite-size substages, meaning that there’s still a meaningful punishment for failure, but one which isn’t anywhere near as annoying.

The frustrating thing about all this is that Sofiya and the Ancient Clan has clearly been designed by folks who understand the visual appeal of 16-bit platformers, as the pixel art on both the character sprites and backgrounds is absolutely lovely; I’m less enamoured with the saucy CGs as I don’t feel they really depict the central character well compared to her sprite, but that’s a matter of personal taste. On the whole, though, it looks great.

Unfortunately, it’s all surface-level. While great effort has been put into making the game look like a lost 16-bit classic, it seems little research has been done on what made actual 16-bit classics fun to play — and the pitfalls that we decided to leave behind in that era. The game needs stronger feedback, hitstun, knockback and better sound effects to feel satisfying, leaving it looking like a 16-bit game but not feeling like one.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan

Things aren’t helped along by the music. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s clearly been a case of the developer thinking “I really want to have an orchestral soundtrack for my epic game!” and then downloading a bunch of royalty-free cinematic samples without making any attempt to loop them convincingly; you just end up hearing the same 90-second song played over and over again with an obvious gap between playings.

The result is a score that becomes repetitive and annoying rather than epic in fairly short order — made all the more incongruous by occasional themes that have an obvious “chiptune” style to them, giving a feeling of stylistic incoherence to the whole thing.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan could have been pretty good with a bit of tweaking here and there. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the developer’s priorities were on the game’s aesthetic rather than making sure it plays well — and as such it’s tough to recommend this one. It’s by no means as poor as the aforementioned Arsonist Heaven was, and if you have a soft spot for mediocre 16-bit platform games you may get a kick out of this — but for everyone else, there is much better fare available.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan
Sofiya’s face here is pretty much how I was feeling by this point

If you really want a good lewd platformer, I point you in the direction of the amazing Succubus series — particularly Castle in the Clouds and Midnight Castle Succubus. Those games nail both the aesthetic and the gameplay — so go nab one of those instead if you haven’t already, and leave this one in the dust.

Sofiya and the Ancient Clan is available now for Switch and PS4/5. Thanks to eastasiasoft for the review code.

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Pete Davison
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