Review by · July 1, 2023

SOULVARS, an RPG by solo developer ginolabo, was one of Asia’s top mobile games in 2022. Through publisher Shueisha Games, SOULVARS is now available on PC and consoles in a form optimized for said platforms. Not every mobile game translates well to PC or consoles, but SOULVARS has transitioned nicely. The game is not perfect, but it is enjoyable if you can look past its flaws.

There is no denying that this 2D, side-scrolling, pixel-art RPG has style. SOULVARS looks great in still screenshots and even better in motion. The color scheme and visual design of the environments, along with Shiro Usazaki’s energetic character art, elicit that urban, cyberpunk, noir flavor of anime cool. The pixel art is vibrant and there is no slowdown during battles, even with tons of fast-paced animation and flashy visual effects. Keeping things grooving is a hip soundtrack that’s jazzy and funky, and perfectly fits SOULVARS‘ seedy underbelly vibe.     

Gameplay is engaging, with a few caveats. One caveat is that, like many mobile games, SOULVARS is more enjoyable in small bursts than marathon sessions due to its somewhat repetitive nature. Another caveat is SOULVARS‘ steep initial learning curve. Optional tutorials are available in the menus and are required reading if you want to get the most out of the game. Interactive tutorials integrated into the gameplay would have been a better design choice, since complex game mechanics are more effectively learned by doing rather than reading.     

Soulvars' intricate menus.
This will all make sense if you’re willing to put in the time.

The extensive menus are fiddly to navigate until you get used to their layout and the control scheme’s button mapping. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out and manipulate all the information I was given. There is a plethora of ways to equip and load out your characters and I spent the first 2–3 hours figuring everything out. Once my understanding of SOULVARS‘ mechanics clicked, the game opened up and I started winning battles that once curb stomped me.

The fast-paced, turn-based battle system is centered around Soulbits β€” small actions that can combine into powerful skills similar to Xenogears‘ Deathblows. Soulbits function like a shuffled deck of cards where the few you get in your hand each turn are randomized. Knowing how to utilize the available Soulbits in your playable hand is crucial, since you have only a limited number of moves per turn. Opportunities to use items are limited as well, and redrawing Soulbits costs HP. Every move in every battle must be thought out, because exploiting enemies’ weak points gives you extra actions in battle, similar to Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne‘s Press Turn system. Battles occur randomly and even regular enemies in easy mode (SOULVARS has multiple difficulty levels) can decimate your party if you’re not careful.

Exploring the urban jungle in Soulvars
The urban sprawl is as deadly as any dragon’s keep.

Exploring feels like Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, where you travel from room to room in a 2D, side-scrolling plane. Traversing these environments feels a little flat until dungeons start incorporating timing, puzzles, and other dynamic elements. These were hit or miss. One miss was a room with four switches corresponding to shuttered passages elsewhere in the dungeon. Only two could be activated at a time, yet there was nothing in the game indicating that. On the other hand, a sidequest culminating in a slick boss battle reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII‘s motorcycle chase scene was my favorite part of the game.

My least favorite aspect of SOULVARS is its abysmal plot and characters. The moment SOULVARS started, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a story with no clue who our protagonist is and why he does what he does. All I know is that he and his companions are secret agents battling supernatural foes. Speaking of companions, new characters receive no introduction, as if you are supposed to know who they are already. In another instance, a character was about to give a big reveal, yet the screen faded out then faded back in, robbing me of crucial exposition. An in-menu lore glossary exists, but it only offers a brief sentence or two about a few measly things, leaving a grossly incomplete picture of SOULVARS‘ world and characters. I understand that SOULVARS is primarily driven by gameplay, but that’s no excuse for slipshod storytelling.

A flashy boss battle in Soulvars.
Flashy boss battles like this look even better in motion.

SOULVARS is best described as a “tsundere” game. Its mechanics are tough and intimidating at first, but investing a little time and effort getting to know it opens its heart. You get out of it what you put into it. Beyond its 10–15 hour main campaign (depending on the difficulty level), there is post-game content. Sadly, the disappointing story and characters are a mountain of unrealized potential that could have been so much better. If you are the kind of RPG fan who favors gameplay over story and characters, then SOULVARS may be worth a look.


Excellent music, stylish graphics, engaging gameplay.


Sloppy storytelling, lacks in-game tutorials.

Bottom Line

A decent game that could have been so much better.

Overall Score 70
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR manager at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When he isn't networking with industry folks on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, Neal is an educator, musician, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm who has also dabbled in voiceover work and motivational speaking.