Malicious Fallen is a remastering of 3D hack-and-slasher Malicious, developed by Alvion for the PS3 in 2010. That game’s apparent success led to a port to the PS Vita that came with additional content, all of which is bundled together in this remaster. However, having never played the original game, I will be judging Malicious: Fallen by its own merits.
You take on the role of the Spirit Vessel, an empowered human body inhabited by a nameless spirit. You can decide your gender, and are then tasked with defeating a group of powerful monsters and absorbing their souls in order to arm the Vessel against a demonic entity known as the Malicious.
It's a rather simple plot at first glance, but there is an item in the main menu labeled "Backstory", and as the name suggests, it provides some fairly lengthy insight into things – specifically the origins of each boss monster, and the events preceding your involvement. The main story is split into four chapters, and each time you beat one, you unlock the backstory for the next chapter.
This is where the bulk of the plot is explained, as there is very little in the actual game. It is a good way of not bogging down the main game with exposition for those who just want to battle giant monsters, while still having the full story available for those who want it. However, it is rather dull to read, as it is just plain text of a static, faded gray background. The text takes up less than half the screen too, so replacing the gray background with some illustrations to go along with the text would have greatly livened up the presentation.
Upon starting the game, the bleak hub world fares no better; it's an empty gray and white void, with only portals to each stage and a mystical man offering tutorials to keep you company. The stages can be done in any order, and the difficulty of the remaining stages rises with each one you complete. The stages themselves are all large arenas containing a boss monster and hordes of continuously spawning minions, making each encounter more akin to a single-player raid boss.
This is where the combat kicks in. The Spirit Vessel is armed with the Mantle of Cinders, a cloak that is able to change into a variety of different forms such as a pair of fists, a lance, and wings. You can perform light and heavy attacks, and there are a large number of lengthy and satisfying combos that even allow you to switch weapons mid-string and continue the combo with that weapon.
You also have an aura counter. You gather aura by defeating minions and use it to either enhance your attacks at the expense of some aura, or to go into a powered-up state during which the counter depletes rapidly. You can also use Aura to heal yourself. Rather than a tradition health system, Malicious Fallen uses one where, when you take too much damage at once, one of your limbs is destroyed. When all four are lost, the Vessel is destroyed, resulting in a game over. At the cost of a sizeable chunk of aura, you can restore your lost limbs, sans clothing.
Upon defeating a boss, you absorb their soul and gain a new weapon or ability à la Devil May Cry, and your performance is also ranked. The bosses themselves are all distinct from one another and have unique designs, and there is some strategy to each encounter, as having a certain power from one boss might help you defeat another.
The combat is fast-paced and definitely has the potential to make you feel like a badass, and the health system encourages you to play more defensively rather than just mashing the attack button until everything stops moving. Unfortunately, the game is brought down significantly by a number of factors – the first being the movement physics.
The Spirit Vessel moves around by floating, and controls like walking on ice. Whenever you try to stop or change directions, momentum will still carry you forward a short distance. This is not that big a deal for giant bosses, but for human-sized ones or ones with weak points, you will zip right past them and proceed to unleash hell on a bit of wall.
Another problem with the combat is that any enemies larger than the weakest type – including bosses – do not stagger when attacked, so they can and will interrupt your combos and knock you to the ground. When you are knocked down, your controls lock up until you automatically get back up on your feet, completely breaking game flow. You cannot even switch weapons while you are downed, and with the vast number of enemies and the frequency of their attacks, it is entirely possible to be knocked back down as quickly as you recover. This makes it near impossible to keep up with the constant barrage of attacks in later stages.
There is also an arbitrary half-hour time limit in every stage. This may sound generous at first, but some bosses have a tendency to put up shields that can only be broken by wailing on them for extended periods. This is not a challenge – it is just a time-waster.
But at least the game looks good. Running at 1080p and a solid 60fps, Malicious Fallen looks gorgeous in action. The art style looks like a painting come to life – particularly the particle effects – and the stages each have their own distinct atmosphere. The cape physics on the Mantle of Cinders are satisfying to watch (when it is not clipping through your body), and if you manage to get close to the camera for long enough, you can even see the spectral outlines of your destroyed limbs hanging and swaying limply off your body, which is a nice bit of detail.
Unfortunately, in stark contrast to the bosses and their stages, the soundtrack is completely forgettable. Aside from the hub world theme, it would be impossible to identify a single track from this game, even at gunpoint.
So in the end, while Malicious Fallen has the potential to be a fun hack-and-slasher, it is diminished by slippery movement controls, enemy AI that can overwhelm you and break the flow of the game, and an underwhelming soundtrack.