Fighting a titan is a terrible idea. They’re giant boss-caliber monsters that don’t have much patience for pesky humans, especially ones trying to poke them with a tiny little arrow. You’re about 15 pixels tall and they are much, much bigger than that, with a number of attacks that can leave you little more than a crumpled heap at the end of a bloody smear. Even their size is a weapon, seeing as a titan is as likely to kill you by brushing up against you as it is with a direct attack. Fighting a titan is an impressive way to end up dead, but that’s what you’re in the ruins of Titans Souls for so you might as well start racking up the respawns.
Titans Souls is not a game for the easily frustrated. Initially made as an entry in the You Only Get One Ludum Dare game jam, the original version made a name for itself by a combination of atmosphere and brutal difficulty. Those features haven’t changed now that it’s a full game, but the initial four titans have been joined by 14 more for a total of 18 fights total. Each titan is its own unique encounter, requiring a different approach to sink an arrow into its weak spot, and it won’t even have to try particularly hard to eviscerate you. Hard as it may be, though, the difficulty is by no means Titan Souls‘ most memorable feature.
“Hard” only lasts so long, and while it may take some effort to gain the experience to overcome it, once you’ve learned how to deal with a problem it shrinks down to merely somewhat difficult. The most memorable part of Titan Souls is what an incredibly atmospheric world it takes place in, filled with mysteries that are only somewhat explained by the murals on the ruin walls. Who are the titans? Why are you killing them? What are their souls supposed to get you? The answers to these questions are only hinted at here and there during the quest, but when you aren’t swearing at trying to figure out how to sink an arrow into the giant obvious weak spot on the back of a titan that refuses to ever expose it, they’re impossible to ignore.
As brutal as the fights are, the ruins are a peaceful, beautiful place, with plenty of areas to explore just for the fun of poking around a massive, abandoned area. Breezes rustle the grass, shadows fall from the trees’ leafy canopy, rivers and streams cut through the scenery, and piles of snow can be rolled through for no other reason than that it’s fun to do. It would have been easy for Titan Souls to be a succession of bosses, but instead it’s a place as much as a fight, and a lovely one to poke around in.
To see everything Titan Souls has to offer, though, you’ll need to fight, frequently repeating the same encounter over and over until you see the trick to it and then a few more times to beat it. You can shoot a single arrow, call it back because you’ve only got the one and you’ve got no offense without it, do a dodge roll, segue from roll into run, and that’s it. It’s a limited move selection but in theory at least it’s enough to beat every titan in the game if you can only figure out how. I’ll admit to not being a big fan of how running requires the dodge roll to happen first, because while the roll is a quick, sharp movement it’s also unsteerable, so if you don’t get the angle quite right there’s no correcting it. Needing a second to draw back the bow so the shot has enough power to cross the arena makes sense, but not being able to run without the roll first? Every encounter in the game is carefully designed around this limited set of abilities but I’d have liked a bit more control over my mobility.
I’ve also got to admit that my patience for punishment ran dry on the final encounter. The last titan is supposed to be tough, of course, but death after death after death leeched my enthusiasm for the fight, and while I did eventually earn a credit roll, I almost gave up and walked away. I killed fire, ice and forest titans, shot down one that actually made me feel guilty, explored the ruins and found a few secrets along the way, but the last titan? It just stopped being fun. I’m sure I’ll see videos of people clearing the game on one life, having racked up hours of practice to do incredible speed runs, and I know they’re going to enjoy the living hell out of the challenge. My patience ran out before the challenge did, though.
Titan Souls is a quietly beautiful little epic. The contrast of the boss fights with the peaceful exploration works to create a world of contrasts, broken but not dead. Or at least not dead until you come calling with a bow and magic arrow. Just be aware going in that the challenge can be as unforgiving as the ruins are serene, and every ounce of skill may still not be quite enough.