Well, Evo 2019 has come and gone and the fighting game community has had its fill of exciting news. However, as much as I class myself as a fighting game devout, I must admit that I was a bit tardy on keeping up with all of the announcements from the event. I kind of like it that way though. I could have stuck with a live Twitter feed or whatever but there’s something about gorging on ALL of the news in one go post-event.
So yes, lots of exciting stuff was shown but there was one reveal that made me sit up and take notice: the immediate return of Cassandra Alexandra to the Stage of History in Soulcalibur VI!
Pre-release, I made a post listing the characters that I’d most like to see return for SCVI and Cassandra was on that list. In fact, she is the fourth character from that list (counting the honourable mentions section) to make the cut, following in the footsteps of Seong-Mina, Tira and Zasalamel so I think that I’m doing quite well here with regards to my wants list.
The best thing about that Evo 2019 announcement was that we only had to wait a matter of days to gain access to Sophitia’s spunky lil’ sister. Being late to the Evo newsfeed meant that Cassandra was already available so I immediately put the game disc back in my PS4 and updated it, once again thankful for owning the season pass that came out of the otherwise rubbish Collector’s Edition.
First impressions: Cassandra is really fun to play with. I’ve always “mained” Sophitia throughout the series and can’t say that I’ve ever sunk much time into her sister but I can already tell that her moveset has been much overhauled. Nevertheless, she retains her more aggressive, beatdown style of play. I also really dig her Critical Edge attack and haven’t yet tired of the animation. Additionally, I think I appreciate her sassy and self-confident personality a lot more than I have in previous installments. She’s just a lot of fun, especially in her all-new story mode chapter that the development team went to the trouble of creating.
[I’m also a sucker for another buxom blonde sporting notably bouncy physics. Seriously, SCVI gives DOA a run for its money with certain characters, Cassandra most certainly included…]
Cassandra aside, SCVI is going to keep on giving thanks to the announcement of a second season of DLC which promises four more characters and even more creation parts. What’s more, one of those characters is going to be Haohmaru from SNK’s Samurai Shodown series! It’s a perfect crossover of franchises from different companies and one that I have often wished for in the past.
More importantly, this is DLC done RIGHT. I tend to hammer SCVI then shelve it to play something else (currently: Yakuza 0) but I will be straight back on it as soon as new content is released. It’s keeping me playing the game and – as far as we can see anyway – it isn’t cynical DLC conceived pre-release and held back. All of the new characters that have been released thus far are faithful to previous iterations for example, but have been heavily updated gameplay-wise so it is clear that effort and love is being put into SCVI by the development team. Yes, I didn’t have to intentionally buy my season pass but I will 100% be purchasing the pass for the second season on the strength of how well the game has been supported post-release so far.
My faith in Project Soul has been well and truly restored after the disaster that was Soulcalibur V and I am still soimpressed with VI as you can tell by the way I’m banging on about it here as if it’s the second coming. The gameplay, the character roster and the general feel were all so well-realised this time around and that’s before taking into account the post-launch support that I’ve just been talking about.
As far as I am concerned, you can keep Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 because Soulcalibur VI is the most enjoyable fighting game of the generation and just a real success story that speaks to the fans. The only other fighting game that comes close this gen for me is The King of Fighters XIV for pretty much the same reasons: fantastic gameplay, enjoyable DLC, spot-on legacy respect and plenty of content right out of the gate.
I can’t wait to see what comes next and that enthusiasm isn’t always in abundant supply when you’ve been gaming for over twenty years so I know that this game is doing something extremely right.
We’re only five months into 2019 but I can already say that this has been my most barren year for gaming so far. Not a great thing to publicise on a gaming blog, huh? Well, a combination of things has stunted my gaming enthusiasm:
Being stuck on ‘big’ games for too long
Less available time than before
A general lack of desire
With that said, I have still managed to get my game on during April and May and play a few things…
Dead or Alive 5: Last Round (PS4)
Earlier in the year, I posted about why DOA5was such a great fighting game in my opinion. With the arrival of DOA6, I decided to get back into its immediate predecessor again. There are a few aspects of 6 that I’m not overly happy about hence why I haven’t purchased a copy yet. That and the fact that I didn’t ever get the most out of DOA5 despite playing all of its revisions. I tend to stick with Ayane and a few other characters for the most part so there is still a lot for me to get from the game which is why I wanted to get back into playing it. I think, as a gamer, you just KNOW when you haven’t mentally finished with a game and this is certainly the case with me and Last Round.
Soulcalibur VI (PS4)
Fighting games have always been my favourite genre but I seem to have fallen behind lately. Thankfully, the wonderful Soulcalibur VIhas reignited my passion for fighting games and even though I haven’t sat down with a controller nearly as much this year, this is probably the one game that has hooked me enough to lose track of time on numerous occasions. To tell you the truth, I’m still in shock at how good this game is and how we came from the awful Soulcalibur V to this, a sequel which is right up there with SCII and SCIII for me. Every time I take a bit of a break, Namco drop some more DLC for the game that gets me all excited again and makes me feel the way I did earlier in my gaming life when I wasn’t so jaded. I love creating characters for example and Namco keeps adding new customisation parts that encourage me to make more new characters and go back to my older ones to update them. Oh and as of typing this, they just added in the OSTs from SCII and III to customise the game with! SCVI has pretty decent music in fairness but II and III were the high points for me so this was AMAZING.
Metal Slug Anthology (PSP)
Last month I decided to charge up and use my handhelds just to look after the batteries. What I didn’t expect was to end up playing a fair bit of Metal Slug Anthology on the PSP, a game that I sold a long time ago but had had the foresight to retain on my custom firmware-enabled memory stick. Of course, you can’t just have a “quick go” on a Metal Slug game; they are addictive and it just doesn’t work that way! So I ended up playing all of the games and reviewing the compilation. What I re-learnt was that the classics don’t age and neither does Nazca’s mind-blowing art style. I adore these games and playing them granted me a strong hit of love for videogames in general.
Yakuza 5 (PS3)
This was the “big” game that was bogging me down and had been for over a YEAR now. Yakuza is one of my most cherished videogame series’ and so it must be stressed that I wasn’t burnt out on it and I hadn’t had enough. The problem was that I had decided to go for 100% on Yakuza 5 which turned out to be a bad decision. Eventually (for my own sanity) I had to turn back and be satisfied with 95% completion. So I finally, FINALLY completed the game after 170 HOURS of playtime. Fucking hell; how did that happen? All the wandering around, fighting and trying to get the 100% I guess. This is easily the hardest game in the series to 100% in my experience and so I don’t feel too bad about abandoning my quest as much as it hurts the obsessive part of me. I don’t enjoy or understand the Japanese gambling games, the Ito fish is impossible to catch (seriously, fuck that fish – it doesn’t exist!) and the hardest level of Winter Combat is something I ran out of SOUL to continue attempting. It was a superb game though and it’s a shame that it was a digital-only release here in the West as my Yakuza shelf looks incomplete without a box showing the number ‘5’ on the spine. I have Yakuza 0, Kiwami and 6 all ready to play on the PS4 (still need to pick up Kiwami 2…) but I think I will take a bit of a break from the series to avoid burnout.
3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS)
As part of charging up my handhelds, I played this again on my 3DS since I have very few retail games left in my collection and have nothing new to play. This is no bad thing however as Streets of Rage 2 is one of my all-time favourite games and a masterpiece of design. These days I tend to stick with the mighty SoR Remake on PC but there’s still something nice about going ‘pure’ and playing the second game as it was intended. M2 did a sterling job with the 3DS port and all the lovely options/settings it comes with and so I always have a blast coming back to SoR2. As with Metal Slug, games like this make me feel happy without even trying. I can’t wait for SoR4…
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)
This has been sat on my shelf since Christmas and I’ve only just taken the wrapping off the box. I’ve played Activision’s remasters in the “wrong” order and completed the Spyro Reignited Trilogy right after receiving it (also a Christmas gift) but then I got distracted by other games and the mountain that was Yakuza 5 so Crash got neglected. Spyro was always one of my Playstation favourites though so those remasters were ALWAYS going to get played first. I finally got stuck into the N.Sane Trilogy yesterday and so far, so good. I’ve aways considered the original Crash Bandicoot to be the trickiest of the original trilogy with a more merciless level design that holds little room for error and I’m not finding it much easier this time around. That’s probably because the OG game was tight and short of dumbing down the game and level design, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. I’m glad that they didn’t meddle however because otherwise, I simply wouldn’t be interested in these remasters. It’s nice to be playing these games again in lovely PS4-o-vision but at the same time, I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ about revisiting the original Crash Bandicoot. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore it but I feel like I’m going through the motions. It probably doesn’t help that I downloaded the first game on my PSVita not that long ago so the game is still relatively fresh in my head. Still, it’s fun enough and the 90’s PS1 fanboy in me is enjoying the nostalgia hit. I played these games when they were new back then and I can’t understand where the time went!
That brings me up-to-date with my gaming situation so far in 2019. I plan to take a break from the bigger, more time-consuming stuff for a while now so that I can focus on having a greater variety of gaming experiences rather than slogging away at the same few games for an eternity.
At the time of writing this post, it is Monday the 22nd of October. Soulcalibur VI was released on Friday the 19th and quite honestly, I’m still getting over how impressed I am with the game. Obviously, I knew that the game was going in the right direction from all of the previews and teasers that showed off a more nostalgic character roster harking back to SC, SCII and SCIII but I deliberately held off on knowing too much which may be why I was so pleasantly surprised when I had the actual game in my hands at long last.
In short, this game feels a lot closer to SCII and SCIII as far as I’m concerned. More competitive players might feel otherwise but as somebody who has heavily enjoyed the series from the very beginning, I feel qualified to say that. I absolutely abhorred the reinvention that was SCV so it is absolutely joyful to discover that – Critical Edge ‘super’ moves aside – literally everything about that game has been chucked into the dumpster, hopefully in the most unceromonious way possible.
Gone are the new characters and descendants/disciples that nobody asked for in the first place. Gone are all the new gameplay mechanics that they introduced for SCV. Those super moves are still cinematic and damaging but this time, they don’t feel quite so decisive and the meter that governs their use appears to fill at a more sedate pace. There is also some single-player content this time in the form of a main story mode and a secondary story mode which involves some levelling-up, side-missions and attractive production value. I haven’t gotten anywhere near finishing the latter yet but it feels like it could take some time so that’s nice.
I’m also extremely satisfied to see the classic Guard Impact feature return with no restriction. SCV made GI a meter-dependant technique which (in my opinion at least) killed the gameplay. Guard Impact was always about mastering the timing and committing to that risk vs reward element just like with the parrying in Street Fighter III. It separated button-mashers from practiced players and was a staple of the series so it is fantastic to have it back in a free-to-use capacity.
Overall it simply feels like the development team have poured a lot of love into Soulcalibur VI. I have read that this game NEEDS to do well at retail or Namco-Bandai may very well can the series once and for all. SCV wasn’t ‘supposed’ to happen after all and only saw the light of day due to internal resistance to the idea of the series being put away in storage. It then sold poorly so perhaps Project Soul were permitted to make this game more to their tastes as opposed to reinventing Soulcalibur again in accordance to the wishes of marketing men.
The only negatives I have to report so far are pretty minor niggles. ‘Soul Points’ (used to ‘pay’ for unlocking certain customisation parts) are pretty tough to earn offline and the 5000 Gold > 100SP exchange rate within the Libra of Soul mode is pretty rough. I have no doubt that Soul Points are easier to earn by playing online (it’s usually the case with any of these reward systems in modern fighting games) but as I don’t actually have a Playstation Plus sub, I can’t comment on that side of things right now. The other mini-moan is directed at the character creator mode itself and the fact that the bulk of the parts are exactly the same as those we have been using to build characters with for several generations of SC games now. Some fresh bits and pieces would have been nice.
Those small issues aside, I’m loving this game. It’s been great to leap back in with my ‘main’ – Sophitia – and instantly get back into the groove with all of her well-practiced moves. I intend to learn Zasalamel and Tira next since those are two more of my favourites, Zasalamel in particular being a character that I wished for pre-reveal but didn’t expect to actually see in SCVI given that this game takes place before SCIII (Zasalamel’s debut). I’m guilty of being a cynical old git when it comes to modern gaming so the fact that SCVI has exceeded my expectations and shocked me with how much it appeals to the SC series veteran in me feels like a small miracle, especially following SCV which I didn’t think I would ever get over.
Stay tuned and I will get some pictures up soon of the collector’s edition (European version).
Ever since the decline of the arcades and 16-bit home console era, there have been quests to find worthwhile modern examples of the genres that were driven close to exctinction by the arrival of cinematic, story-driven games. The beat ’em up is one such genre that flourished in the late 80’s and early 90’s but quickly became irrelevant to the mainstream. Developers attempted to take advantage of polygons and update their classic franchises but the results were a mixed bag to say the very least. After all, the likes of Fighting Force can hardly be discussed in the same breath as Final Fight…not by anybody with any taste anyway!
The PS2/Xbox/GC era was a particular low point as far as beat ’em ups go and there genuinely aren’t many decent ones to speak of. When they did appear, they weren’t quite the same as their 2D forerunners. I’ve already reviewed Final Fight Streetwise here but that game – along with Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance – included semi-free roaming gameplay as well as other features such as stat upgrades, side missions and cutscenes. The core beat ’em up objective (to smash the crap out of thugs and hoods) was still there but the purity of the arcade classics was lost.
One game that frequently gets brought up when gamers are questing for a good beat ’em up from the new millenium is Namco’s Urban Reign for the PS2. Like its rivals however, Urban Reign isn’t quite the game you might expect and simply expecting it to be a straightforward beat ’em up actually invites disappointment as I recently discovered.
I was expecting Urban Reign to be a 3D version of the old-school arcade beat ’em ups. You would have thought I’d have learnt by now that this just isn’t enough to sell a game in the modern era but even so, I popped the disc in and was prepping myself for perhaps ten to fifteen stages of ‘scrolling’ through streets and alleyways, punching thugs and making my way towards a boss at the end of each level. Bloody hell…get with the times old man! That shit was so 1992.
Instead, there is a brief cinematic introduction to the main character (Brad Hawk) who is apparently the new hard-arse in a town ruled by crime and violence. Brad starts working for Chinese crime boss, Shun Ying Lee, a female swordswoman equipped for the Playstation 2 generation of videogame marketing with a low-cut jumpsuit and an eye-popping B-W-H ratio that doesn’t exactly reflect a typical East Asian woman. The plot is henceforth communicated via narrated text boxes before each mission and is your standard guff about rival gangs, turf warfare and all that stuff so nothing new to see here. I was expecting cut-scenes perhaps but almost thirty missions in (yes, I’ll get to that in a moment), it was still just text explaining why Brad needed to go and beat up a rival gang boss or why Brad had to survive an alleyway encounter with a mob of gang members. Pretty soon I was skim-reading the ‘plot’ and just skipping it all. Wuthering Heights this wasn’t.
This was beginning to look bad. Urban Reign didn’t sell very well by all accounts and it isn’t difficult to see why. The main character looks bland, the cover for the game is boring and the usual mid-2000’s videogame tropes are all correct and present: female character with huge tits and highly impractical outfit? Check. Generic homie ‘gangsta’ enemies? Check again. Unnecessary plot that tries to hard? Big fat ol’ check. The other probable reason that Urban Reign underperformed at retail (aside from barely being marketed at all by Namco) is because the gameplay itself was likely not what punters expected. Perhaps gamers made the same mistake I did and expected a modern take on the classic beat ’em up style with the same game structure. It’s difficult to know for sure but what you actually get is something a bit different.
Instead of long, roaming stages that trap you with groups of enemies before allowing you to move forwards, Urban Reign serves up bite-sized missions that can be cleared quite quickly. The player is enclosed within a confined, limited arena-like space (be it a street, alleyway, bar etc.) with objective of simply beating all of the enemies. Sometimes you have to take down a more challenging foe in a one-on-one scenario and sometimes there are extra conditions such as defeating opponents within a time limit but the basics are the same. It feels like a series of small challenges and the game more than makes up for the lack of a complex structure with the sheer amount of these self-contained missions.
Repetition – in terms of both the gameplay and the reasons the game gives you for having to fight the next assortment of undesirables – set in with me quite quickly but after clearing thirty missions, something amazing happened.
There’s actually MORE to this game?
So I beat the thirtieth mission and FINALLY a cutscene and some form of plot progression! By this point, I was seriously not expecting it at all but here it was. More importantly, the game gives you a selection of partners that you can take along with you into battle (a roster that gradually increases as you beat key enemies and they join your cause) and this brings special team-up style attacks to the mix. You can also issue directions to your buddy and get them to take out certain enemies or initiate special team-up moves.
Before I get into discussing the actual game mechanics, I need to take a moment to really look at this late introduction of the rest of Urban Reign‘s features. For it to take thirty missions for the game’s plot to wake up and decide to continue is crazy, even more so when you consider that Urban Reign is not a walkover. I played the the game on the default difficulty setting and many of those first thirty missions were incredibly challenging (for reasons I will discuss when talking about the actual gameplay in a moment) and took a lot of retakes and patience to beat. It’s not hard to imagine gamers getting frustrated by the challenge with (seemingly) no game development being dangled in front of them like a carrot to keep them pushing forwards. That and the fact that it takes this long for the partners to become available. It’s almost as if you have been playing a massive tutorial for all this time except the road certainly isn’t your standard tutorial difficulty.
So with that mini rant out of the way, let’s have a look at the actual gameplay itself because it’s reasonably interesting for a beat ’em up. The most surprising thing for a three dimensional beat ’em up is that there is NO block/guard button. Instead, the whole fighting system is based around countering. Pushing the square button at the precise moment will allow you to avoid a strike or grapple. However, to really do damage and beat the tougher enemies, you also need to get countering and you can either do this by responding immediately with a combo or by pushing the analogue stick left/right while dodging which shifts your character behind the opponent, opening them up for difficult to avoid counter strikes or grapples.
It’s an easy-to-grasp, tough-to-master mechanic and you can get away with not being good at it for the easier missions but many bosses will simply not hit the deck unless you can consistently counter their attacks and punish them with follow-up combos and throws. What this system does in general is force you to either stand your ground and learn to counter or run away and find space but enemies in Urban Reign will catch up to you very quickly so the second option isn’t exactly reliable. It’s a case of getting good…or else!
(Analogue) Stick it to ’em
As far as the offensive combat goes, the analogue stick pays a crucial part. Mashing the attack button will unleash a character’s basic combo string but attacking in conjunction with pushing the analogue stick up or down allows to target their upper and lower body regions with the latter usually being some kind of sweep that can provide crucial seconds to breathe when under pressure. You can also attack downed characters by pushing down on the stick when next to them.
Grapples work in the same way, allowing you target specific parts of an enemy and deal greater damage when it comes to “destroying” one of three body zones, allowing for bigger damage when targeting said zone with further attacks. Perhaps it goes without saying but there are different holds and throws available depending on whether you are in front or behind an enemy. Sprinting takes a bit of getting used to because instead of double-tapping the analogue stick or holding a button whilst moving (as in many other 3D action games), you press the X button once and your character begins running automatically, only stopping once you go for another input. You can slide-tackle enemies or even run up walls and leap off to attack enemies from above.
There’s a reasonable amount going on but the real fun comes when experimenting with creating big combos of strikes and grapples. This being made by Namco, there is Tekken-style juggling and wall-bouncing which is both a help and hindrance. On one hand, you can use it to your advantage to extend combos and even grab enemies mid-air for context-exclusive grapples. The downside is that you can get destroyed very quickly by enemies when being smashed against a wall over and over or trapped in mid-air, being comboed by multiple foes. In a sense, losing feels extremely cheap when the CPU goes apeshit on you like this but the counter system does work mid-combo and in mid-air albeit with strict timing so it isn’t entirely unfair. It simply forces you to get good at the game rather than rely on button-mashing and it’s this that sets Urban Reign apart from old-school 2D beat ’em ups. There is some depth to combat here and if you want a better visual demonstration, check the game out on Youtube where there are videos from players doing an amazing job of utterly schooling the toughest enemies on the most savage difficulty.
One issue which I can’t really forgive is the fact that it doesn’t take much to stun your character and render them momentarily dizzy, leaving you unable to respond to attacks with dodges or counters. An SPA (Special Arts) move will immediately snap you out of this state but it consumes precious meter which you are (obviously) trying to conserve to go on the offensive.
There are a hundred missions in Urban Reign‘s story mode to clear and once those are polished off, there are some more interesting things to have a play with. Multiplayer for instance gives you more of a fighting chance when an actual person is controlling your partner (though the AI is actually quite solid in this respect and often wins the missions for you). There is also a Challenge mode (think ‘Survival’ against individual foes) and a Free Play mode which allows you to replay all of the story mode’s missions for a rank. This last mode is of greatest interest as you are no longer restricted to using Brad Hawk and can roll with a tag team of any two characters providing they have been unlocked. All of the main allies from story mode are present but you can also unlock the random enemies/thugs as well as brand-new characters including guest stars Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law from Tekken!
But should you persevere with the main game and go to the lengths of unlocking characters? I would say “yes” because Urban Reign might not be what most people are expecting i.e. a mindless (not meant in a derogatory way) button-mashing beat ’em up that harks back to the 2D days but the game is great in it’s own way. The combat is very satisfying once you have gotten to grips with the counter system and learnt some combos and there is genuine challenge on offer. So many missions made me think “Damn, this is impossible; how are you expected to win here?!?” but you keep coming back and trying again, slowly getting better and better at the game until you get that perfect run on a mission. True, you sometimes have to rely on flukes, CPU slip-ups or cheap tactics to win but for the most part, you feel like you have earnt that victory and it is SO satisfying to finally overcome an against-the-odds mission.
The major downside is the amount of time that Urban Reign needs to get going. Without trying to sound impatient, it takes far too long for any story progression and – more importantly – too long for partners, weapons and all of the special moves to become available. Gradually developing a character’s skills and unlocking stuff in games is nothing new but the issue here is that it DOES take too long and the game does a poor job of communicating your actual progression and end goals. This combined with the often ruthless difficulty will be off-putting to many – especially if they expected a different kind of game structure – but if you can stick with it and learn the mechanics then there is a really enjoyable beat ’em up experience here and certainly one of the best of its generation.
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 abhorredSoul 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.
The last two generations of home consoles have hosted a major resurgence in the fighting game genre. Widely credited to success of the original Street Fighter IV (before it was updated twenty billion times at the last rough estimate), developers began dusting off their old franchises again and arcades in Japan were treated to a new slew of 2D and anime-styled fighters, many of which managed to reach us here in the West. Of course, the genre never completely died out; it just lost a lot of popularity. The likes of Tekken, Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive quietly soldiered on and were played by the genre faithful but gamers were more interested in open-world adventuring, sports games and online shooters.
SFIV represented Capcom finally deciding to quit it with the ports and re-releases and invest serious money into a brand-new installment. It was a very well-received game that revived a genre. Rival series’ that had never really gone away received more exposure and new franchises such as Blazblue exploded onto the scene. Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear became big names again and we were treated to all manner of quirky, interesting fighters such as Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth and Tatsunoko Vs Capcom. As I type this today, Arika have just returned to the fray with Fighting EX Layer, Blade Strangers is on the horizon and a Dragonball fighting game has become a serious tournament contender. It’s a great time to be a fan of fighting games and yet, this is no “Golden Age” because that time has already been and passed.
That “Golden Age” – in my opinion – began in 1991 with the release of Street Fighter II (the game that all 2D fighting games still owe their basic templates to) and ended around 2000/2001 with Capcom Vs SNK 2 and Marvel Vs Capcom 2 – a duo of games that represented a culmination of a decade of advances in presentation, gameplay and crossover spectacle. I might look like I’m giving Capcom too much credit here by only citing their games but it’s simply a fact that some of their greatest and most popular creations bookend this fantastic era. Before discussing why I believe this ’91-’01 period to be the undisputed Golden Age of fighting games, I want to talk about the three main reasons that I believe were responsible for its eventual death.
The decline of the arcades
Capcom pulling out of developing original titles/new sequels
The bankruptcy of the original SNK
Again, it really isn’t my intention to downplay the likes of Namco who side-stepped all of this and continued to keep Tekken in the public eye but I simply see Capcom as a bigger driving force in the genre who – when they get the attention of gamers – can help lift up everybody else along the way.
The Decline of Arcades
As the 90’s progressed, home console gaming grew in its power to impress consumers with the Playstation, N64 and Sega Saturn all offering cutting-edge 3D visuals which look hideously dated today in many cases but were mindblowing coming off the back of what the SNES, Mega Drive and other lesser competitors had been able to offer. PC gaming was continuing to gather serious steam with graphics that outstripped consoles (if you had the money to invest in the right upgrades for your tower) and that all-important online play. One ultimate side effect of this mighty technological push was that chasing perfect home conversions of arcade games suddenly seemed redundant when superior, more in-depth experiences could be had with original software on home consoles. Gamers wanted the story-driven style of gaming and genres that the arcades couldn’t offer due to their quick-play nature and so the arcades had their days numbered.
No longer was it the case that you had to hit up your local amusements or city centre arcade to gape in awe at the best graphics, smoothest animation and booming audio. Why would you when Ocarina of Time could deliver a vast, detailed game world? Gran Turismo offered hundreds of detailed real-world vehicles and circuits while Final Fantasy‘s CG segments were like movies except they came with monstrous amounts of gameplay unlike the old FMV “movie” experiments of the early 90’s. Gaming was evolving and it was no longer important to debate over which system could provide the most accurate home version of an arcade fighting game.
The irony however was that despite the pressures placed upon the arcade arena, some of the greatest and most memorable of fighting games were released during this period, a golden age of creativity that paradoxically took place while its traditional host environment received a slew of super moves to the face from the home console market. It wasn’t KO time yet but the writing was clearly on the wall. After all, new, increasingly powerful arcade technology cost a lot of money to develop and manufacture, a practice that made decreasing financial sense when a publisher could make easier profits on shipping thousands of copies of their game on a CD for home consoles.
Home conversions of the great games of this era still happened but the dedicated fighting game fan had to go to greater lengths to acquire the optimal versions of the arcade games they wanted in their home. Capcom’s games for example were usually severely compromised to function on the market-leading Playstation (due to a lack of video RAM) so if you wanted to play the likes of Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter or Vampire Saviour as intended then you had to have a Sega Saturn capable of playing Japanese imports and the RAM expansion cartridge. To a fanatic of the genre, this was probably not a great deal but it pushed fighting games a little further from the mainstream compared to the SNES days when anybody could walk into a shop and purchase Street Fighter II.
It was at this point that the popularity within the genre mirrored the trend of 3D being more interesting than 2D with Namco’s Tekken proving extremely popular. Tekken was an arcade game but the name quickly became associated with the extremely accurate Playstation conversions and many consumers weren’t even aware of where each installment originated from. A further interesting fact is that the first three Tekken games + Tekken Tag Tournament all ran on Namco’s System 11 (Tekken, Tekken 2) and System 12 (Tekken 3,Tag) arcade technology which was very closely linked to the Playstation. System 11 in particular was essentially a Playstation except that it used surface-mounted ROM chips to store game data whereas the Playstation obviously had CD-Rom storage.
Numerous imitations emerged while Namco struck gold again by innovating with their weapons-based SoulEdge (known as SoulBlade in the West) and following it up with the massively popular SoulCalibur. Truly, it was the 3D fighting games that made perfect sense at home which were leading the way now. Conversions of 2D fighting game giants such as Third Strike and The King of Fighters were relegated to less successful consoles such as Sega’s short-lived Dreamcast with more and more games becoming import-only affairs denied to Europe and sometimes the US as well. The genre was not dead but it was evolving and the likes of Tekken and SoulCalibur would soon become more synomonous with home consoles than arcades (SoulCalibur III for instance was developed for the Playstation 2 first and then converted back to the arcades for a limited release).
Home technology also allowed for some franchises to find a second wind. Mortal Kombat for instance was able to ramp up the detail in it’s gory gameplay and spawn several spin-off games that – while not fantastic – sold pretty well and played to the strengths of the third dimension. Bloody Roar showed off flashy beastial transformations and Dead or Alive jiggled it’s way into the public conscious, taking advantage of the increasing processing power to animate its sexy females. True, many of these games had arcade releases first but they were difficult to distinguish from their home conversions unless you had a trained eye and it was the latter editions that the majority of consumers cared about.
Arcades are still around today and didn’t ever truly die out but it is an unavoidable fact that they are a mere shadow of their former selves, dominated by claw machines and flashy lightgun games that are brutal in their cynical game design, impossible to complete unless you feed the machine a steady flow of coins. Some fighting games still begin in the arcades (such as Tekken) but this is predominately in Japan, the homeland and last bastion of “proper” arcades (or Game Centers as they are known natively). The home console releases and profit-spinning DLC strategies are the top priorities now.
Some developers simply didn’t move with the times and the result was sub-standard home console sequels to their franchises or doomed experiments in the newly-dominant 3D realm such as Capcom’s cancelled Capcom Fighting Evolution. Other arcade stalwarts simply faded from popularity or mainstream relevance as home consoles nurtured new tastes in genres with RPG’s, driving games, FPS’s, huge open-world games and online gaming taking the place of established favourites including the fighting game.
Come back soon for Part 2 where I will discuss Capcom’s withdrawl from the scene, SNK’s downfall and why ’91 to ’01 was the definitive golden age of fighting games.
With the recent announcement/reveal of Soul Calibur VI having properly sunk in now, I think it’s fair to start theorising about a potential roster. Well, I say theorising but that process is a potentially depressing affair since – if done logically – it involves putting together a hypothetical roster based on what the marketing men think will sell the game. I’d rather lay out a top five countdown of the characters from that I want to see return to the Stage of History. I have put together my dream shortlist with three things in mind:
The game’s story is supposed to be further back in the SC timeline (around the time of the original Soul Calibur) so I’d like to think that some of the older characters that were dumped for the later games might be able to return in all their glory.
No guest characters. That is a separate list for another time (possibly). These are all original SC characters that have been in the games before.
These are simply characters that I like!
With those loose “rules” established, I shall waste no more time and jump right in!
Amongst all of the clones and ‘mimic’ fighting styles that were in Soul Calibur III, Zasalamel’s scythe-based style was refreshingly individual and certainly interesting to learn as well as fight against. I also really liked his visual appearance despite the obvious Assassin’s Creed similarities that his original outfit (pictured) was guilty of displaying. Better yet, SCIII‘s plot saw Zasalamel morph into the demonic final boss, Abyss who shares a lot of Zasalamel’s basic fighting style. Abyss is one of the coolest and most bad-ass bosses in a fighting game and while I highly doubt that we will ever see him again, I would at least like Zasalamel to return from his post-Soul Calibur IV exile.
We’ve already seen Sophitia revealed as one of the first two characters in the game and while Sophie will always be my #1 character in the series, I have to say that I missed her spunky, more aggressive younger sister in SCV. Yes, people will say that we don’t need any more Alexandra family members (they’re everywhere!) and others will argue that more females with big boobs are unnecessary but as far as I’m concerned, Cassandra has been a staple since her debut in SCII and her omission in SCV was one of the most disappointing in my opinion. She actually has a very different fighting style to Sophitia and while nobody can argue that the way she battles is overly unique or interesting, I’ve always enjoyed her character and she is in many way (whisper it) more endearing than her sister. Yes I feel treacherous for even typing that…sorry Sophitia!
A true classic who debuted in the original Soul Blade (or Soul Edge in other territories) for arcade/Playstation but was ditched by the time of Soul Calibur II for the younger and (I suppose) cooler Yun-Seong. Hwang made one more appearance as a non-fleshed out bonus character in Soul Calibur III and was properly re-instated for the rare arcade edition of SCIII but hasn’t been seen since which is a pretty rubbish way to treat one of the founding characters of the series if you ask me. Even Yun-Seong didn’t make it to SCV, meaning that the most recent installment in the series had no Korean characters and no Falchion wielders. I really enjoyed playing as Hwang in Soul Blade and I also think he looks pretty cool so I’d like to see him again for those reasons but also because he simply SHOULD be in an SC game again.
Another founding cast member of the series, Li Long was treated even worse than Hwang. The original nunchaku wielder didn’t even make it off the Playstation to the original Soul Calibur since Namco had already elected to introduce the new, cooler character of Maxi who became the default (and only) representative of the nunchaku style from there on. Like Hwang, Li Long was given a bonus character slot in SCIII and also re-instated properly for the arcade update. Interestingly, he was armed with a new double nunchaku style that actually set him apart from Maxi. I would love to see Li Long return with a more fleshed-out version of this style in Soul Calibur VI. Like Hwang, I just think that he should be included for historical reasons.
Up until this point, my list has been fairly safe, predictable even. We can’t have that though can we? So to finish off my top five, I’ve decided to put the case forward for the true boss of Soul Calibur III. If you thought Abyss was monstrous enough…well, you hadn’t seen anything yet. Night Terror is a beastly version of Nightmare, the result of Soul Edge’s vengeful will fusing with Nightmare and nobody enjoyed fighting this creature. Massively over-powered, boasting insane priority and immune to ring-outs (he flies back up to the stage!), Night Terror was everything a cheap boss should be. I lost count of the amount of times I heard “versus, Night Terror!” as I kept hammering the option to try the fight again. For all his cheesiness however, I absolutely loved the idea of a souped-up Nightmare that had been overcome by raw power and transformed into a truly imposing boss. Like Abyss, I highly doubt that Namco would ever bring this guy back but I would certainly take him over Algol or Elysium any day.
Because five is never enough is it? Not when there have been so many characters both major and minor in Soul Calibur over the years. Seong-Mina should definitely grace an SC game again for the same legacy reasons as Hwang/Li Long but also because she has always been a fan favourite who certainly didn’t deserve to be left out of SCV.Valeria from SCIII was a second-tier bonus character but did at least have a cool fighting style based around kicks and bladed footwear. Did I forget to mention that she was a pink-haired shopkeeper/maid design with eye-poppingly big boobs? Funny that… Another classic that I hope returns is Rock because honestly, I don’t like Astaroth that much when it comes to the large “power” characters and Rock already had to swap his original axe style for a mace so that he had a “reason” to return for SCIII & IV.
If you read my post on femme fatales then you will already know that really like the nutty Tira but will she fit into a pre-SCIII plot point? I’m not sure but I think Namco would be mad to leave out such a unique fighting style. Setsuka is another dangerous lady with a fairly individual style that I’d like to see again, not least because I used her a lot in SCIII and found her to be utterly lethal with some crazy combos. Lastly, would actually like to see Edge Master come over from Soul Calibur V since the “bad-ass old guy” archtype needs some representation and I don’t mind there being at least ONE mimic character. Just please, Namco, don’t waste 3-4 slots with them like you did before? Ta.
So those are my choices. What do you think? I’m cautiously optimistic for a few of these but I also fear that Namco might see some of the older or more obscure characters as less marketable and won’t include them. I’ll reserve any form of judgment until we know more however. Let’s see who they’ve chosen…