I’ve been eyeballing Smoke and Sacrifice for quite some time now. An adventure RPG with stunning art direction and an open world to explore? Yes, please! It’s been on my Steam wish list for ages, and when I found out it was coming to PlayStation 4 I just had to change platforms for it. Lucky me, I drew the review straw.
Sachi is a young mother forced to sacrifice her firstborn child to appease the Sun Tree God. The priests who enforce this cruel law are secretive about their church, insisting that these offerings are what’s best for the village. But when their god’s blessing appears to fall and the clergy have gone missing, Sachi searches the temple for clues about her son. The first clue leads her to a whole new world.
Day for Night
The Underworld is an incredibly dangerous place for those from above. Equal parts day and night, Sachi is going to traverse all sorts of terrain as she searches for her son. Most important here is Night; this is when smoke fills the air and covers the ground, hiding resources and enemies from sight. It is important to stay in the light, usually accomplished by keeping a lantern at the ready, as the smoke will fill your lungs and smoke ghosts threaten to put an end to the adventure. I doubt any game will ever have as cool of a light mechanic as Alan Wake with its wonderful use of flashlights, but Smoke and Sacrifice does play with Night and Day in a way that makes sense within the context of the story.
Aided by the more friendly inhabitants, the Drear, Sachi will need to gather crafting materials and locate recipes, which reminded me so much of Don’t Starve. But being an avid collector of everything I can see, I’ve often found myself with full pockets and having to drop or ignore loot. I hate having to ignore loot! Yes, I know, all RPG players have this issue, but most games have storage chests that are linked in some fashion. That’s not the case in Smoke and Sacrifice. There are locked chests all over the map which contain a few bonus items. Once open, you can store some of your excess inventory. The downside is that none of these are linked. This means you need to remember what chest you stashed that black powder or stack of 99 quills in. It’s either that or keep a notepad ready.
Man Machine Poem
You want to get good? Prepare for a little grinding. As you add new recipes to your repertoire you’ll find yourself using the transport tube system to travel back and forth in search of crafting materials. You might think, eh, I’m doing pretty good with the gear I have right now. I don’t really need to make those bombs just this second. And then BAM! You really do need them, because you’ve wandered into an area covered in wasps. True story; it happened to me.
One of my toughest grinds was a constant run to the edge of town, slaughter a monster known to drop the material I needed, run back to the nearest chest, offload excess loot, repeat. This is all because of an extremely quick death to a boss fight I was ill-prepared for. I needed one piece of material and it took forever to drop. But damned if I was going to walk back into that battle without it. (FYI, it was so worth it.)
The Underworld map is expansive, and varying terrains mean multiple sets of gear. I don’t personally recommend storing any of it. One minute you’ll be walking through the electric workshops, and next the frozen tundra. Venturing into areas you don’t have the clothing for will hurt Sachi. The black muck on the edges of the world is extremely hazardous. The adventurous spirit that I am, I dipped my toe in it a little too long and found myself back at my last save. Environmental awareness is key to survival in the Underworld. There’s never really a safe moment, so stay alert, keep your weapons and outfits in good shape, and you should have no problems seeing Sachi’s story to the end.
Son, When You Dance
If you’re looking for an indie RPG that tugs at your heartstrings, Smoke and Sacrifice is that game. Sachi fights her way through the unknown, scavenging for tools and food. She pushes past the obstacles in her way driven to bring her lost child home. A mother’s perseverance and strength give me those Kleenex commercial feels. It’ll take about twenty hours to complete the story and side quests, which is a good length for an indie game of this scope. And those of us who get emotionally invested in games like these might want to have something comforting at hand. My go-to: a giant bag of M&Ms and some good Japanese whisky, neat.
Smoke and Sacrifice review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.