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Soul Calibur IV

It’s that time once again to return to the stage of history. Don’t worry though, you’ll be familiar with most of the players at this theater. Sure the place has had a face lift since your last visit and there are those two peculiar out of towners, but you’ll feel right at home. The outfits might have gotten a little skimpier, even a bit tighter, but you’ll be perfectly comfortable in the world of Soul Calibur IV.

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Not a lot has changed in terms of core gameplay, you still have the traditional four button layout comprised of guard, horizontal slash, vertical slash and kick. If you’ve ever played a Soul Calibur game before you’ll be ringing out enemies again in no time. The biggest additions to the gameplay are the new armor system and critical finishes. Each character now enters battle with a three piece armor setup, which weakens when you block high, mid or low, eventually breaking. Once all an opponent’s armor is broken you can use a critical finish to end the match in a single flashy attack. The situations for a critical finish are few and far in between so it doesn’t effect play often, but the armor creates a new dynamic encouraging players to stay on the offensive.

“The armor creates a new dynamic encouraging players to stay on the offensive.”The stage of history has often been a beautiful place to visit, especially since its release on the Dreamcast in September of 1999. Soul Calibur IV continues the pedigree with its highly detailed models and beautiful lighting effects. The animation is likewise superb, with fluid attacks, guard impacts and throws. While the stages themselves are well modeled and aptly textured, end up being somewhat forgettable.

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Joining the returning cast of Soul Calibur IV are Hilde, Algol, Darth Vader and the Apprentice; broken down for you that’s two original characters, one of which is the boss and two guest characters. On top of those additions there are five bonus characters designed by some famous manga artists, but in reality they’re just costume changes for pre-existing characters. While Hilde is a great addition to the franchise it’s difficult to take the other three characters seriously as viable characters. Bosses have a history in the genre of being over powered and both guest characters have the added bonus of a Force gauge. Honestly of the two guests, Vader does seem playable in competitive terms, but a couple more original characters would have been preferable to the two random space travelers.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the newcomers and returning players you’ll find there’s a lot to be done in Soul Calibur IV. Throughout the series the single player component has evolved and changed from the old day’s Edge Master Mode, to Chronicles of the Sword to today’s Tales of Swords. You’ll fight a number of differing opponents with certain skills that act like the conditions found in previous games. An opponent might be more apt to guard impact a horizontal strike, throw break or just unable to be ringed out. With the introduction of a Create a Character in Soul Calibur III, Namco made a wise decision to scatter hidden costume items throughout these stages. To unlock these chests you’ll have special objectives to meet in mid match.

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In addition to the accessories you’ll uncover while playing Tales of Swords, there are plenty of extra items waiting to be purchased directly in the character creator. Overall there are well over 300 different costume bits to create your ideal unique fighter. Navigating the creator and loading up different costume bits is fairly straight forward, first picking a base character which gives that characters’ move set to your creation. Next you’ll pick some traits and their gender, finally outfitting them in a range of traditional looking garb to more crazy outfits, which might make Voldo proud. Using the creator is fairly straight forward but purchasing outfit pieces directly in the creator seems a bit strange. Collecting all of the items is a goal some players might have and it seems an item shop would have been an easier way to buy and keep track of your item collection. Instead you’re left starting a create a character session and individually scrolling through each accessory type.

The final and most notable addition to the franchise is the new online multiplayer component. Soul Calibur IV lets you play friend matches, join a quick match, play in ranked or unranked, and even play with or without skills/bonus weapons. It does a great job catering to all play styles, some people may despise skills and the game allows you to play the way you want. Another great feature is game rooms hold four players, allowing two to spectate the in progress match. After the match ends the winner will stay on and one of the spectators will rotate in. This is a great feature for groups of friends who want to get together online and take turns just like at someone’s house. The game runs a little bit slower in online matches and there is a slight bit of lag which makes some techniques such as Guard Impacts difficult to use effectively, but overall the experience is very good.

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Soul Calibur IV doesn’t change a lot of the core experiences from the series, however it does continue to offer new reasons to keep playing. With the story mode, Tales of Swords, create a character and online modes, there are plenty of reasons to keep playing if you have no friends locally to play. Also the armor system adds a new incentive for players to not only stay off their own guard but to vary their attacks on an opponent, hoping for that elusive critical finish. It would have been nice to see a few more new characters that belong in the Soul Calibur universe, but it’s a minor problem in an otherwise great game. This one will keep your soul burning for some time.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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