Nine Sols Key Art
Image via Red Candle Games

Nine Sols Review | Yi Must Learn to Parry

Your Sol is mine!

Metroidvanias have seen a bit of a renaissance in the past decade, thanks to the interest in the genre by smaller teams and indie developers. It’s become a bit saturated if you ask me, and it’s hard to get excited anymore when there isn’t much innovation. Thankfully that isn’t the case with Nine Sols which marks the return of Red Candle Games, the studio behind the incredible modern horror classic, Devotion.

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Nine Sols is inspired by recent action titles like Sekiro, Hollow Knight, and Katana Zero, and while I expected a polished action experience, what I got was a revenge tale full of blood, and beauty that surprised me in more ways than one.

Taopunk Dream

Nine Sols’ setting combines elements of Cyberpunk and Taoism to create a fairly unique world that I haven’t seen explored before in media. The themes of Taoism rooted in spiritual immortality and oneness with nature are oddly antithetical yet similar to Cyberpunk where being one with the machine to preserve one’s consciousness is part of its core philosophy. This blunt combination paints a landscape of machine and flesh perfect for a Metroidvania adventure.

In Nine Sols, we follow Yi, a warrior on a quest for revenge against the titular Nine Sols after being betrayed by his mentor and companions. This isn’t a simple revenge tale either, and there’s a lot more to it than that. Yi isn’t a mute protagonist but a largely fleshed-out character with a specific demeanor, a soft spot for his companions, especially Shaunshaun, and potential for growth. I’m not going to spoil anything but I think the story is one of the stronger parts of Nine Sols and serves as a good motivator to keep playing.

It’s a bloody tale of unchecked ambition, and the mystery of what led to the betrayal is worth seeing through to the end. The worldbuilding is dense, and there’s a lot to digest here, but it’s told in the usual logs fodder method that I’m a bit tired of now. It’s perfect when you’re conversing with the characters, and learning about the world as an active participant but picking up the next log to read about some piece of lore doesn’t help with the pacing.

Hesitation is Defeat

Combat in Nine Sols is largely inspired by Sekiro’s deflection system, and that’s quite evident. Enemies have proper tells, and indicators for when they’re about to attack, and learning to parry is downright essential if you want to make it far, especially because your basic attack is very weak. The animations are clean, there’s a satisfying clink upon a successful parry, the response from enemies is appropriate, and the follow-up always feels rewarding.

You’re not just parrying though, because the follow-up involves Yi applying a Talisman on enemies and bosses for extra damage and status effects. Getting used to this dance takes a while, but there are enough enemies to smack you in the face to beat the routine into you. You certainly get used to the mechanics but the game doesn’t become easier, I’d say, but the combat is refined, and polished. It doesn’t feel random, and you can always pinpoint where you messed up.

Bosses range from reasonably hard to straight-up sadistic. They have multiple phases, tons of attacks to memorize, and some excellent soundtracks. Some of the fights in the second half of the game are up there with the hardest Soulslike battles. There’s always the temptation to switch to the game’s “Story Mode”, but my pride wouldn’t let me, and I powered through to the prized “feeling of accomplishment”.

Yi’s arsenal slowly expands as you progress through the story, with new tools for movement, defense, and offense. These movement tools aren’t just vital for exploration, but play a part in combat too. The more you fight, the more skills you’ll unlock, and Nine Sols’ major skill tree feels focused, always adding some utility to your character rather than passive bonuses.

Some sections feel a bit too crowded for the 2D space, making parrying a bit trickier than usual, but I think Nine Sols falls into the hard-but-fair category without feeling overbearing.

Hand-drawn to Perfection

Nine Sols is an absolutely gorgeous game, and that’s a consistent quality throughout the experience. The character designs, animation work, and varied bosses are all detailed and memorable with arenas fitting to their personalities. There are detailed manga panels in place of cutscenes, and there’s a variety to their presentation as well. When you’re literally walking through a flashback sequence, you’ll have control over the character with a dynamic background, which is a great touch.

Each major area has a different visual theme, but individual sections of each area can feel a bit monotonous. This makes exploration somewhat confusing at times, especially when the default map doesn’t communicate individual rooms well. Yes, you eventually get map chips to improve readability, but it’s largely an exercise in frustration to navigate levels without any proper sense of direction, even when consulting the map.

Movement abilities, and eventually unlocking fast travel make things more convenient, but I’m not sure why locking away the ability to fast-travel between checkpoints isn’t available from the start. Some of the areas are massive, which just makes moving around an annoyance when it shouldn’t be. 

None of these complaints take away from the superb art direction though, which Red Candle Games continues to nail.

9
Nine Sols
Nine Sols is a brutal action title that’s full of heart, and a clear vision. Its refined combat system centered around parrying forces players to sharpen their reflexes and deflect their way to victory. Yi is a memorable protagonist, and there are plenty of characters in this Taopunk world worth interacting with. The superb art direction, and dense worldbuilding leave room for more to come, and while some of the exploration and navigation can feel a bit tedious at times, Nine Sols is a largely polished experience that’s a cut above the rest.
Pros
  • Excellent art direction
  • Polished parry-based combat system
  • Mechanically diverse and tough boss battles
  • Surprisingly dense worldbuilding and fleshed out characters
  • Hard but fair combat encounters
Cons
  • Lack of fast-travel in early game makes exploration a bit tedious
  • Map isn't intuitive even with the chips
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC

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Author
Image of Ali Hashmi
Ali Hashmi
Ali has been writing about video games for the past six years and is always on the lookout for the next indie game to obsess over and recommend to everyone in sight. When he isn't spending an unhealthy amount of time in Slay the Spire, he's probably trying out yet another retro-shooter or playing Dark Souls for the 50th time.
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