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Nine Sols Is A Satisfying 2D Take On From Software’s Least Imitated Game

Be like water.

screenshot from Nine Sols
Red Candle Games
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Soulslike games have become so numerous that even fans of the genre might be feeling a bit burned out on the grueling challenge they present by now. I know I have. But while From Software’s Dark Souls and Bloodborne have been imitated and referenced to the point of exhaustion, the studio’s shinobi masterpiece Sekiro hasn’t gotten the same treatment. But a new Sekiro-inspired Metroidvania from a surprising developer shows that more games may want to start looking at Sekiro’s nerve-wracking parry mechanics for inspiration.

Last week, Red Candle Games released Nine Sols, set in what the studio calls a Taopunk setting, which “blends cyberpunk elements with Taoism and Far Eastern mythology.” Taiwanese developer Red Candle is best known for Detention and Devotion, two psychological horror games that use religion and China’s oppression of Taiwan as the basis for their stories. Devotion in particular got a lot of attention for an Easter egg unflatteringly representing Chinese president Xi Jinping, which got the game pulled from sale.

For its latest game, Red Candle moves away from horror and toward fast-paced platforming action, though Nine Sols’ more fantastical setting hasn’t dulled the edge of the studio’s political storytelling. As you learn in the game’s opening hours, you play as Yi, a member of an ancient alien race called the Solarians. More than that, Yi is a former member of the ruling council known as the Sols on a quest to defeat his nine former co-rulers. As Yi delves further into the Sols’ sanctuary, players learn more about the horrible reign of the Sols and how Yi was cast out in the first place.

But getting there won’t be easy. It may seem like a given that a game inspired by Sekiro isn’t a walk in the park, but Nine Sols exceeds most other Soulslikes by a wide margin in terms of difficulty. Even in the game’s first battles, combat is punishing, and it only gets tougher as enemies become smarter, tougher, and more numerous. You’ll face mutant creatures that fly and scuttle across the ground, along with lightning-fast swordsmen and towering bosses, all gaining more powerful abilities as you progress further into the heart of the Sol’s sanctum.

Nine Sols’ bosses are a massive challenge even for Soulslike veterans.

Red Candle Games

Given its Sekiro roots, the best defense in Nine Sols isn’t dodging or blocking attacks, but parrying them. With a flick of the wrist, Yi can deflect almost any enemy strike, but only with proper timing. While a perfect parry will let Yi escape unscathed, a poorly timed one will still result in some damage, and a single un-parried attack can be devastating. Avoid being hit again for a few seconds and you’ll recover some of the damage from an attack, but that’s easier said than done when you’re in the thick of battle surrounded by robot swordsmen and other even more dangerous monstrosities.

In most Metroidvanias, it’s imperative to keep moving. Dodging, sprinting, and air-dashing your way through levels lets you avoid enemies and get where you’re going more quickly. Nine Sols instead puts more emphasis on stillness. You can dodge through attacks, but parrying them leaves enemies open to powerful counter attacks and keeps you from launching yourself into more danger. Learning to pause and wait for the perfect moment to parry and unleash your own attack is an entirely different skill, and one that feels incredible when you’re able to pull it off.

Only patience and careful timing will see you through Nine Sols’ punishing combat.

Red Candle Games

Even if you’ve honed your deflection skills in Sekiro, you should be ready to perish in Nine Sols. It can be a frustratingly difficult game at times — especially when some boss attacks hit a wider area than their animations suggest — but succeeding in fights that are as much about unflinchingly facing down enemies as they are pulling off combos is a thrill all its own.

It also helps that, as you’re tackling difficult challenges repeatedly, you’re at least doing it in a gorgeous environment. The lair of the Sols is a terrifying, sometimes nauseating place, but Nine Sols renders that dark world beautifully with colorful hand-drawn art. It may not be a world you’d like to visit yourself, but it’s quite the spectacle as a backdrop to Yi’s harrowing adventure.

Nine Sols is likely to stretch your skills to their limit, even for seasoned players — and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to see it to the end. I’m still making my way through this brutal Sekiro-like, but so far it’s been a satisfying struggle. Well, it’s been punishing, humbling, and sometimes infuriating, but always satisfying in the end. It may look like a typical Metroidvania on the surface, but Nine Sols offers a new spin on the genre even for players who think they’ve seen enough Soulslikes for one lifetime.

Nine Sols is available now on PC.

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