A review of swords and souls, eternally retold…
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: 3D fighting game where weapons don’t instantly maim people
Update: I have tried out network play and so far it’s good stuff when fighting against Japanese/Singaporean/Malaysian players on LAN cable. No disconnects save for some rage quit moments because some people cannot deal with my “cheap” Sophitia/Seong Mi-na tactics.
Disclaimer: I haven’t tried out network play yet since the rest of the world will only be getting this game on Friday 19th October. Plus, there’s no one to play with at this point in time. I’ll add in my thoughts on online play a few days after it’s out.
You would think game developers have an easy time succeeding their past works given the technology that exists today. However, if its foundations are already solid, it’s hard to deviate from them. You can’t change too much and too little; gaming fans will know whether you’re deviating or just half-assing it.
Case in point: the 3D weapons-based fighting game series Soulcalibur and its sequels. Soulcalibur, the second Bandai Namco 3D swords-and-souls fighting game for arcades and the Sega Dreamcast (remember, Soul Edge in 1996 was the first) revolutionized the 3D fighting game world. It introduced its patented 8-Way Run system, improved Horizontal/Vertical/Kick combat mechanics, and Guard Impact parries to the ever-hungry audience. Fighting game fans have never seen fast and frenetic fighting quite like this; I sure as heck wasn’t surprised at the accolades this game received.
The sequels that follow further refined the system, sometimes in good ways (like SoulCalibur II & SoulCalibur V) and sometimes with odd design choices (like SoulCalibur IV’s Critical Finishes). While they’re decent entries, none of them captured the magic & lustre of Soulcalibur.
Now we’ve come to the seventh iteration, which deservedly took a 6-year break so that games like Tekken 7 lay out the foundation of a current-gen 3D fighting game. The question remains: what can Bandai Namco and Project Soul add to amp up the flexible fighting game? Can they wow the crowd like they did back in 1999, the preferred party era of the late-but-great Prince?
A tale of souls and swords, eternally retold…
Turns out that their surefire winning method is to make the game look “esports friendly” and visually arresting. Just clear enough to make casual bystanders and even hardcore fighting game fans understand what’s going on & captivate them at the same time, while adding new layers of strategy in the classic 3D fightfest with swords & other sharp objects.
With Soulcalibur 6, they nailed that aspect with the Reversal Edge mechanic and Soul Charges. What is this move? Remember Focus Attacks from Street Fighter IV? It’s basically the Soulcalibur version of that. Pressing the B button and Guard lets you do a guarding stance that absorbs attacks -you can hold and charge the move FYI- and then let loose an RE attack.
When it hits, the both of you go into a clash state -complete with wavey colourful auras- where you have to input either A, B, Kick, or the Guard button to knock down the other. It’s a short rock, paper, scissor minigame that determines a stand-off which also gives either player a chance to even end up in a neutral stance.
If you win the clash, you can follow up the attack with more combos for more damage, or just set your opponent up for a fall. You can even press back to avoid the attack altogether, assuming it doesn’t reach you.
Reversal Edges add in a defensive mechanic to complement the risk-heavy Guard Impact, while also giving each of the fighters new follow-ups when they’re in a Reversal Edge clash. It also punishes players who don’t use all the attack buttons they’re given. If your opponent is Horizontal attacks-spammy, just do a quick Reversal Edge and counter appropriately.
Be careful; REs can be side-stepped, so don’t go abusing it. It’s a tool meant to add to your overall game plan and a possible tide-turner, not a win button.
Only the victor may proceed onward…
In keeping up with the trend of making fighting game characters more unique in battle ala Killer Instinct and Street Fighter V, Soulcalibur 6 now gives everyone Soul Charge modes. And by everyone, I mean mainstays from Soulcalibur, Soulcalibur II, and Soulcalibur III. I’ll talk about that later.
This mode powers up a fighter temporarily and strengthens their trademark normal/special attacks into lightning-powered break attacks. Some of them like newbies Groh and The Witcher’s Geralt (yep, you heard right) gain access to even more powerful and fast combos depending on which attack they use.
For example, Groh’s switch from regular to two sword stance (ie the Avenger stance) allows him to follow up with fast multi-hitting attacks. Soul Charge makes him do a teleport-and-multi-slash frame advantage attack instead, which makes opponents guess which side he’s attacking and when to press buttons.
I could go on about how the fighting feels faster and a lot meatier and nuanced thanks to the lenient inputs and timings, character tweaks, and overall crisp controls. It truly is the final and appropriate form of an almost 2-decade series. But the gist is this: Reversal Edges and Soul Charges significantly makes the game more fun and fresh while also adding even more of a unique identity to Soulcalibur 6’s fighting.
Now, two souls are fiercely entangled…
While the current cast isn’t as numerous as Soulcalibur 4, it at least trims the fat and keeps to the callback vibe in the series’ attempt to go back to its roots. From your beginner-friendly all-rounders like Kilik and Sophitia to expert-level folks like Ivy Valentine and Zasalamel, players will have a field day figuring out who to main.
If you’re not sure who to pick, check out the Museum mode and select Combat Lesson to get a rough overview of each warrior and their quirks. It doesn’t hurt to relearn a lot of things here and there, even if you’re a veteran player who had a lot of Soulcalibur notches under your figurative belt.
The new characters are worthy additions too. Geralt’s great for beginners and intermediates who want a hard-hitting fast sword-wielding monster hunter with some magic tricks. He also has that hippity hop sword swing attack that usually decapitates baddies in Witcher 3. Groh’s aforementioned Avenger stance mid-attacks make him a monster up-close and a wrecker of incoming vertical attacks.
Both of them pale in comparison with the foppish Azwel (see above), who has theatrics up the wazoo and is as loveably weird as they come.
And this is a series that introduced the moustache-twirling Dampierre & those two Star Wars characters into the canon. He can create three weapon types out of thin air, each with their own set of moves and combos. He’s also tough to grasp and use, but has a ton of combo and on-the-ground possibilities. Plus his downward projectiles can annoy the heck out of newbies.
If anything, this roster is lacking more unique and weird-ass characters like Azwel. Sure, there’s a season pass which unfortunately is problematic in its own right. At the very least we hope that Soulcalibur 6’s future is filled with future fighters with esoteric fighting styles. Having said that, this roster is decent and gets the job done.
A hero desires a sword, and a sword desires truth…
The game doesn’t hinge completely on all of that. Bandai Namco and Project Soul brought back the more RPG-esque single-player modes sorely missing from Soulcalibur V -not many people save for the hardcore remembered that entry, FYI.
It’s now called Libra of Souls, and you hang around and fight dudes while participating in the whole “chase Soul Edge the magic evil sword” storyline. You’ll even fight the cast at some point multiple times in a weird-ass version of the 16th century where lizardmen and skeleton people are canon.
Said fights will add in crazy stipulations & modifiers like no ring-outs, no access to certain moves, amped damage for certain attacks, and slippery floors.
The last one’s my personal favourite: there’s nothing more fun that just poking a poor malfested giant guy with wings and seeing him slip out of the ring with little to no effort.
Alas, there aren’t any missions that go beyond the “fight a bunch of guys and gals” routine. It’s not a dealbreaker seeing as the stipulations are fun to deal with, but I was hoping there were other challenges that can make use of the 3D space. I’m thinking maybe a dodging or Guard Impact challenge, or even a bowling/volleyball-type minigame.
As a bonus, the early segments of this mode has a dojo mode that teaches you how to Soulcalibur right. I wished that this was a separate feature on the main menu, but at least it teaches the basics and intermediate skills well.
Speaking of lizard people and skeleton folk, you can go nuts with the Character Creation mode. So far it seems pretty in-depth like the past few sequels, with body and frame customizations and a few costumes to make your own unique fighter. Here’s my fleshless creation in GIF form; marvel at the animated wonder that is Santino!
Time will tell if we’re able to see recreations of pop stars and wrestlers like in Soulcalibur IV though. Internet, do me proud!
On top of all of that single-player goodness, the Chronicles of Soul mode recaps the Soulcalibur story from the second game onwards in the most concise fashion possible. Part revisionist history and part soft reboot, the mode charts down the timeline of the lore pretty well and lets players find out what happened to their favourite fighters in this weird-ass version of the 16th century.
The main chronicle, the one at the top of the timeline chart represented in red dots, is focused on Kilik and his pals as they go on a quest to stop Soul Edge. And you fight this guy at the end of it all…
Inferno here looks way better than the last time.
If you ever wanted to see Soulcalibur lore and tidbits like how Sophitia commits “domestic abuse” on her blacksmith husband, this mode will sate your story cravings. Just a warning though: both Libra of Souls and Chronicles of Souls mode are laden with talking heads and text ala visual novels. Lots and lots of it. All set in one small font size that cannot be enlargened. Bring out your reading glasses if you really want to be invested in Soulcalibur’s lore.
This may not be your cup of tea but not every developer can pull off a Mortal Kombat 9 story mode. I kinda wish they did, but they botched that style of storytelling up with Soulcalibur V.
The legend will never die…
Does Soulcalibur 6 cater to both the old-school fans, the casual fighting game fans, and the 3D fighting game pros without shortchanging either side? They did, but they’re essentially going back to the well back in 1999 to do so while sprucing it up for this gaming generation.
Not that it’s a bad thing, far from it. See games like Doom and the two Wolfenstein games for textbook cases on how to reboot a franchise right. Bandai Namco and Project Soul should pat themselves and pop open the champagne bottles for a job well done.
In trying to nail that balancing act in getting new and old players on board the Soultrain, they’ve succeeded. And all they needed to do was take a 6-year break and reprioritize their efforts & rediscover the heart and, ahem, soul of the franchise.
Long story short: Soulcalibur is back, baby! And definitely better than ever.
-Tournament-worthy entry to the Soulcalibur series.
-Great fighting gameplay, coupled with refreshing Reversal Edge & Soul Charge mechanic.
-Fun character additions, like Geralt and Azwel.
-Single player modes add more replayability & wacky fights.
-Could use a few zanier original fighters like Azwel.
-Libra of Souls missions needs variety.
-Single player modes have a lot of narrative text that cannot be enlargened.