This is a very simple and well-made game. It takes a top-down style reminiscent of the SNES Zelda, but there are only two buttons apart from movement: one for rolling and running (if held), and the other for the only weapon you have: an arrow which can be shot out and magically recalled. There are no enemies apart from the game’s 19 bosses. No dungeons or puzzles (well, the bosses are the puzzles). And you die in one hit.
The name is obviously meant to invoke everyone’s favorite challenging game series, Dark Souls (or Demon’s Souls if you’re older-school than I am), and I would’ve been more excited for something with all the NPCs and open exploration and item-based progression that are a part of the real Souls games, as well as the existing Zelda comparison. According to the credits, Titan Souls was made by roughly 3 people, with a couple dozen other names from publishers and recipients of special thanks, so something of that scope might have been a pretty tall order–and an unfair comparison–but with the name and visual style being what they are, the game is asking for it.
It falls into the “easy to learn, hard to master” category. The player has to stand still while recalling their one arrow after firing it, so attacks can’t be spammed. With good positioning, enemies can be damaged as the arrow flies back as well, though the arrow has to be far enough away to build up some momentum first. There are bonus achievements for killing bosses in special ways, an under-20-minute speedrun, as well as unlockable modes including a hard mode, iron mode (permadeath), and even a no-rolling mode.
The regular mode seems intimidating enough as it is, but you find out two things soon enough: One, bosses die about as quickly as you do, requiring a single accurate and well-timed arrow to kill and optionally a couple more hits at most to knock away some defenses first. Two, a boss doesn’t even have any choice in their attack patterns, and given the simplicity of your own setup–no slow heavy armor option, no dozen weapon types each with their own moveset that will change where you need to be and how the boss will react to you being there–this means you can easily predict everything the bosses will do as they move toward you. Part of the reason Dark Souls is so tricky is that even though it’s very important to bait specific moves from enemies, you can’t just rely on rote memorization to know how to get the boss to show their big glowing red spot in exactly this corner of the map exactly 4 seconds after the battle starts, and have an arrow already lined up to fire when it does.
The challenge of Titan Souls isn’t in quick reaction times but instead in learning for yourself how to exploit each bosses’ movements and behaviors, and while the 19 bosses killed me 412 times in total according to my endgame save file, I think it would be pretty easy to kill each boss within a couple attempts if I were interested in playing again, no special practice required. The bosses are really cool, but I can’t think of another action game that could have its difficulty trivialized to this extent just by watching an expert’s run first.
While it could be said that it’s important to the character of the game to journey through various maps to reach each boss door, I found having to navigate a couple screens from the nearest respawn point to rechallenge a boss to be somewhat frustrating, given that I could spend 20 seconds rolling along without any dangers on the road only to lose the boss fight within 2 seconds. Though the fights themselves were fun and didn’t feel frustrating at all even in failure, it bugged me to have my time wasted. One area stands out: A copy of Zelda’s Lost Woods, where you navigate by trial-and-error through a series of short maps, sometimes doubling back into the map you just exited to paradoxically arrive somewhere else. In Zelda, you might be made to fight small trash mobs in these rooms or use an item to reveal a secret, but in Titan Souls, where there isn’t so much as a jump button, much less any mechanical purpose for exploration, it’s easy to find yourself wondering why they didn’t just put the door to the boss right outside of the previous boss, or respawn you at the arena entrance. Some might call this cynical, but I think the romance of exploration isn’t suited for the gameplay.