A game taking inspiration from the Souls series isn’t anything new at this point. One of my personal favourites is Salt and Sanctuary, which took the Souls style of gameplay and melded it into a slightly faster 2D framework. As the years go by, more developers have tried their hand at 2D soulslikes, with mixed success.
What I saw of Vigil: The Longest Night before launch looked promising, the grim visual style being used as the backdrop to a game that leaned heavier towards Bloodborne than Dark Souls. It even features some crossover content with the aforementioned Salt & Sanctuary. And yet, despite updates that iron out some of the game’s issues, I have a hard time deciding whether I actually enjoyed my time with Vigil.
An obtuse tale with a (now slightly less) wonky translation
Considering the main inspirations behind Vigil, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the game’s story is often quite vague. Protagonist Leila’s main goals — to save her hometown from the various evils that plague it, while also finding her missing sister — are made clear early on, but many of the finer plot details are left scattered between various notes and NPCs.
On its own this wouldn’t be that bad, though the way this game handles dialogue is somewhat strange. Unlike other games of this style, there’s actually a decent amount of (unvoiced) dialogue. The main hub area is filled with characters that often have their own sidequests. And yet, for how wordy some conversations can be at times, I can’t really say that I was overly interested in the world Vigil was trying to build.
Granted, this was partly the fault of consistently poor English text which, while mostly understandable, was full of mistakes. Patches have at least fixed up the dialogue in most places, even if it doesn’t really improve story’s shortcomings.
Decent platforming and exploration, so-so combat
Wonky storytelling aside, the main meat of Vigil is its gameplay. It’s a strange midpoint between Souls and metroidvania, combining stamina based combat with a bigger focus on platforming. This is the direction most 2D soulslikes go in, making up for the lack of a third dimension through more verticality and movement abilities.
Salt and Sanctuary got this mix of styles right, making attacks feel impactful thanks to weighty animations, while still having decent platforming (thought the latter wasn’t perfect). Vigil ended up going in a different direction, with Leila being much more nimble. You gain abilities like the double jump early on, and she can dive about the place without worrying much about stamina costs.
The lack of any real stamina management is where I first questioned some of the design decisions in Vigil. If attacks can easily be spammed without worry — and certain upgrades reduce stamina costs even more — it begs the question of why stamina is even in the game to begin with. It doesn’t factor into the platforming either, so it just some across as something included for the sake of being more like a Souls game.
Treating the game as a Castlevania style game with Bloodborne aesthetics is the best way to play. In that regard, Vigil isn’t so bad. The map is quite large, fighting enemies is generally enjoyable, and you can unlock new skills as you level up. While the weapon variety is disappointing, each type does have its own unique moves that keep things fresh. When exploring, actually trying to figure out where to go can be annoying at times thanks to how the map is laid out, but on the whole I still enjoyed completing each area.
Nice art, bad animations
Now bosses are another matter entirely. They all have cool designs, ranging from creepy to downright disgusting. And, for the most part, they have movesets that can be learned and reacted to after a few attempts. The problem bosses have instead comes from Vigil’s art style. It looks great in screenshots, not so much in motion. While Leila’s character model is 3D, featuring smooth animations, nearly everything else is 2D.
Being 2D on its own is more than fine, with some of my favourite games making use of lovingly detailed sprites. Here though, animations are stiff and puppet-like. Enemies and NPCs look flat, and enemy attacks have little visual impact. It’s most apparent during the bosses, due to their large models making the lack of animation even more apparent. For example, an early boss has a large sweeping attack with their arm. The boss moves its arm out, and then, a split second later, said arm moves across the screen with next to no in-between frames. It looks janky, while also making certain attacks harder to dodge.
Vigil: The Longest Night verdict
While I’ve played worse, Vigil: The Longest Night just has too many flaws for me to wholeheartedly recommend it. The visual style, despite the bad animations, is still pleasing, and you’re generally rewarded well for exploring. I just wish that the combat had more impact to it, especially the bosses.
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