The Force is my Ally
While other fighting games go for a more realistic approach, SoulCalibur is the king of funky and original. It’s been a few years since the franchise saw first light on the SEGA Dreamcast (nine, to be exact). The series has seen nothing but success wherever it’s gone, and the last pit stops on the original Xbox, PS2, and GameCube are certainly worth mentioning, as they helped to consolidate the fighting franchise as one of the best available, right next to Tekken, Virtua Fighter, etc. And now you are probably wondering how well it transitioned to the current-gen of consoles, don’t you? Well…Look no further. Our review will tell you all.
SoulCalibur IV has marked a clear separation from the previous installments. Not only is this new title shining with the best graphics and sound quality yet, but it also brings in a few special guests that manage to make a difference. You may be hesitant to put your favorite characters aside. What would you do without characters like Yoshimitsu, Cervantes, Nightmare, Voldo, Mitsurugi, Astaroth, and even the shameless and barely dressed Ivy? Worry not. These characters and several other newcomers are part of the game’s roster, but I have a feeling that many of you may just go the way of The Force. As you know, Jedi Master Yoda appears exclusively on the Xbox 360 version, while Darth Vader took over the PS3. Both editions will also get one more Star Wars surprise (more on that later).
These Star Wars characters are very compelling additions to the series and really make a difference. Yoda, fast, agile, sneaky, yet still very powerful, is my personal choice. Darth Vader, even with his dizzying Force attacks, is a bit too big and clunky for my liking, though he’s definitely more effective against big brawlers. That’s why it’s great to be able to pick more than one character in several of the game modes. While fighting, you can easily swap between one character and the other/s with just the push of a button. Depending on who you’re fighting against, some fighters will be more successful than others.
But enough about characters! I’m sure you want to know how the game plays. It’s possible many of you are already used to the kind of controls SoulCalibur offers. Even still, the game has received quite a few upgrades, so you may have to get used to it all over again. The game has an incredible amount of combos, counter attacks, and abilities linked to each player. Moves are performed by pressing one button after another, two or more at the same time, holding or just tapping the directional pad or left analog stick, etc. There’s certainly a learning curve, especially for people like me who don’t spend a whole lot of time playing brawling titles. However, the controls are very accurate and responsive, and soon enough you’ll be able to see your progress and quickly advance through the game’s main modes. Moreover, your characters will constantly level-up. The more you use them and the more variety of attacks you perform, the higher they’ll rank. That’s why you have to say “no” to button-mashing from day one.
In addition to the health gauge, there’s the “Soul Gauge.” This one will start green and gradually change to red if you’re taking too much impact. When the soul gauge is flashing red (Soul Crush), the character will become much more vulnerable and defenseless. Instead, if you’re attacking your enemy effectively, this gauge will remain green and eventually turn blue, giving you the chance to perform stronger attacks. If the enemy is in “Soul Crush” state, you can then execute a remarkable critical finish – one fatal attack, no matter how full the enemy’s health gauge was. Star Wars characters also have a Force gauge. You can use Force-powered attacks against the opponents, which are indeed very harmful. The Force gauge will go down as you use it, but it will refill itself if you don’t abuse it. You just have to be smart while using it, because it will stun your character if taken down to zero!
With SoulCalibur IV you’re not going to get bored. The game has more options than its predecessors, including Training, Arcade, Story, and Tower of the Lost Souls mode; these are all part of the single-player campaign. Tower of what? Yes, that’s what I thought. However, this is one of the most entertaining ventures included in the game. Initially, you’ll have to climb up to the top of the tower, facing enemies in every level.
Since it’s a fighting game, you won’t really see your character go up the tower, but you will fight one or more enemies in every floor, and defeating them will lead you to the next level. Once you reach the top (20th floor) and beat the boss, the descent option will become available. In this case, the goal is to battle hordes of enemies as you go down the tower (not literally) and get as far as possible. It’s a good way to progressively learn new abilities, level-up your character, and, while at it, prove your skills.
Arcade is simply a quick play mode with eight stages where you end up unlocking The Apprentice from the upcoming LucasArts title, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Equipment and weapon effects are not used here, but the final score will be ranked. You’d think Story mode is where is at, wouldn’t you? But it’s not exactly the case. You can select either normal or hard difficulties, and then choose a character. By playing through the Story mode with each character, you’ll learn about their background, why they started to fight, and how far they’ve gone since then. The stories are actually quite short, and despite the awesome cutscene we saw at the beginning of the game (before you press start), their lives are not explained with much CG footage. In fact, they’ll make you read a bunch of paragraphs before playing Story mode with each character! I guess they figured it’s better to go short and to the point, and if anyone wants to skip the text, so be it. Oh well… At least the fights are really fun and you’ll get rewarded with a bunch of gold that can be cashed in for new characters, artwork, equipment and weapon upgrades, etc.
Another nice aspect of the game, and perhaps the most in-depth, is the Character Creation mode. What’s more fun than using your favorite characters and making them stronger by leveling-up? My answer would be to create your very own character from scratch or to “pimp-out” the existing ones with awesome gear, lots of special moves, weapon upgrades, etc. Sure, some of these options cost game-cash, but that’s what it’s for!
In the Character Creation mode you can change or add anything you can think of, from tunics, hoods, hats, armor, gloves, leggings, bracelets, socks, shoes, and scarves. You can customize each and every color, change the hair style, eyes and face, equip them with new weapons, and assign them different skill sets, poses, and names. Thanks to these great options, players will be able to express themselves and take their characters online to battle it out.
Online play is solid, and certainly one of the perks of the game. It’s great to be able to play by yourself and improve your character, but many of you will want to prove your skills in online battles, either in ranked or player matches, with or without equipment and weapon effects. I wasn’t extremely successful online just yet, but battling against other people real-time is always fun. In a couple of occasions I ran into framerate drops, probably due to a slower Internet connection of one of the players. Other than that, it worked smoothly the rest of the time. One weird issue I had happened every time I selected “Quick Match” on Xbox LIVE. I always ended up with the message “This game session is full.” I doubt this connectivity issue will happen to everyone, but I thought it was worth noting, as people who connect their consoles to the Internet through a wireless router often encounter issues like these. I had no problem at all when selecting any of the other options though, so it wasn’t a big deterrent for me.
Like I mentioned before, the series has received a tremendous graphics upgrade. Even if SC II and III looked gorgeous on last-gen consoles, the step up to HD makes all the difference. The environments and characters look crisp, very detailed, and the varied textures are very well represented and rendered in the game. The fast-paced rhythm of the battles rarely causes visual glitches or affects the framerate. Perhaps some issues may be noticed while fighting near walls, but it’s nothing too exaggerated.
Character combos and special attacks trigger cool special effects that are sometimes dazzling, especially when using lightsabers or huge, shiny swords. Furthermore, the fighting animations are wilder than ever, leaving a good taste in your mouth after you crush someone against the floor and then step all over them, or when you perforate the enemy with your weapon and then twist it till he’s KO’d. Even without blood, this game manages to be wild and exciting.
As far as sounds go, you won’t miss previous SC titles. In fact, the main musical theme and a few other SoulCalibur tunes are heard throughout. The soundtrack is memorable and very exciting overall, with a few sound clips from Star Wars movies and several new and original tunes that are just as epic. The pretentious, tacky, and mostly cocky voice acting is there as well. It wouldn’t be SoulCalibur without comments like “Curse your fate for running into me,” or “Don’t scream, you cur!” The only thing I missed from my good old times with Soul Calibur II is the solemn announcement of the players you were fighting against: “Vs. Voldo!” or “Vs. Link!” (Too bad the Wii version – SoulCalibur Legends- didn’t quite make it!)
All in all, SoulCalibur IV is a great addition to the franchise. There’s a good amount of play modes, excellent character customization options, a strong character roster, smooth (though intricate) controls, and exciting online play. It’s difficult to say which of the two versions is better, even though I think Yoda’s the best. Both Yoda and Sith Lord Darth Vader will eventually be downloadable characters through Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network, so I don’t think their current separation is a big issue.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The game looks truly outstanding and full of magical special effects, despite a couple of random framerate drops while playing online. 4.3 Control
Controls are smooth and accurate, but not extremely intuitive or user-friendly. Players will master them with time, but there’s a lot to learn in the process. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cheesy and exaggerated voice-over acting and classic SoulCalibur-style tunes fit like a glove. 4.2 Play Value
There are quite a few game modes to play, and the numerous customization options and online play definitely extend the game’s value. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.