* Awarded Extreme Gamer's Best Fighting Game of '08
Soul Calibur makes the leap to the next-gen consoles in its fourth alliteration of the popular fighting franchise. Like Soul Calibur II the elitists in Soul Calibur IV will be tested against an unstoppable force from a galaxy far, far away. I’m talking about Star War’s premiere characters Yoda, Darth Vader, and the Apprentice from the upcoming action game "Force Unleashed". If that bullet point wasn’t enough to sway your vote already, Namco Bandai has packed Soul Calibur IV full of goodies for everyone from the first time Souls, to the long time Soul Calibur fans. Another soul has been absorbed, enjoy.
Fighting games don’t come around too often anymore. So when we see the glimmer of hope of a new version of an old classic, it is easy to become overjoyed with fond memories of when the fighting games ruled the arcade. Namco Bandai’s Soul Calibur IV has taken some time to make its debut on current gaming platforms, but like they say 'all good things come for those who wait', well Soul Calibur IV was definitely worth the wait. In many ways, Soul Calibur IV reminds me more of Soul Calibur II then its last release on the PS2. The main reason would be its console exclusive characters from outside of the Soul Calibur universe. In 2003 it was Spawn (Xbox), Link (Gamecube) and Tekken’s Heihachi Mishima (PS2). Now the platforms numbers have shrunk by one and we see George Lucas freely licensing three characters from the Star Wars Universe.
Soul Calibur IV follows in the traditional path of "the fighting game" by adding new characters, changing around a few things in the game while keeping the same solid foundation. For the most part Soul Calibur IV feels and plays like a Soul Calibur game, although some veteran gamers might disagree with some choices developer Project Soul has made. Despite a few minor nitpicks you can’t go wrong with Soul Calibur IV if you have been a long time fan of Soul Calibur’s fantasy fighting realm. New gamers to the franchise will probably accept Soul Calibur IV with open arms. Really, no other fighting games does weapon-based combat quite as good as Soul Calibur, certainly not at this level of perfection.
One positive aspect that has always remained true with Soul Calibur is that it is friendly to novice fighting gamers, button-master one timers and the dedicated masters of the art. In other games like Virtua Fighter and even Dead or Alive you can learn the game and remain at a steady performance level; however in Soul Calibur you can be a master and still loose matches in unthinkable ways to the most unlikely candidates. In the fourth edition of Soul Calibur it seems that Namco Bandai has upped the game by adding more variables like destructible armour, more characters and the new critical finishers. Even if you mastered Soul Calibur II doesn’t mean you will pull ahead like before. Wearing down your enemy and picking the right time to attack and defend has never been more opponent as Soul Calibur IV blazes down with lighting fast attacks and powerful smashing blows.
Besides the games accessible nature and new fighting elements, Soul Calibur IV pulls ahead of any previous version simply because of the added option to go online. Besides sitting around with friends you can finally test your skills online. The online aspect of Soul Calibur is fairly straightforward to get into and doesn’t have too many moments of lag. I had a few matches that started to get bogged down online, however it was never anything more then other games that have their momentary slow spots. Doing battle in ranked or unranked matches is a lot of fun to see how other gamers use certain characters, and to equally find out what mad skills are out there.
The single player aspect of Soul Calibur IV is still the focus of the experience with two familiar paths to follow along with a new trail called The Tower of Lost Souls. For the familiar you can go through the game in eight rounds in the arcade mode, or try your hand at the five levels in the games story mode. In the story mode each character has their own cinematic ending that is worth the ten minute wait through the action. I’m glad to see that each character has a unique ending and perspective explored in the end cinematic; it definitely makes the lore of Soul Calibur more interesting and confusingly strange. The only problem in this years story mode is that is its rather short and it reuses the same cut-scenes as you progress through the story. It would have been nice to see a little more development put into the roster in Soul Calibur IV, it’s too bad this common trend in fighting games is continuing still into 2008.
The new path in Soul Calibur IV is the Tower of Lost Souls which pits the player against an ascending and descending group of battles divided into sections and floor levels. First you will fight up the tower against themed enemies and some of the best level designs in the game. While climbing up or down the stairs you will face the biggest challenges presented in Soul Calibur IV which showcasing just how mean this franchise can get. During your travels in the tower you will also be able to unlock new items that have to be discovered by finishing around special hidden specifications. In total you will be looking at 60 Floors that will challenge the most proficient gamers who dare to climb the towers steps.
In ever edition of Soul Calibur we see a number of new entries into the series. From Soul Edge (1998) to Soul Calibur II (2003) nine new characters where added to the list of thirteen playable characters. In Soul Calibur III (2005) six new characters where introduced added onto the twenty characters from previous games. Finally Soul Calibur IV (2008) adds seven new characters, not including the three Star Wars guests bringing the total 34 characters. The list doesn’t stop there because Soul Calibur IV has the character creator which debuted in the previous Soul Calibur game bring the list upwards toward the hundred mark. On the Xbox 360 you can save up to 50 characters in slots. That is 50 in total which combines new characters, or edits on existing characters.
The new kids on the block add even more variation than seen before in a Soul Calibur title. One character that immediately stood out was the pikestaff wielding Hilde. This beautiful pouty lipped red head is a versatile fighter that can jump between ranged and close range attacks with ease. Compared to a character like Kilik, Hilde has the advantage of using both a long range weapon like (pike) and an up close dagger like Cassandra. I guess you can say she is the melding point between those two. Some other fresh faces in Soul Calibur IV look like the merger of good and evil with Algol, who is the main antagonist in Soul Calibur IV. Algol is also the man that holds both Soul Calibur weapons, the Soul Edge and the Soul Calibur itself. There are also five characters created by guest artists from Japan. These characters are by far the most original in the game although the cool artistic flair doesn’t always translate into gameplay. The featured characters start with the alien force Angol Fear designed by Mine Yoshizaki, the mechanical geared character Ashlotte designed by Oh! Great, elf inspired Scheherazade designed by Yutaka Izubuchi, Kimono wearing Kamikirimusi designed by Hirokazu Hisayuki and the busty cowgirl Shura designed by Hiroya Oku.
The Star Wars cameos in Soul Calibur IV feel slightly out of place with two iconic Jedi’s being entered into action along with a newcomer we have yet to see in action. Darth Vader exclusive to the PS3 is the most balanced and fitting character out of the bunch with a strong amount of attacks and a good defense. Change Darth’s name and you’d think he was another creation from Namco Bandai. Yoda on the other hand is unmistakable and a true original to the series. The thing with Yoda is his height which works to his advantage 99% of the time. Since Yoda marks in at 2”2 he is able to stand still while swords fly over his head and while his opponents try and pick him up for some brutal Yoda bashing. This doesn’t mean Yoda is an unstoppable character, he is just an overly unique addition that really doesn’t fit the games image or playing style, maybe Obi One or Luke should have stepped up in his place. The third addition is the Apprentice from the upcoming LucasArts title Forced Unleashed. In Soul Calibur, the Apprentice (who is Darth’s apprentice) is a strong competitor to go against who has some powerful moves that can be “unleashed” Even though the Apprentice feels a little too powerful the seems to fit the game a little better than both Darth and Yoda because of his human appearance. Hopefully the rumors of Yoda and Darth jumping ship to the other platforms via downloadable content is true because even though Soul Calibur IV has Star Wars Jedi’s, it really sucks that we can have a showdown between the two iconic characters.
I felt the roster was fairly sufficient in Soul Calibur IV compared to other fighting games, although if you haven’t found your perfect match, or just want more challengers to step up the Create-a-Soul (CAS) mode returns. Debuted in Soul Calibur III the create-a-soul mode allows you to make your own fighter. This includes dressing them up, picking their fighting style, and outfitting with a wide assortment of deadly weapons. The CAS mode is open from the start of the game so you make all your CAS wishes come true at any time, along with creating your own fighters you can also edit the main roster of the game which makes for some interesting creations.
Getting the most out of your created CAS characters you will want to wait a bit so you can collect new gear before you play dress up. New items are collected during your travels up and down the tower of Lost Souls, or through normal play of the games storyline. This includes everything from new clothing pieces including new underwear items, assorted footwear, dresses and more to new weapons that range from the powerful Soul Calibur weapons to the insane ridiculous power of a rubber mallet or a hula hoop. Unlocking items can be highly addictive and a lot of fun if you enjoy the “dress up” aspect of Soul Calibur.
Besides an aesthetic touch, dressing up your character can lead to new combinations to develop each characters skill. How this works is by giving a certain amount of space to allocate skills to each character. The amount of skill space is determined by the player’s weapon and outfit. Changing this around can greatly benefit any playing style allowing you to fine tune each warrior. The skills are divided into 5 categories being Power, Impact, Boost, Gauge and Special. Upgrading your abilities simply come from playing the game with each character. Each character has their own style level starting at level one building upwards from there. For an example of the skills you can use come in the form of auto countering, auto unlockable attacks, auto impacts, impact healing, gauge recovery, soul boost, nullify ring outs and lots more. It’s fun to play around with the skills in the game and once you find your weakness its good to build a strong defense using the skills earned.
For problems Soul Calibur IV suffers from a weak multiplayer selection with only the standard VS available. A few more options would have been greatly welcomed like a team vs. or anything else to add a little substance to getting together with someone for a few rounds. It’s fun to jump into a quick match or two; however Soul Calibur IV promotes the use of online battling against the more traditional road actually hanging out in person with a few buddies knocking out a few rounds. Another downside in Soul Calibur IV was how easy it was to unlock, or purchase new characters. From the starting of the game you can basically beat the story mode twice to earn enough credits to unlock the rest of the cast. This makes the accomplishment of having a full roster feel underwhelming and not important. I liked how the previous Soul Calibur games made you work for a full roster.
Unfortunately, Soul Calibur IV doesn’t support Playstation 3 Trophies; however it does a good job implementing its uses of Achievements called Honors in the game. These range from some easy to grab numbers like clearing story mode on Normal (Pursuer of the Secret) and Hard (Mystery of the Swords) difficulty, landing an attack on a taunting opponent (Iron Hammer) and performing 100 first attacks (Swift Strike). Up for more of a challenge try descending 20 floors in the Tower of the Lost Souls (Never Ending Advance) or grabbing over 30 treasures in the same tower (Legendary Hidden Treasures). Soul Calibur IV’s online game is reflected in the achievements with a few achievements to be had by defeating different fighting styles online (World Class Fighter) and winning ten times online (Unknown Swordsman) or simply fighting 100 times online for another achievement (Engraved into History).
In Soul Calibur’s case the achievements definitely help to extend the life of the game as you can inspire to get 1000 gamerpoints in the game. Hopefully, Namco Bandai will consider supporting Trophies in the future with a nice little patch. Besides choosing between Darth Vader, and Yoda, achievements are the only other aspect that will sway your vote over to the Xbox 360. Other than gaining a few gamer points both version of the game run respectively well on each console.
Soul Calibur IV is a beautiful looking fighting game that pushes the long running franchise into some new ground while keeping the core gameplay near the same level. The roster has been filled up with an assortment of wonderful characters, including three Star Wars cameos, but if that wasn’t enough make your own fighters, or edit the current souls waiting for battle. Namco Bandai covers new ground trying its hand at the online world of gaming with multiplayer versus, and the ability to download new content for the game. Soul Calibur IV might not re-invent the deadly battler, but it does a great job giving fans what they want and a little more. Either on the PS3 with Vader, or the 360 with Yoda, Soul Calibur IV is a safe purchase and a game that will be in your collection for a long time.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 08.06.08