“Bad artists copy, great artists steal” is an old cliché that’s ironically been wrongly copied many times, but is exactly the phrase that came to mind when I played Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption.
You might have heard that turn of phrase, most famously in recent years when Steve Jobs rather badly appropriated it. The gist of it is simple; all art is informed by its predecessors. What makes great art is when the artist truly understands what makes great art great. The developers of Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption are fans of Dark Souls. They’re fans of Furi. They’re fans of Mega Man. They do not understand what makes those games great.
Sinner starts you out in the tutorial area from Dark Souls 2. You walk through a cavern and read tips along the way, encountering enemies to help you test your command of the controls. Going into this game blind, as I did, you might expect to emerge from this cavern into a dark medieval fantasy world. Instead, you find yourself on a rocky platform, with twisted trees emerging from the cracks.
Seven stone monuments light up for you to inspect. Each of the seven is a gateway to an encounter with one of your prey. Seemingly your character is on a journey of penitence and must take down each of these seven bosses (representing the seven deadly sins) to atone for his past. You get to choose the order in which you take on these bosses, much like a Mega Man game.
However, instead of upgrades, you get downgrades. Before each boss, you must make a sacrifice. These include a loss of damage output, your shield becomes vulnerable to breaking, or just a straight loss in health and stamina. This is a neat little idea, something to appeal to your inner masochist. However, this is about as far as we go with original, well-implemented ideas.
I mentioned three games earlier for a reason, Sinner is a boss-rush game like Furi, with a Mega Man style of level selection, all wrapped around a skeleton of Dark Souls game-play. As mentioned, Sinner has you decide the order you play the game in. Like Mega Man, the order you approach each level influences the difficulty of the game. Instead of gaining new abilities, you lose power. It’s almost the same system in reverse. Choosing which downgrades to take and when is an interesting concept. Unlike Mega Man, there are no stages per se. Instead, Sinner throws you directly into boss fights just like Furi. Also, like Furi, you have a fairly simple plot set up. Furi, you break out of a crazy prison.
Sinner, you must defeat seven bosses representing the seven deadly sins. Furi keeps the plot simple. Sinner tries a little too hard. Each boss fight is preceded by a very beautiful and well-voiced cut-scene, detailing the backstory of each of your foes. However, throwing a whole bunch of lore at the player with no context is not the same as building a world. The otherworldly feel of the game is stripped away as you’re being told about people and places you don’t know and will never hear about again. Now, when you play a Dark Souls game you will encounter a lot of expository rambling from various characters. At face value, this may seem like the same thing, a lot of talk about places and events you know nothing about. However, it works in Dark Souls because Dark Souls is a dying world and when you dig deep enough, the history is all there. You know what else works in Dark Souls? The combat.
There’s a reason Dark Souls has gotten to the point it’s at. You see, if all the way back in Demon Souls, had the game-play been even a little bit lacking we would never have seen another Souls game. Fromsoftware are experts in finely tuning their games to be tough but fair. Tough but fair is a common phrase you hear when people discuss Souls games. It’s even in the Steam description for Sinner. Sinner just doesn’t understand what it takes to make a game tough but fair. Making a game difficult is one thing, but Souls games aren’t just difficult. There’s a valid argument to be made that they’re not difficult at all, but that’s a discussion for another time.
A game trying to be like Dark Souls has to understand that to justify the difficulty of the game, you need to balance frustration with the will to succeed. The player has to feel capable. They need to feel that when they die they weren’t beaten, they failed. Failure is motivation to try again, knowing you have the tools to succeed. When you relentlessly beat the player down, you sap all their energy. As such. it feels like a genuine slog to play Sinner.
Some examples; in the greed fight, the boss has at least six or seven different kinds of projectile attacks. On my first attempt, he threw several of them at me at once. He has so many attacks all coming out at random that not once did I feel like I was learning to predict any of his moves. Okay, the greed boss has too many attacks. That’s tonally on point so I’ll give them some points for that. The gluttony boss opened the ground below him while I was attacking him, killing me instantly. The wrath boss just swiped me off the stage like a cat knocking a cup off a table, and that’s not even his worst crime. The gimmick of the wrath fight is he’s a giant up to his waist in lava, and you fight him from a rocky platform which he destroys as the fight goes on. As such, you need to beat him before he destroys the whole stage.
Like a God of War boss, he has big slow attacks that open up his arms to be attacked. On my first attempt, I had a decent go at chopping at his arms. My second attempt he punched me straight off the stage into the lava. On my third attempt, he only did three moves on repeat, none of which he did on my previous goes, and never once opened himself to attack. He dropped fireballs on me, summoned additional enemies, and threw swords at me. At the very least I could hit the swords back at him for pitiful damage. Not once did he punch at me, he just destroyed the stage as I watched helplessly. It was like watching a timer tick down on a game you can’t win, but this isn’t some online competitive game. I didn’t fail, I wasn’t even beaten. I wasn’t given a chance to try.
There are two bosses in the game I liked. One pits you against a Tim Burton inspired, Corpse Bride looking lady who periodically swaps heads. Each head is a different character, and when you progress enough through the fight they separate into two people. This one was fun, it felt doable, and when it hit the fan I still felt I could do something about it.
The other boss I liked was the ice lady, she reminded me of some Bloodborne fights. She’s nimble and quick, it’s a straight fight between two similarly built characters. My only issue here was her attack that makes ice shards rain down on you. She would do the attack, and I would roll out of the way. Then roll again, and again. In fact, the attack would last so long I rarely got out unscathed. Overall it was a good boss but that blemish just felt so typical and indicative of the overall sloppy feel of the game. The dodging and parrying feel unreliable. There’s no weight to your attacks. They even have the gall to mirror the Dark Souls control scheme but swap the light and heavy attack buttons with the use item and swap weapon buttons. I spent the first hour of this game repeatedly healing myself when I meant to attack.
In general, Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption isn’t great. It looks quite cheap, it controls very poorly, and it’s just trying too hard to ape on better games. Sinner at least has a great lesson for other developers; when you’re looking for something successful to emulate, don’t pick a game where the things that make it good is the hardest part to replicate. I don’t even think I could recommend this to Souls fans, as it might offend them. To anyone else, I absolutely would not recommend this game. There are better games out there with the word redemption in their title.