Though relatively young, the SoulCalibur franchise has become a powerhouse in arcade-style fighters. I myself have fond memories of playing both SoulCalibur II and III both solo and with friends and family. It truly became a great series, and earned its place on my shelf between Tekken and Mortal Kombat as one of my all-time favorite arcade-style fighters. Naturally, when I heard about the Wii-exclusive SoulCalibur spin-off, I was both excited and nervous. On the one hand, I knew that the SoulCalibur franchise, with all its past successes, could be a real winner on the Wii console. However, I also was concerned. I mean, turning a button-masher into a Wii-motion sensing game? It sounded a little scary. However, after spending some quality time with the Wii-exclusive SoulCalibur Legends, I am very impressed.
Essentially there are two parts to SoulCalibur Legends, the single player mode and the multiplayer mode. Right when you start up the game, you’ll have to choose which mode you’ll be playing in. The story mode essentially plays like every other SoulCalibur game. You have a big map, you go places, and you fight battles. But the twist with SoulCalibur Legends is that there are more platforming elements here than in previous SoulCalibur games. For example, instead of running through levels and getting into random battles, you’ll also have to figure out the best way to move forward through the cunning use of different switches, while avoiding cleverly-placed booby traps. The whole thing is very reminiscent of the Tomb Raider series, except with a whole lot more baddies. The whole focus on platforming works pretty well in this regard, and it was pretty interesting playing through a SoulCalibur game that was not solely based around the fighting mechanic.
The whole premise of the story mode is also pretty interesting. SoulCalibur Legends deals with how Siegfried became Nightmare. Of course, this has been mentioned in the original SoulCalibur and in SoulCalibur II, but not in any real detail. SoulCalibur Legends takes you back several years before the events of the original SoulCalibur series, and you begin on the fateful night when Siegfried first wields the evil Soul Edge. Soul Edge unleashes a great evil into the world and simultaneously brings about the existence of the pure SoulCalibur. However, the SoulCalibur falls into the hands of the tyrannical sultan of the Ottoman empire. And then the Soul Edge breaks into several pieces shattered throughout the Eurasian continent. Siegfried has no real desire to resurrect the Soul Edge, but is put under pressure by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who sees both his empire and his people crumbling at an alarming rate. So essentially, Siegfried has to wield an evil sword in order to do good. Pretty interesting stuff, really.
The only problem that you really run into with the story, however, is how it’s delivered. Unfortunately, this game offers very few cutscenes and a lot of stoic art with scrolling dialogue. And when something crucial happens, you can bet that you’ll be scrolling through some pretty massive dialogue. Unfortunately, this aspect of the game’s storytelling really hinders it. When reading, it’s apparent that there’s some real action going on in the story, but none of this action makes its way onto the screen. Instead we just get what looks like a hand-drawn character on the screen with a surprised look on their face.
Another big hindrance of this game is the graphics. The real issue I take here is that this game essentially looks like SoulCalibur III. Even though this is supposed to be a next-gen game, it looks the same as its last-gen counterparts, which is definitely not a good thing. Of course some will make the “It’s a Wii game” argument here, but honestly I have seen much better looking Wii games then this. There is no excuse for a next gen game to look like a last gen game, no matter what system it’s running on.
And although this game goes through its ups and downs, there is one thing that I truly did enjoy, and that was the controls. Although some fighting games that have relied solely on the Wii’s motion sensing controls have not been very successful, I think this one more or less gets it right. The basic controls make sense and have you doing basic sword slashing movements that are replicated on-screen. But the real key here is in the sensitivity of the controls. They don’t require broad hack ‘n slash movements, and respond very well to the different directions in which you move. The game’s control also features a range of special attacks that can be performed by various button-mash-and-swing-Wii-mote combinations. These special attacks, much like those in the original SoulCalibur series, are somewhat difficult to initiate, but well worth it in the end.
In addition to the story mode, there’s also a multiplayer mode. This mode, called “party mode” in the main menu, features three different types of multiplayer modes. First up is the traditional Vs. mode. One interesting thing about the Vs. mode in SoulCalibur Legends is that it features a split screen instead of a single screen battlefield view like in the original series. I don’t really know if this hinders the gameplay or not, as it has worked to my advantage and disadvantage in past matches. The second type of multiplayer mode in SoulCalibur Legends is competitive mode. This mode is also split-screen and challenges you and your opponent to run through different stages of the story mode while accomplishing different goals. These goals might include killing a certain number of badies or collecting a high number of items. This mode was probably my favorite playing through, just because it was so different then other multiplayer modes that I’ve experienced in the SoulCalibur franchise. It really incorporates the platforming element of the story mode and adds a perfect amount of competition to it. The third mode is Co-Op mode and this mode is for all intents and purposes exactly what you might think it would be. You run through specific levels of the SoulCalibur Legends story mode with a buddy and try to get a good score.
While the single player modes were very engaging and the multiplayer modes were very fun, there were still some underlying issues that I had with SoulCalibur Legends. First of all, the customization options that made SoulCalibur III so playable for so long are completely gone. This is a real disappointment because it requires minimal investment from the player into the characters and severely hinders replay value. Another big issue I had with SoulCalibur was the extremely limited amount of characters to choose from. Playing through most of it with only seven playable characters even in multiplayer mode seems pretty extreme to me, even for a “Legends” game.
But faults aside, SoulCalibur Legends was a fun game to play. Although it wasn’t the most complete SoulCalibur game I’ve ever played, the Wii controls, the multiplayer modes, and the storyline make it worth playing for fans of the series. If you are among the uninitiated, I would recommend SoulCalibur III as probably the best in the series right now. But to its credit, SoulCalibur Legends stands well on its own, and is a definitely a title to look into for both arcade fighting and platform aficionados.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Essentially looks like the PS2 version of SoulCalibur III. 4.6 Control
Surprisingly tight and intuitive motion-based controls make this a great fighter on the Wii. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The little bit of voice acting is pretty good, and the music is superb, but long periods of scrolling text with little or no music really hurt this one. 3.9
Story mode is pretty lengthy considering SoulCalibur history, and multiplayer modes give this one decent replay ability. However, not much customizability, and character catalog is abnormally short.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.