Soul Void is a dark fantasy Game-Boy-style adventure game that takes about three hours to finish. Its story of a young woman navigating the perils of the underworld is intriguing and cathartic, and its art design makes incredible use of the eeriness of its retro pixel graphics. For anyone who enjoyed the characters and worldbuilding of Undertale, Soul Void offers a similarly offbeat odyssey of mystery and friendship illustrated with disturbing but brilliantly creative horror art.
Soul Void Redux
PC (Browser, Game Boy Emulators)
June 28, 2023
In Soul Void, you play as a nameless human who has found herself in the eponymous Soul Void, a nebulous underground realm between life and death. Unlike the other lost souls who inhabit this realm, your character isn’t dead, nor is she content to disappear into the darkness. It’s your job as the player to figure out why she’s here and help guide her back home.
You explore the expansive but largely linear underground world by navigating through roughly a dozen themed areas, which are viewed from a standard JRPG top-down perspective. There is no combat in Soul Void, and your range of action is limited to talking with NPCs and examining objects in the environment.
Although Soul Void includes a few simple mazes, the main challenge presented by the game involves finding the person, object, or set of objects that will allow you to proceed to the next area. In order to leave the opening town, for example, you’ll need to speak with the mayor to get her permission to venture into the borderlands.
In addition to your main objective, which is to keep moving forward, Soul Void also offers a few sidequests that involve delivering objects to NPCs. If you complete these sidequests, you’ll be able to unlock extra dialog during the closing scenes that better contextualizes the game’s ending. The creator has posted a useful and well-written walkthrough on their website that contains information on how to venture through the game without missing any sidequests. I enjoyed reading this walkthrough as a companion to the game, but I don’t think it will be necessary for most players. Soul Void is designed to be accessible, and it features built-in diegetic “cheats” that allow the player to bypass any unwanted difficulties.
Soul Void is the work of the artist Brooke Edenfield, who goes by @KadaburaDraws on Twitter. Kadabura’s strength is creating striking character designs with cyberpunk and eldritch horror aesthetics, and Soul Void serves as a vehicle for several unique characters to express their stories. Most of these characters are associated with an area where primal fears and modern anxieties are projected onto the landscape.
For example, the first area after you leave the opening town is filled with botanical horror. Hands grow out of vines, and vines grow out of people. Disembodied vine-hands scutter across the ground like Thing from The Addams Family. The centerpiece of the area is a grouping of three naked women whose faceless bodies are held aloft by vines and surrounded by flowers in a parody of feminine beauty and fecundity. None of these beings mean you any harm, but they are disturbing nonetheless.
The themes of the areas in Soul Void progress from archetypal and abstract to more specific and personal. A midgame area that resonated with me personally was the territory of a creature called The Husk, who has used the solid blackness of the void as a chalkboard canvas for its drawings. Although these sketchy drawings resemble standard video game scenery, with trees and houses and stairs, the objects have no substance, and you can walk over the drawings freely.
Along the way, you’ll encounter tangles of scribbles that give voice to the dark thoughts experienced by many creators who post their work online: Is it possible to stay relevant in a sea of content? Why can’t I be consistently productive? Am I worth more than the number of notes I get? Will people forget about me if I stop posting?
As your character travels between areas, she’ll occasionally experience hallucinations that take full advantage of the game’s retro graphics. Unlike the smooth and gorgeous pixel-art character portraits, the hallucination scenes play with the lo-fi Game Boy aesthetic to create jarring glitches in the environment graphics and character sprites. These sequences create an eerie sense of seeing something that isn’t meant to be seen, like a debug screen gone horribly wrong.
Along the way, a frightful entity haunting the borderlands tempts the protagonist to give in to her own fears and anxieties. What this character’s inner demons might be is never specified, but I was able to draw my own conclusions based on my experience with similar anxieties. It therefore felt extremely cathartic when the formerly silent protagonist finally speaks during the dramatic final confrontation.
Both endings of Soul Void are satisfying, but Kadabura respects the player’s intelligence and doesn’t provide clear answers for many of the questions posed by the game. Soul Void deals with intimately personal themes and archetypal horror imagery, so it’s fitting that it allows ample room for the player to explore and investigate their own interpretations. Still, even if you’ve had your fill of Silent Hill and prefer not to engage in personal introspection through horror games, Soul Void features a wealth of fantastic monster designs, a surprising amount of humor, and a lot of heart… along with blood, guts, and teeth.
You can play Soul Void on an internet browser via its page on Itchio, and you can also download the file to play on a free Game Boy emulator like mGBA. Kadabura originally released Soul Void in 2019 but recently updated the game in June 2023 to include different color palettes, background music, enhanced accessibility options, and an entirely new area. Homebrew retro Game Boy games created with GB Studio can be hit or miss, but Soul Void is an extremely polished yet still unique and personal work of art that deserves to stand alongside indie horror classics like Undertale, Off, and Yume Nikki.