The gamer sitting here typing this is currently wondering what he was smoking when he pre-ordered the collector’s edition for the upcoming Soul Calibur VI at a cool £130. After all, I’ve long since sworn off collector’s editions (a whole topic in itself), I have nowhere to store another enormous box and there is also the small fact that I absolutely abhorred Soul Calibur V to the point that any attempt to give it another chance only ever results in utter fury. However, history is repeating itself because I distinctly recall feeling the hype for SCV pre-release and – again – ordering the collector’s edition. Am I trapped in a loop just like the neverending battle between Soul Calibur and Soul Edge?
I wanted to just buy the standard edition of the game and play it safe this time (those SCV-shaped scars still sting y’see) but of course, Namco-Bandai went and put a 35cm statue of Sophitia in the box didn’t they? The fiends. How could I resist? Will the quality be worth the price? Should I be angered that the US version looks superior with an artbook and steelbook that don’t appear to be here in the European CE? Will I remember that I could simply just cancel the pre-order on Amazon? I know I won’t do the latter because a) I’m a magpie for collectable shit and b) Sophitia is one of my favourite female characters in the series (and gaming in general, I suppose).
What this DOES stand for however is the final, final, final (I really mean it this time!) chance that I am giving this series. Soulcalibur has always been one of my favourite fighting games since I found myself enthralled by Soulblade on the Playstation but it hit a high point with Soulcalibur II and has gone downhill ever since. Soulcalibur III is my personal favourite (a view not shared by hardcore tournament types who were irked by alterations to certain characters’ move sets) but it comes from the same era as SCII and is similar in many ways.
Inspired by my insane pre-order, I’ve revisited SCIII, IV and V over the last week. I would have obviously gone back to SCII as well but unfortunately, I only have the Gamecube version and that console isn’t currently set up. Ditto for Soulblade on the PS1 (thanks to my PS2 refusing to play PS1 games at the moment) and as for the original Soulcalibur, I’ve never had a Dreamcast so it’s the one game in the series I haven’t played.
I hammered SCIII for a few days, re-learning the moves of my favourite characters and simply really enjoying it, a happy experience that ended with frustration when I attempted to start a new game on the ‘Chronicles of the Sword’ strategy game and was thwarted by the infamous save data corruption glitch. The time I DID spend with SCIII however was marvellous. Visually the game is very similar to its predecessor but with greater detail and the music is some of the best ever produced for a fighting game in my opinion. The character roster is fantastic, the creation tool is still fun and there are plenty of modes for the solo player to sink their teeth into. Back when I first got this game in the PS2 era, I utterly destroyed it and the amount of time that the disc spent in the tray was rivalled only by the likes of GTA San Andreas, Tekken 5 and Persona 3.
Even today, the game and its animation are still incredibly easy on the eye. Sure, it took some re-adjustment after playing the later HD sequels but the character models and detail are still among the best on the Playstation 2 and it only took me ten minutes or so to forget how ‘old’ the aesthetics were in relative terms. This game along with Tekken 5 showed Namco to be one of the best at wringing the best from Sony’s second machine.
Soulcalibur IV is a strange one. Even as a relatively early PS3/360-era game, it still looks beautiful today and the character models are a big step-up from the previous generation. Roster-wise, things are great again with most favourites making a return. General gameplay is tight but the niggles were creeping in at this point. Destructible armour/equipment was a nice touch but the ability to instantly win a match by ‘soul crushing’ your opponent and activating a super move was more questionable. Thankfully, it wasn’t too easy to pull off and as such, not intrusive. Unfortunately, Namco had meddled with movesets yet again and the single-player experience was very shallow – a stark contrast to SCIII‘s box of goodies in that department. And the Star Wars guest characters? Very ill-fitting product placement (Revenge of the Sith was out at the time so it was a loose tie-in of sorts…) and the ‘Apprentice’ character is a cheap-as-fuck arsehole that I cannot stand. That said, I’d be outright lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying the Star Destroyer Loading Bay stage with the Star Wars main theme as the soundtrack.
These irritations all came flooding back when I popped SCIV into my PS3 but overall, it is still a decent, fun game with lots of positives…compared to what was to come afterwards – oh boy!
As I said at the very beginning, I’ve given Soulcalibur V numerous chances and every time, I wind up incensed with fury. As a videogame, it is a good game and clearly a very polished effort that doesn’t deserve to be labelled a “bad game” but as a Soulcalibur game, it outright SUCKS. To begin with, single-player mode is virtually non-existent (Namco prioritising the online and tourney types) and then there is the roster which was dramatically overhauled. The game’s story is set further down the line than SCIV‘s so many of the popular characters like Taki, Kilik and Sophitia have been exchanged for students, disciples and offspring of those much-loved fighters. Problem is, they simply aren’t as endearing so when you play as Pyrrh (for example), you really want to be playing as Sophitia or Cassandra and the fact that the movesets for the descendant characters aren’t quite the same just make the fact worse. New characters like Z.W.E.I and Viola are incredibly out-of-place in the fifteenth century setting and multiple slots are wasted by characters with randomly selected fighting styles. The latter was a novelty back in the day with Charade (and Mokujin in Tekken) but having lots of these characters simply frustrated me in SCV, especially when one of them – Elysium – resembled the absent Sophitia. What a tease!
But it’s the gameplay and how Namco overcomplicated it that really lets SCV down. The first cardinal sin was messing with the core risk/reward Guard Impact ability and making it reliant on meter rather than free-to-use. Then there were ‘Brave Edge’ attacks – upgrades of standard attacks that use meter to enhance the number of hits and power, similar to EX moves in Street Fighter. Finally, those appalling Critical Edge super moves because obviously, every fighting game must have intrusive, super move cinematics that interrupt the flow of the game and deal massive damage. Worse still, the losing player will receive free meter in the final round to give them a chance to come back, pandering to those who would like fighting games more accessible and less punishing. I went into this latest SCV revisit with an open mind but I simply couldn’t deal with it for long.
Playing this game is akin to seeing how you can hold your breath beneath water before drowning. Without the Guard Impact, the game definitely suffers and those super moves are a ill-conceived travesty born of ends justifying means. Even if I COULD condition myself to this new way of playing, there’s simply nothing to do for a player that doesn’t enjoy online fighting. The only positive element of Soulcalibur V is the highly-detailed character creation tool which I’ve honestly spent more time than the game itself, creating characters that I can’t even be bothered to play with. Let THAT sum up how I feel about SCV.
So can Soulcalibur VI save this once magnificent fighting game series from continuing down a path of mediocrity? My early thoughts (based on all the footage and reveals thus far) are cautiously optimistic. The roster has gone backwards to include many favourites from the past and I’m pleasantly stunned to see the likes of Zasalamel returning. Guard Impact is meant to be free-to-use again and aesthetically, the game looks lovely to behold. As of now, my two biggest concerns are the returning super moves (which seem more cinematic than ever) and the big question of how much SP content there will be this time. I hope that Namco have learnt from their previous effort but at the same time, fighting games in general have been slashing offline content for a while now and even offering it as DLC down the line so an online-weighted structure should hardly be surprising.
This is definitely the series’ final chance to get me back onboard though so it HAS to be good.