Considered by some to be one of 2022’s best gaming experiences, Soulstice is a AA hack and slash game that’s been made by a relatively unknown Italian studio called Reply Game Studios. And whilst Reply Game Studios only numbers around 50 people, it is actually part of a much larger Italian company called Reply Group that that boasts over 10,000 employees.
Developed over nearly 5 years, Soulstice harks back to a time when games like Devil May Cry were part of the zeitgeist and considered to be major system sellers. And whilst the genre might have fallen out of relative favour since, it still gets relatively high profile games from major publishers – such as Nier: Automata (from Square Enix), and Devil May Cry V (from Capcom).
I spoke to Fabio Pagetti (Creative Director) and Samuele Perseo (Writer) about Soulstice, and got to ask them as to how the IP can carve out a bigger niche for itself, as well as what Reply Game Studios’ future plans are. Enjoy!
Soulstice… I really like that game… I’ve only played about an hour of it, but I really like it. And I think it’s one of those games that deserves far more attention than it’s actually getting thus far… Given the fact that Bayonetta 3 was a tent-pole release for Nintendo, and given the fact that Devil May Cry V was one of Capcom’s bigger releases, why do you think Soulstice hasn’t gotten as much traction as it could have gotten? What do you think is stopping it from becoming more of a mass market product than it actually is?
Fabio Pagetti: First of all because it’s a new IP, and creating a new IP is always difficult. But the bigger difficulty is to push new IP to the market whilst there is no story behind the studio. Soulstice is our first game in the genre. But Devil May Cry is already famous, Bayonetta is already famous, and Nier: Automata is also famous. It’s difficult for a game to have the same resonance as the big players in the market. Of course there aren’t a lot of games like this, and the games that I have already mentioned are the most important, so I do think that there is space for similar games. Right now, we are living in a time when we have a lot of Souls-like games, and less hack and slash type games. And hack and slash type games aren’t even that long, and normally take 10-12 hours to complete. And those who love these type of games are maybe searching for other similar games to play. But at the end, I think it’s because we are small, and the studio doesn’t have a lot of visibility. And also from the publishing side, I think the game could be pushed more, so that it finds its correct place in the market.
You’ve done mobile and VR games prior to Soulstice, but what made you want to do Soulstice as your first console game?
Samuele Perseo: Well, we already had some experience, but on much smaller products like Theseus. It was our first game in Unreal engine, but it was done as a VR title because our parent company had a strategic interest in VR, so we took the opportunity to explore that field. But VR as a whole didn’t prove to be a big commercial success, and so we decided to go back to the flat screen in order to appeal to a wider audience. The idea was to have a commercially viable product that could reach a wider audience, and to do this, we chose a genre that was not overly saturated, as many studios are already working in the Soulsborne genre. But as Fabio has already said, there are not many character action games. So we felt, and we still think, that Soulstice could co-exist alongside those masterpieces.
How many people worked on Soulstice at its peak?
Samuele Perseo: At the peak of its development, we had 50 people at the studio between employees and freelancers that we hired directly. Plus 20 more people that dealt with cinematic sequences and music and sound effects. So more or less 70 people were involved. But even with people from outside, we tend to work very closely with them, namely on site. We have the studio with us, so we were all part of the same team. And that was obviously at our peak, because when we started, we were actually 13 people. So over the first 2 years we had to also manage a big ramp up of the team and to find proper people to join our ranks. And we’re quite happy because we managed to find all those people in Italy, from the Italian industry, which is also growing in a very strong and rapid way.
Fabio, you’re the Creative Director of Soulstice. What was your inspiration for the game and why did you decide to make it the way it is?
Fabio Pagetti: It’s very simple to find a reference. I love Japanese anime and manga, especially Berserk and Claymore. So these two important products that come from Japan are the basis of the creative process that we made inside the studio. We try not to copy. We try to create something new. And we try to create a tribute in that regard. At the beginning, our idea was to have a giant knight and a little ghost that fought together, but gameplay wise, we needed something that was much more faster and quicker. And so we decided to switch to the two female characters that can be both very quick and deadly. And so at that point, Claymore became our main reference point, because Claymore is based on female warriors that have been created to defeat monsters.
Samuele Perseo: That was the starting point, because as Fabio has just said, we wanted to give the vibe of Berserk and Claymore, but we built on that in order to create our own original IP. So mythology, religion, all the major beats in the story that we created… We did all of this in order to sustain the game experience. I don’t trust developers when they say that they want to tell a story with their game, because there are much better mediums. But at the same time, a story can sustain and enrich the interactive experience of a game, where a good plot, a good atmosphere, a good lore, can make it richer and give you additional hooks to feel engaged and make you want to go on and see what happens next. But my perspective is that I think that with games, story only works when it’s related to the gameplay, and when it shouldn’t feel like a burden. The story has to be interesting as you play.
One of the things that Soulstice has going for it is that it’s got a rich storyline. And from what I understand, there’s plenty of scope for sequels. What’s the likelihood of Soulstice getting a proper sequel or even a tangentially related game in future?
Fabio Pagetti: So the game has been created to allow multiple titles. But at the moment, we can’t say anything about what comes next, because at the moment we are in the middle of exploring technical stuff. For example, I can say that we are porting the game from Unreal 4 to Unreal 5, and to have the basis for a new game. And at the moment we are experimenting on the linear structure of Soulstice, so that players can have a much more interesting way to play our game. So for now, this is an experimental time for us.
Last question… Where do you see Reply Game Studios going from here, and what are your ambitions for the future?
Fabio Pagetti: Continuing on this journey and evolving our games. Soulstice is currently in Unreal 4, but what I can say is that our next game will be in Unreal 5 for sure.
Samuele Perseo: Yes, the idea is to gain trust and a reputation from players, where we are regarded as being good developers of these kind of games. And Soulstice is an IP that belongs to us, so we would definitely love to work on it again, but it’s not the only option that we have. The fortunate thing is that when a game of ours does come out, the fans know that it will be a good action game with high production values. And that’s our overall vision as we grow as a studio. There are different options that we have in front of us at the moment, and we’ll be happy to share more when the time comes, but it’s really early right now.
Thank you so much.