Nine Sols Review – Poetry In Motion

From RedCandleGames, Nine Sols is an indie Soulslike Metroidvania. At this current point in time, that exact combination of words feels anything but unique. The indie scene, though brilliantly diverse and innovative, is chock full of games trying to establish a new spin on seamless exploration and punishing combat. Many try, some succeed, and perhaps far too many fly under the radar. Nine Sols, steeped in its own unique, Chinese-inspired mythos, unquestionably stands out.

If I were to encapsulate Nine Sols in a word, it would be “flow.” That doesn’t quite mean speedy, fluid platforming a la Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown or Constance. Rather, Nine Sols is a game that feels perfectly paced. At numerous points throughout my playthrough, just as I was thinking, “man, it’d be nice to have an air dash in this area,” the save point in said area gives me exactly that. Every major upgrade works this way. Rather than gifting traversal and other key abilities immediately after a boss, things appear in their own time. You’ll be meandering and the second you think “this ability would be useful,” it just appears. Moments of serendipity abound.

And this is just the opening.

That joy is only bolstered every time I look at Nine Sols. This indie gem boasts gorgeous visuals that truly pop on an OLED screen. Even without that boon, however, focused art direction keeps everything from backgrounds to character sprites stunning throughout. Personality especially shines through in its light animation—RedCandleGames do so much with so little. Written dialogue is tight and impactful, hitting its emotional beats well while absolutely selling a more understated, charming humour. The cherry on top that really ties this all together is the voice acting. There are only single line barks here, context-specific and unique to each character. With tone alone, the voice actors convey so much emotion in a single laugh, a single concerned humph, a single exclamation of shock. It’s all noise, yet it captures precise emotion impeccably well.

Speaking of precision, the combat of Nine Sols is the very embodiment of it. The Sekiro inspiration rings true as every grunt and boss alike is a rhythm game unto themselves. Parrying shiny attacks and dashing through crimson heavy hits are the basics, and they are handled with aplomb. Attaching and detonating talismans, explosive equipment earned with each perfect parry, is also brilliantly done. Talismans give you something to constantly work towards within each fight, and add a layer of resource management which, when coupled with gradually learning movement patterns and the natural rush of parry-focused combat, feels truly sublime.

It ain’t over till the bell rin–wait…

Difficulty is also perfectly tuned. Every boss has a very steep but rapid learning curve. What may feel like an unfair execution one round will begin to feel like a deft dance the next. Though many of Nine Sols’ bosses frustrated me in some way, not one of them made me feel like I had to put the game down and come back later. Everyone was vanquished in the same session I found them in, and it felt great to gradually learn their movesets while also experimenting with my own through the Jade upgrade system.

If combat encounters are a microcosm of Nine Sols’ perfect pacing, the exploration makes for the bigger picture. The game takes a very manageable approach to the Metroidvania. Instead of constant rooms in a completely connected map, each separate area is one big room with a smaller, seamless map within it. These different regions do connect to each other as expected, but there’s plenty of separation between them as well. A literal compartmentalising of the usual formula feels so nice to explore. Plus, the absence of teleporting between save points until you’re deeper into Nine Sols means backtracking never feels too overwhelming. With no easy fast travel, you’re less inclined to overly meander. With the later introduction of fast travel, you’re better equipped and have less to get too lost in. It’s perfectly paced.

Mmm gimme that sweet sweet gated progression.

My favourite example of Nine Sols’ impeccable cadence is the journey between Jiequan and Lady Ethereal, two of the titular Sols and big bosses of the game. After doing the usual biome exploration and path unlocking to eventually reach and fight Jiequan, the expectation is that more of the same will follow for the next boss. Instead, you’re almost immediately guided to her. Without spoiling too much, what follows is something much different in terms of navigation—and easily one of the best platforming gauntlets of the year so far. I mean it. From a visual, mechanical, and narrative standpoint, the journey to Lady Ethereal will undoubtedly go down as something truly special, even in a year already stacked with exquisite platforming and storytelling.

This is to say nothing of the actual story being told. Protagonist and player character Yi is a Sol, a powerful being and higher up of ancient Solarian society. After waking up from being left for dead in a ravine, we guide him through his quest for revenge on the other nine Sols (you see where the name comes from). The tight dialogue mentioned above kept me invested throughout. Even with that concision, though, Nine Sols knows exactly when to let its story shine for a little longer. Yi’s haunted past; the rescued village boy Shuanshuan’s wide-eyed excitement at a world he never knew existed; the banter of old friends found between Yi and the genius inventor Kuafu.

You’d never guess I just killed a man.

Wonderful story beats pop up between major fights and events, with plenty of flashbacks while we’re on the road. Even in the Four Seasons Pavilion, Yi’s safehouse, there are constant little bits of evolving visual storytelling. From gorgeous backdrops of technology both ancient and futuristic melding together, to the little things like seeing Shuanshuan’s paintings up on the walls as the story progresses. At every turn, Nine Sols manages to engage the player with its story.

With that, I cannot recommend Nine Sols enough. It will challenge you, it will intrigue you, and it will make you smile in the ways only a good Metroidvania can. In a year already stacked with great titles, and no shortage of Soulslikes or indies of this ilk, you owe it to yourself to give Yi and company a moment of your time.

Sarim played Nine Sols on PC with a review code.

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