Since the Tekken series was slowly growing bit stale in my opinion, and Virtua Fighter 4 frustrated me to the point of cursing like a sailor, my search for the new ultimate fighting game began. Little did I know that a relatively old Dreamcast game named Soul Calibur could be one of the most addictive and exciting fighting games ever made. The gaming gods (or maybe it was just Namco) have blessed us with the closest game to perfection since The Punisher on the arcade (play it if you haven’t already).
Gameplay is what makes a fighting game great, no matter how pretty the graphics are. Other genres may be able to get away with pretty graphics and crappy gameplay (some RPGs come to mind), but fighting games can’t do this. Fortunately, Soul Calibur absolutely delivers. The customizable controls in this 3D fighter are responsive and the basics are easy to grasp. Since there are three attack buttons and 1 guard button, control is simple and not overbearing, like in some fighting game. Fighters can be knocked off the edge of the stage, effectively adding a whole level of strategy. Sometimes the best way to win is forcing your opponent off the edge in two powerful attacks instead of slowly depleting the opponent’s health bar.
Twenty characters make their way into Soul Calibur. Only a couple of these characters “borrow” elements from the other characters, so most of them are unique. Depending on what character is used, a new strategy has to be adopted. Using a weakling like the ninja warrior Taki and not utilizing blocks and dodging the attacks will result in a humiliating defeat. The big bruisers like Nightmare and Astaroth are too slow to dodge most attacks, but their sheer power makes up for their lack of speed. Some people may complain about a few characters being way stronger than others, but each character has a certain strength that keeps things balanced.
The beauty of Soul Calibur is that both button mashers and more technical gamers can enjoy this game. While it is possible to beat the game by just randomly hitting the attack buttons, the gamers who take time to learn all techniques and moves will definitely have the upper hand. Some of the advanced techniques include escaping from throws and performing a guard impact. A guard impact successfully stops an attack, and briefly stuns the opponent. Another move is the “soul charge.” This increases the damage you can deal temporarily, unfortunately this tactic is mainly ineffective due to the amount of time you’re left defenseless while charging up.
As if the perfect gameplay wasn’t enough, Soul Calibur has one of the best modes that I’ve ever seen in the game. In the excellent mission battle there is a world map and you choose what level you want to fight in. Each level has a special objective, such as being the first to get in 20 hits or knocking your opponent off the stage. To make things more challenging, some stages add modifiers to handicap you or your opponent. In one level if you don’t run, then you get slowed down by quicksand. In another level rats actually bite you, inflicting some damage. If only there was a way for you and your friend to play the stages with these fun modifiers in effect.
After beating the mission you are rewarded points, which can be used to unlock pictures in the art gallery. Not only are there hundreds of pictures to unlock, but depending on the picture you unlock you can be rewarded with new stages, modes and costumes. I played this mode for hours just to unlock everything. Never before have I seen such an addictive feature in a fighting game. It’s hard to imagine having fun playing a fighting game without this feature. Soul Calibur also features the generic modes present in nearly every game in the genre. You know; practice, survival and time attack mode. They’re nothing spectacular, but they’re enjoyable anyways.
Soul Calibur scores a knockout with excellent gameplay and great graphics. Who would have thought that an old Dreamcast game can hold up this well against all the other consoles? The character models are incredibly detailed, right down to the jiggly breasts, which are becoming quite the norm in fighting games. Namco went crazy about adding every detail imaginable to this game. Hair and clothes move in the wind and in cold stages you can see the combatants breathing. The Soul Calibur fighters move in a convincingly lifelike way. The way they bust out their moves, writhe in pain and celebrate a victory all look fantastic. Since some attacks emit a bright red glow, Namco made sure the lighting effects were realistic. On the few liquid-metal enemies in the mission battle mode, the lighting looks absolutely incredible.
The stages also look show off the graphical splendor. Nice touches such as leaves falling in certain stages and rats scattering around a disgusting lair add a touch of realism to the stages. With the mission battle mode it is possible to unlock different seasons and times for the stages. Playing at dusk or in the snow makes the eye candy all the more tasty. The effects simply look THAT good. Unfortunately some of the backgrounds have a bit of static to them, which is somewhat common to pre-rendered backgrounds.
We can all thank Namco for retaining the original Japanese voice acting in this game and not punishing us with the usually horrid U.S voice acting that appears in most games. The taunts are full of emotion and sincerity; something that American voice acting probably would have ruined. The music is a stirring blend of tunes that go well with each stage. For example the Valentine Mansion music sounds appropriately aristocratic, while the Emperor’s Garden music has a bit of an Asian feel to it.
The only drawback to the game is what you have to do to learn the characters’ stories. When you beat the game you’re given a confusing ending that talks about things you don’t know about. It isn’t until after you unlock the character gallery mode that you discover what the ending was all about. Another downer is that the endings consist of about 3 still pictures with text at the bottom. The pictures aren’t even colored in! This is the only flaw I came across in Soul Calibur, but it’s not like the plot is a huge deal in this type of game.
While there is no such thing as a perfect game, Soul Calibur comes close. With its fun and fast gameplay alone, this game would still be above average. But the incredible amount of extras and unlockable goodies make this game is a hard one to put down. The excellent gameplay, graphics and modes add up to make Soul Calibur one of the definitive fighting games. For those who aren’t exactly fanatics of the genre, I advise you to give this game a try. The only thing you have to lose is your social life.
Ten out of ten