Dead or Alive 6: Hair-Dye Simulator 2020

doa6-kasumi-1

I’m very late to the party on this one. Pretty much every videogame journo and Twitterati has ripped Koei-Tecmo to shreds over this pay-to-change-your-character’s-hair-colour debacle but guess what? I can still come along and pick up the scraps…and tear them into even smaller pieces. That’s just how I roll here.

It’s already well-known that Dead or Alive 5 saw Koei-Tecmo turn their famous fighting game into a hybrid fighting game/dress-up experience. Sure, DLC was around on the Xbox 360 in the days of DoA4 but it was the fifth installment that really saw the publisher slip into bed with DLC and flaunt their staggering stamina stat by fucking, non-stop for several years. The resulting offspring was a library of add-ons that allegedly (I haven’t fact-checked) exceeded $1,000.

Many were disappointed that the publisher had sold out to the portion of the fanbase that was more invested in the sexy stuff than the actual gameplay. DoA5 was almost like dressing up a bunch of dolls and playing with them, rather than taking this punching thing seriously.

And, as much as I agree with that, I have also defended the game numerous times. After all, the gameplay was probably the best it had ever been and the graphics were fantastic. I also really enjoyed the ability to customise stages with past music. As for the DLC…well, nobody was forcing you to purchase costumes. If you want it, then buy it. If you disagree that strongly, then boycott – simple. I bought a fair few outfits but only for my favourite characters. Yes, the prices were sometimes heavier than Tina’s in-game bust but, again, you were still able to play the game without buying maid outfits and the yearly batches of Halloween costumes. If it extended the life of the game and kept you playing, then that’s a good thing.

doa5-ayane-1
This one of my favourites that I paid for. Conveniently (and amazingly) that chain of flowers always manages to remain in the right place to keep the game PEGI 16-rated.

That said, I wasn’t blind.

There’s a balancing act between accepting a DLC structure and being taken advantage of. Arguably, the latter was already happening given that Koei-Tecmo were well aware of how sexually appealing DoA‘s girls are to their consumer base hence the drive to squeeze more and more money from fans by selling increasingly-skimpy bikinis and risque outfits.

As I have already said, I don’t mind cherry-picking the DLC that interests me if it keeps me playing and enjoying a game for longer. BUT there is a tipping point when that aforementioned fine balancing act fails and you – as the customer – must put your foot down and say “no,” if things tip into the realm of the publisher just taking the piss. This is what has happened with Dead or Alive 6.

It must be mentioned – before I continue – that I still haven’t played DoA6 because every time the game is in the news, it rubs me up the wrong way and I’ve yet to read anything to convince me that things have changed. It got off to a bad start when Koei-Tecmo claimed that they were going to be cleaning up the series’ image. I’ve already talked about that at length before but, to quickly re-cap, I am an unashamed fan of the boob physics and revealing outfits. I see it as escapism and harmless fun. It’s DoA‘s USP for crying out loud. The last thing I wanted was the series to bow to the pressures of the Woke generation. Yes, it wasn’t a deal-breaker (as I also made clear in my DoA6 reveal post) but it was disappointing.

So I would have still bought the game but worse was to come. First, there was the really crappy system of unlocking new constumes. Then came the absolute bullshit of western PS4 owners being the only group that couldn’t purchase costumes individually, meaning that you had to buy entire packs or commit to the big-money season passes.

Perhaps these things have been fixed – I don’t know. What I do know is that the balance had well and truly shifted in my view, and even I wasn’t able to defend the janky, money-grabbing execution of DoA6. As much as I still wanted to give it a go, Koei-Tecmo had simply gone too far. At the end of the day, DoA5 was still on my shelf and still everything that I’d ever wanted from the series. Why expose myself to shit that was just going to piss me off and attempt to rape my wallet?

doa6-kula-1
As a King of Fighters fan, I have to admit that I do want to play DoA6 to try out Kula.

Give us humans enough time, however, and we get over it. DoA6 had been creeping back onto my mental “maybe I’ll finally buy a copy?” list. Then this fucking hair thing happened.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you can now use Premium Tickets  – which are obtained in exchange for actual money – to change the colour of your character’s hair. Paying to dye Kasumi’s hair is pathetic enough, you might think, but this is no normal DLC. In fact, it isn’t even DLC proper. It’s a non-permanent micro-transaction that has to be paid for again if you switch said character’s hair back to the default colour. It only costs one ticket (which is $1.00) but that isn’t the point. The point is that you are effectively renting a hair colour. Koei-Tecmo’s audacity with this is a new low in my opinion. Paying for something so small in the first place is straight-up robbery but, if you have to do so, then it should at least be a permanent option unlocked/added to your game.

Heck, I’d want to go even further. If I’ve got to pay a dollar to swap Kasumi’s hair colour then, without wishing to be too crass, that buck had better also cover a hue change for the bush between her legs. Then again, judging by the fan-made renders and in-game mods of the DoA lasses, they’re all bald down below anyway so that’s my value-for-money notion in the bin.

You know, I thought that Street Fighter V was having a laugh when the game wanted the player to pay for palette swaps but this is something else. Koei-Tecmo has at least responded to the slating on Twitter:

“Dear fans, we hear and acknowledge your disappointment behind our roll out of the new hair color feature for DoA6. We greatly appreciate your feedback, and are working towards a solution that helps to mitigate this issue and will share our plans in the coming days.

We apologize for our misstep, and are working hard to resolve this situation. We thank you in advance for your patience and hope you continue to enjoy DoA6.”

“Misstep”? Bullshit. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing. To me, it seems as if they decided to push the envelope anyway to see if they could get away with it, and if they couldn’t? Well, just pass it off as a glitch or a harmless error of judgment. This isn’t an “issue” or a “situation”; it’s straight-up taking the piss and it isn’t even funny anymore. Previously, we would joke about DoA being a shopping simulator or a dress-up game but I’m not laughing now. The joke isn’t funny.

I’ll be voting with my wallet and continuing to not purchase a copy of Dead or Alive 6.

Shame.

 

Street Fighter V: Champion Edition…

I honestly thought that I was done discussing this game. I’d spoken at length about my problems with Street Fighter V in general THEN I gave the uprated Arcade Edition a second chance before finally reaching my concluding sentiments towards Capcom’s flagship fighting game. I didn’t think I’d be making any further posts about SFV and that I’d simply enjoy playing the game from time to time (because Soulcalibur VI is just BETTER and enjoys more of my attention).

But then Capcom decide that they are going to release ANOTHER subtitled entry into the Street Fighter V series – Street Fighter V: Champion Edition

SFVCE-2

The gaming world be like:

tenor

Now, some people are pissed about this and some aren’t but before I get into that, let’s have a look at what the Champion Edition consists of, shall we? Essentially, it’s as close as you can get to a “complete” edition of SFV. CE includes all of the currently available DLC characters, stages, costumes and new V-Skills. The only bits not included are the Fighting Chance costumes, collaboration costumes and Pro Tour DLC. Even so, that’s one whopper of a deal.

Price-wise, Champion Edition will weigh in at £24.99/$29.99 for the physical edition (out February 2020) or £19.99/$24.99 for the digital upgrade kit. If you want to simply upgrade whatever version you currently have then you can do that now and get ahead of the physical release, though it’s worth remembering that the “physical” version is likely going to be a tea coaster of a disc with a voucher code in the box for the content, so the digital upgrade is worth considering.

Additionally, everybody – regardless of which version of SFV they currently own – will receive a free update that adds the new V-Skills and balance changes to their game.

Finally, there are going to be two new DLC characters added to the game and the first one is an absolute tool that Street Fighter veterans will have to remove their forcibly-erected mental blockades to recall. I am, of course, talking about the ultra-cheap Gill – one of the most notorious and cheesy bastards from the entire fighting game genre. I personally hate Gill. I LOVE playing Third Strike…but I don’t like reaching the end of an arcade run-through and dealing with THIS shit:

gill-resurrection
“Resurrection!” Literal nightmare fuel.

Hopefully, they tone this guy down for SFV. I mean, it’s kinda cool that he’s back at last – after years of being exclusive to SFIII – but he just needs to chill the fuck out.

But let’s get back to Champion Edition‘s bundled content because many are (understandably) not too happy about this. Anybody who is familiar with SFV will know that it isn’t a cheap game. Gamers who have stuck with it since launch will likely have spent a pretty penny on DLC OR earnt the add-on content by grinding away online and using hard-won Fight Money to purchase new characters, costumes and stages. Characters tend to cost around the £5 mark while costumes are (at least) a few quid apiece, as are stages. Even colour swaps cost money (remember when you had those just for using different buttons to select characters? Ah, the old days…).

So £25 for the whole shebang is a bit of a kick in the teeth for long-term players. For one, complete newbies will be able to rock up to the party late and purchase everything for this budget price. Secondly, can you even forgive Champion Edition‘s existence and low price-point when it makes a mockery of how much you’ve paid over the years for add-ons? Let’s not forget that the disc version will likely get even cheaper once it’s been on the shelves for a while.

And it isn’t as if Capcom are rewarding your loyalty because the digital upgrade to your existing copy is a mere £5.00/$5.00 cheaper. In my opinion, the discount should be a lot bigger than that. After all, that difference will be negated in no time once the retail edition’s price drops.

Of course, there are a few things to remember. Firstly, if a Street Fighter V player has been playing the game, buying bits and pieces of add-on content here and there, and feels like they’ve had their value (regardless of Champion Edition‘s devaluing of existing DLC prices), then that’s fair play. Not everybody cares about being outraged over stuff like this.

Secondly, nobody ever puts a gun to the head of a gamer and forces them to buy DLC. It is – and always will be – entirely optional. It is – as depressing as it is – just the way that modern gaming is and the way that publishers make money. If you feel that strongly about a publisher’s business model for their game, then don’t buy what they’re peddling.

Lastly, Capcom have some form with this. If you were naive enough to believe that THIS time it would be different, and that THIS time, Capcom would “play fair”, then I only have one response for you:

hyena-1

This is the company that charged full price again and again for multiple updates of Street Fighter II back in the 90’s. It’s the same company that promised that it would be different with Street Fighter IV…before they released Super, Arcade Edition and Ultra flavours. And it’s the same company that APPEARED to be doing something different with SFV, and though they technically haven’t gone back on their guarantee of the base version being the only disc you will ever need to buy, they are still trolling those who spent a fortune on DLC by packaging it all up in a cheap bundle.

I’m not defending Capcom at all but what I AM saying is that the consumer needs to accept some of the blame for trusting them over and over and over. This shit? It was always going to happen. Menat could have seen it in her crystal ball thingamagic. The smart people are those who avoided the game until now because they knew that this would happen. Those people are set for a hell of a deal if they pick up Champion Edition and obtain everything for £25/$30.

Am I annoyed? Of course I am. I only recently bought the Arcade Edition, after all, and I have purchased several characters and costumes throughout Street Fighter V‘s life. But I’m still going to pick up Champion Edition because the content I haven’t yet bought far outweighs what I have, so that £25 price point still represents big value (and I will make sure to pull the trigger once that price has dropped even lower). But I went into this game knowing that Capcom would pull these sorts of stunts; I expected it to happen so how can I be outraged? This is what they DO and people are furious every single time as if they expected something different. I mean, if being charged for fucking palette swaps didn’t alert you to that fact, then what would?

In conclusion, Champion Edition is Capcom at their trollish best and I absolutely don’t blame anybody who is angry. The discount for going digital and upgrading early isn’t big enough and the package is an almighty kick in the balls for anybody who has already sunk a lot of money into DLC. That said, perhaps it’s time to finally wise-up and take Capcom’s promises with a pinch of salt when the inevitable Street Fighter VI arrives with the ‘promise’ of there being no revised versions down the line.

History will repeat itself. You have been warned.

 

Conan [Playstation 2]

Note: This review is part of a series I am going to call “Resurrected Reviews”, essentially stuff that I wrote for previous (now deceased) blogs and review topics on various gaming forums over the years. I have dragged them kicking-and-a-screaming into the harsh light of the present day and revamped them where necessary. Some may say “Rehash” but I say “Recycling”.

conan-2

Release: 2004 | Developer: Cauldron | Publisher: TDK Mediactive | Also On: PC, Xbox, Gamecube

“What does not destroy me, makes me stronger”

When talking about the videogame adventures of Robert E Howard’s legendary barbarian warrior, most will be more familiar with the PS3 game by THQ, a very average 3D adventure game that I personally found to be akin to a poor man’s God of War. The game that I will be talking about now (also titled simply ‘Conan’) came before on the PS2 and Gamecube and was published by TDK, developed by Cauldron. It’s completely unrelated to the THQ game but would it be better for it? Well…

Picture this: after a mere ten minutes of gameplay, I was staring dully at the TV screen with mental despair taking hold. I was thinking, why oh why are there no good Conan games? The PS3 game was an un-enjoyable slog to the finish after just a few hours of playtime and there are no others that I know of aside from the PC Age of Conan MMO which I can’t be arsed with as I simply don’t ‘do’ PC games. The only other Conan game I have glimpsed came in the form of a few screenshots for an unreleased Atari Jaguar side-scrolling beat ‘em up (the very definition of obscure!) so I was desperate for this PS2 effort to satisfy the Conan fan in me. But no, it just had to be another bitter pill of disappointment.

Why are there no decent Conan games? Why? The films were great (well, the first one was. Conan the Destroyer isn’t quite the same and the remake is just pointless) but the books were even better. I’ve read every one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and they were brilliant. Between these and the movie adaptations, there is a world of resource and inspiration for some good Conan games so why…are…there…no…good…Conan…games? WHY? WHY? WHERE ARE THE GOOD CONAN GAMES?!?

conan-3

Whew. That’s better. Talk about your pent up frustration. In the spirit of Conan himself, I persevered and so with pad in hand I asked Crom for the strength to beat this game and if he wouldn’t listen? To hell with him.

To give Conan some credit, the game is at least faithful to the source material when it comes to locations, weapons and even the characterisation of Conan himself. This isn’t Conan as played by Arnie but the real Conan from E. Howard’s books and – as a fan of those tomes – I really appreciated what Cauldron did to keep things legit and authentically presented. The ‘epic’ music is generic but a good fit for the game (nothing else to say about it to be frank).

Gameplay revolves dispatching enemies with various button combinations. You have light attacks, heavy attacks, grabs and a block button. These are utilised to pull off preset combos and by killing enemies the player earns points to spend on unlocking new, flashier moves – standard stuff. Movement however is really clunky and despite using a few different pads, Conan sometimes simply refused to move in the desired direction when changing course. It didn’t cause too many unnecessary deaths during my play-through but it’s pretty piss-poor when a game makes you question the condition of your controllers, especially when it turns out that they are all working correctly.

conan-4
This screen is actually from the Xbox version but I’m not sure I care enough.

If you do run out of health though then Conan is transported to the realm of Crom where you must defeat enemies in an enclosed arena in order to be fully restored to the spot where Conan snuffed it. Sounds pretty sweet right? Especially when you consider that the feature has unlimited uses. It’s actually the opposite though because these arena battles are much easier than battles in the mortal realm making Conan’s resurrections assured and the threat of enemies neutered. If you can’t ever technically be killed then where is the challenge? Conan’s apparent immortality also makes a mockery of boss battles because you can be infinitely restored to the spot with the enemy’s life bar still depleted.

The only way that you don’t get a chance to fight for Conan’s restoration is by falling foul of environmental hazards such as holes or traps (apparently Conan hasn’t died as a warrior thus denying him the right to be resurrected) but this still doesn’t excuse the ability to ignore strategy completely and abuse this mechanic. Ultimately, I wondered if there was any point at all in trying to utilise the game’s full range of moves because you may as well repeat the same handful of basic sword combos while spamming this revival ability. It’s certainly possible to beat the game this way with little trouble.

You can switch between swords, axes and maces throughout the game but again, unless you need the mace for beating down armoured foes more effectively, there’s no incentive to bother. There’s also a running side quest to locate and assemble all four pieces of the Atlantean Sword but any exploration is voided by the fact that a) environments are incredibly linear and bland and b) only one of the pieces is easy to miss with the others all in plain sight or after beating a boss. The Atlantean Sword deals with enemies in one hit and shamefully, I even killed the final boss with one wild swipe! Who tested this shit?

conan-5
Braving the harsh elements and wild animals. At least the feel of the character and setting(s) is there.

The main problem with this game is the clunkiness and just general, basic dullness of everything. It really is an exercise in getting from A to B by killing everything in between, pulling a few levers and avoiding pitfalls. Lots of games have adopted this approach in the past and have turned out really well but Conan is just so uninteresting to sit through with repetitive scraps that don’t ever offer something new or stylish to at least paper over the shortcomings. It does say something that my highlight of the game was the quick cinematic of Conan punching a camel in a marketplace, a reference to a humorous scene in the original Arnie film. It made me smile at least when nothing else did.

The sole reason I persevered to the end was because the authenticity to the original books was spot on and I still wanted to see what happened in the end. I can imagine a non-Conan fan playing this game and binning it after a few levels because as much as I appreciated the videogame renditions of stuff from the books, it was always a case of sitting down and saying “right, got to get this bloody Conan game finished so I can play something else” rather than enjoying the game. I’m bored just writing about it.

Now that I’m nearing the conclusion of this review, I’m looking back over my words and thinking that I haven’t really gone into much detail but the truth is, I just don’t have anything else to say. So…is this an angry rant ending on a mellow note? Not until I’ve gone over the game’s miserable save system! I knew there was something else I hated about Conan – must have blocked it out of my mind for a moment there. Well, there’s no use in burying my head in the sand so I’ll talk about it.

Conan needs to possess a crystal to save the game. You can save anywhere (good) BUT you can only carry four of the damn things at any one time (bad) and let me tell you: there’s nothing worse than trying to make your last crystal go as far as possible only to fall down a hidden pit or be killed by a barely-visible trap because it means slogging back through the whole unsaved section all over again, slaying the same boring enemies and looking at the same uninspiring scenery (extremely, diarrhoea-grade bad). Who thinks that weird save systems like this are a good idea? Fuck these people. A game this underwhelming didn’t need to be any worse but congratulations developers, you managed it.

Overall Thoughts

It’s a shame that the gameplay is so uninspiring and bland because the source material was treated really well with this one. Conan is at least authentic in spirit but that means little when you barely want to play the actual game. Another missed oppurtunity.

Dead Or Alive 6 Officially Revealed…But Will it Miss the Point?

One of the more interesting pieces of news to come out of the past weekend was the official announcement of Dead Or Alive 6, the follow-up to the popular fifth main entry in the infamous fighting game series which spanned three revisions and two generations of home consoles. Dead Or Alive is a series that just keeps on going regardless of the current popularity of the genre so a new game is never a huge shock but this time, there IS some surprising impressions to take home from what we’ve seen so far.

doa6-
Hyper-realistic expressions and damage are apparently going to be the focus rather than boob jiggle in Dead Or Alive 6.

On the surface, there’s a lot that will look familiar to anybody who played the last game: interactive environments, a cinematic feel and fast-paced fighting. The big surprise this time is that the developers are apparently going to be lowering the focus on sexualised female characters, a move that has invited considerable disappointment from some corners of the online gaming community. The trailer shows no sign of the series’ famous (or infamous) exaggerated breast physics and costumes are more conservative. Could this be Team Ninja finally growing up? The following quotes from an interview with IGN certainly point in that direction:

“We wanted to make a more cool and more mature Dead or Alive this time, and to that end we made a conscious decision to make characters less sexualized,”

“The female characters are still attractive, as are the men, but first and foremost they are fighters,”

It makes sense on one level. Dead Or Alive has always had a fantastic fighting system with its punishing reversals and counter-holds separating rookies from practiced players but the games have struggled to be taken seriously with some fighting game tournaments even banning select outfits from being used due to their highly revealing nature. It seems that Tecmo are pushing for their established series to gain some credibility at last but will this alienate a large chunk of the fanbase? Can Dead Or Alive stand up on the basis of its fighting system alone?

I would say “yes”. I’ve always rated the games because despite their button masher-friendly combos, they still feel very different to rivals. Combos and movement in general felt very fluid and organic in DOA5, contrasting with the rigid inputs of Tekken for example. The cinematic style of fights was also quite entertaining and didn’t detract too much from the established rules of how a fighting game works.

doa6-2
The outfits may be more practical this time around but fans of the series’ classic ‘values’ probably need not be concerned too much; the girls will still look attractive (and busty enough) if the above screen is anything to go by.

But it should also be noted that the very traits that Tecmo seem keen to tone down this time around are what helped Dead Or Alive 5 become so successful and make them some good money in the process. The new female characters became instantly popular and the game featured a ludicrous amount of costume DLC including many fabric-starved designs that still sold well despite the high price tags. Let us also not forget that the spin-off, Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3, was also massively popular and a hot import for us Westerners who didn’t receive an official version of the game. Tecmo weren’t daft though as the Asian release of the game features full English language subtitles/menus. The point of all of this is to remember that the series didn’t suffer and lose sales because it ramped up the sexiness – quite the opposite actually. In this respect, you can say that Tecmo-Koei and Team Ninja are rolling the dice.

Personally, I really enjoy Dead Or Alive‘s silliness and have purchased quite a lot of the DLC. As I have said in other posts, I see gaming as escapism that encompasses everything that DOA does (or should I say “did”?) and while some may turn their noses up at big bouncy breasts, too many impractical bikinis or gratuitously detailed perspiration, I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy it all. It’s just a bit of fun at the end of the day and I’m fairly positive that spending a lot of time with the games hasn’t turned me into some sort of raging pervert with no respect for real-life women. As a wise person once pointed out on some gaming forum or another many moons again, the characters are designed to look sexy and appealing on purpose – there’s nothing wrong with “falling” for the marketing.

The main concern that this shift in tone invokes in me is the same one that I felt when Capcom felt the need to censor Rainbow Mika and Cammy’s intros in Street Fighter V or when Omega Labyrinth Z was banned for us UK consumers earlier this year: the concern that our medium of entertainment is bowing to political correctness and moving away from sexy females in order to pre-emptively avoid complaints while appealing to a generation of consumers who place female empowerment and equality above simple, harmless escapism. That may seem like an extreme reaction but I won’t apologise for wanting the unrealistic and fantastical in my videogames when I sit down with a controller after a hard day’s work or when I fancy a quick break from real-life tribulations. My concerns are less about what’s happening in DOA6 and more to do with the bigger picture of what we are increasingly being told to accept is “wrong”.

doa5-1
Maybe we’ve seen the end of such outfits?

But let’s also be real for a moment. The women of Dead Or Alive are still going to look attractive and booby enough. Yes, the developers want the female characters to look more realistic and warrior-like but I can tell you now that the alterations will not be that drastic. Remember that the same promises were made before DOA5 launched and the likes of Kasumi and co. ended up looking more detailed than before, not necessarily different. Most importantly, if DOA6 builds upon DOA5‘s fighting then the game will be very enjoyable to play and another nice alternative to what is already available.

And as much as I enjoyed DOA5‘s fanservice, there were several features that totally weren’t necessary and undeniably ventured into the realms of “childish” and “ridiculous”. One such inclusion was the ability to shake the controller which made the girls’ breasts bounce all over the place, usually in a totally unrealistic and unattractive way. There were also multiple settings in the options menu for altering the extremity of breast jiggle which seemed like a step too far even in my opinion. Setting this to “natural” was more than enough for me. If anything, it’s these sorts of things that I wouldn’t mind losing.

So there are several questions facing us before DOA6 launches in 2019. Will it still be a good fighting game? (I would bet money on the answer being “yes” for that one). Will Tecmo drive away more of its fans than it expects? Are they just fibbing about toning the whole thing down? Most of all, should DOA forsake its USP just to “grow up”? It’s like Netherealm Studios announcing that they will tone down the violence in the next Mortal Kombat if you think about it, which we all know would never happen. Clearly bloody, graphic death = shrug of the shoulders but boobs = the devil. Something about that ain’t right.

To conclude my thoughts on this announcement, I will say that jumping to rash conclusions and slamming Tecmo at this early stage would be foolish. The game will still be great and the girls will still be attractive so there will at least be an awesome product next year, however much they tone down the things that make the franchise (in)famous. I think the development period of DOA6 is going to be interesting and it will be fascinating to see how far Team Ninja go with this.

The Soul Still Burns (Soul Calibur VI!!)

Well…did anybody see this coming? After years of rumours, random polls and a few filler games that I don’t class as “proper” entries, a brand-new Soul Calibur has been announced by Namco Bandai. Soul Calibur VI will be hitting PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2018 and the initial reveal trailer was quite intriguing. I thought so anyway but then again, I’m a weirdo with strange concepts of what is “interesting” so take it with a truck of salt.

The little teaser shows Mitsurugi squaring off against Greek goddess Sophitia and judging by the outfits and Mitsurugi’s apparent reversal of age, I’m going to assume that this is a prequel of sorts or at least a game that takes place earlier on in the storyline. Let’s face it, Soul Calibur‘s plot has gotten utterly ridiculous during recent games so going for something easier to digest while not binning off the existing canon wouldn’t be a terrible idea at all.

SCVI-1
Mitsurugi forgets how to treat a lady and gives Sophitia a right wallop. (image: Gamespot)

So am I hyped for this? Well obviously I am in some way or else I wouldn’t be writing about the announcement BUT I am still feeling extremely cautious. So far, I’m pleased that the game is even going to exist (because SC is one of my favourite series’ of all-time and I’ve been playing it since Soulblade/Edge on the Playstation) and of course, I’m doubly pleased to see that my main character and one of gaming’s most beautiful ladies, Sophitia, is back after being unceremoniously killed off between SCIV and V (because: rubbish plot).

My caution comes from the fact that I thought Soul Calibur V was absolute pants and not the fancy, lacy variety being worn by a pretty lady but that pair of nasty old boxer shorts that you sometimes randomly spot on the ground in an alleyway. The game looked incredible and it had one of the most enjoyable character creation tools that I have used in any game but everything else was wrong. There was no single-player experience to speak of to begin with and perhaps that should have been expected given how fighting games are all about the online these days but for me, SC has always been a fighting game with killer SP. I have great memories of unlocking all of the characters in SCII and the ridiculous amount of modes in SCIII for example. By contrast, SCV was a complete insult with its pathetic arcade mode that had the same two opponents for the last couple of battles every. single. time (Aeon and Nightmare).

SC-1
Best way to die ever? The trailer confirms the return of this classic neck-breaking grab of Sophie’s.

Worse still was the loss of so many favourite characters with many being replaced by descendants or students/disciples in order to keep the classic fighting styles present in the series. The problem was that not many people liked these new characters and just wanted their old favourites back. Some (such as Natsu) looked completely out of place for a game set in the fifteenth century, others were simply “WTF?” (Z.W.E.I) and there even characters that seemed to mock players such as Elysium who looked like Sophitia but wasn’t Sophitia. The plot was rubbish and nobody wanted to play as the whining Pyrhh or pretty-boy Patroklos. There were way too many characters that adopted random fighting styles between rounds as well – wasted select screen slots for sure. All we wanted was Cassandra, Mina and Hwang but no, we got the likes of Dampierre (*shudder*) instead.

Clearly, they had attempted to do what Tekken 3 and Street Fighter III did before: breathing new life into an existing series by introducing some fresh faces and youth into the roster. In Tekken 3‘s case it worked due to the replacement characters being closely modelled on their forebearers and while SFIII‘s updated roster alienated a lot of the SFII fanbase, it did at least have a killer gameplay system to fall back on.

Speaking of gameplay, this was the final thing about SCV that switched me off due to how they’d messed about with an established and very enjoyable template. It was done with good intentions no doubt but the addition of flashy super moves seemed unecessary and having the classic Guard Impact only available when a specific meter had some stock was a very, very poor change. I suspect that the latter was implemented in order to make the game more accessible to those who couldn’t learn to use GI frequently but it rubbed me up the wrong way. The SCVI trailer appears to show super moves of some variety and the breakable armour feature that debuted in SCIV but I hope that this doesn’t signify a continuation of what SCV was.

It might sound like I’m being negative but I’m still actually cautiously excited for Soul Calibur VI and until there’s any evidence of the bad stuff returning, there’s no reason to be overly cynical. Street Fighter V has set the benchmark for disappointing fighting games this gen anyway – with its poor single-player and F2P style DLC onslaught – so SCVI can’t be any more deflating can it? I just hope that Namco Bandai heard what people didn’t like about SCV. Recent strong form with the Tekken series gives me some confidence at the least.

Upcoming Fancies: Blade Strangers

Fighting games are probably my favourite genre in videogames. Outside of stimulating gameplay, I love the characters, music, artwork and even the stories (yes, really). I enjoy the pick-up-and-play gameplay which can last thirty minutes or even several hours if I want to get good at what I’m playing or simply because the game is that good. Unfortunately, the current generation of consoles has served up a few nasty disappointments such as Street Fighter V (unfinished on release, cynical F2P/DLC feel) and Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite (unimpressive visuals and – again – more fucking pre-determined DLC!!). The good, fair stuff is still out there (The King of Fighters XIV for example) but it seems that so much about modern fighting games is about cash-grabbing or telling us what add-ons we will be buying post-release before a game even hits the shelves.

If you want to try and fight “progress” then the best bet is usually obscure imports from Japan but this is a road that can lead to incomprehensible menus, purple hair and obscenely enormous breasts. Not that these things offend me but I just wish that I didn’t feel so apathetic towards the mainstream fighting game series’ and what they have become.

A game like Blade Strangers then is the kind of thing that I can get on board with. It’s going to get a fairly mainstream release in the West for several platforms (PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC) and is beautiful 2D-styled fighting game that looks very retro and features a mash-up of characters from smaller games such as Code of Princess, Umihara Kawase and Cave Story.

BS-2
Who would have ever imagined Kawase in a fighting game? Well, it’s happening, yo.

So far the gameplay looks like it could be quite intuitive and easy to get started with but with layers of complexity below the surface for old-school competitive players to get excited about. This gets a big thumbs-up from me because I want some depth and the scope for technical combos but I’d also like to be able to get into the game fairly easily and learn as I go along. For all the talk of being accessible for newbies, I found Street Fighter V (I know I keep bashing on it…) to be quite difficult to get into initially with the new combos/moves for existing characters and new V-Trigger system so anything which doesn’t make feel like I need to use the tutorials after years upon years of playing fighting games is welcomed by me.

Above all however, Blade Strangers simply looks like fun (remember that?) and I love a good crossover, especially when lesser-known characters/series’ are involved as they are here. Code of Princess was a big disappointment for me on the 3DS but I loved Kinu Nishimura’s artwork for the game and respected the stubbornly old-school gameplay so I’m really pleased to see these things being allowed to continue breathing in a sometimes stifling industry. It’s also nice to see Princess Solange continuing to strut her stuff in spite of all the criticism of Ms Nishimura’s scantily-clad design for the character, especially (surprisingly enough) in Japan. Nipple armour, a wispy skirt and a building-sized sword are all a King’s daughter needs to go into battle after all.

Blade Strangers is slated for a 2017/2018 release but I would be surprised if we see it this side of Christmas. Something to look forward to in the often dry post-holiday season at the least.

[Disclaimer – I do actually enjoy Street Fighter V…it’s just too easy to pick apart!]