Game Description: In the gorgeous follow-up to Soul Blade, players will choose from a roster of 20 determined warriors, all trying to gain possession of the mysterious Soul Edge a weapon of untold power. In Soul Calibur, players will fight through all opponents, using their chosen character's unique martial arts style and weaponry, leading up to the final battle with the Soul Edge's current owner. There are many ways to play beyond Arcade and Versus modes, however including a journey across the land where your victories will be won against difficult opponents, which will unlock hidden characters and items while honing your skills.
Here's a brief rundown of my fighting arts career (in games, of course!). My early 'education' began in the late 80s with games like Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Final Fight. In the early 90s, I graduated from the school of Street Fighter. I then went on to achieve my Masters from the school of Tekken some years later. Now, as the century comes to a close, I was hoping to end it with a bang of by completing my doctorate in Soul Calibur. Already widely praised by critics and fans alike as the main reason to own a Sega Dreamcast system, I was extremely looking forward to continuing my 'education' with the home translation of the two-player competitive arcade fighter. But much like the first day at any new school, I didn't get off to such a good start. I had some serious reservations and what appeared promising at first was starting to look an 'incomplete' grade.
What got of me off to such a rocky start on Soul Calibur was how easily I blew through the one-player mode on a Normal difficulty setting on my first attempt (with a couple of continues) by employing somewhat unrestrained button-mashing (not to mention it only took me about ten minutes to do so). The level of ease at which I completed the game (with one character) and executed moves without even knowing what I was doing made the game feel weightless especially compared to the likes of Tekken 2. Not only did Tekken have a more intuitively ingenious control scheme with the four main buttons representing the arm and leg attacks (left and right respectively), but it also required that I develop advanced skills before I could convincingly beat any human or computer opponent. I felt unmotivated to bone-up on the literally hundreds of complex techniques involving combos, counters, parries, charges, 8-way run attacks, and grappling moves that Soul Calibur offered when it didn't seem necessary to do so to be successful (at least initially in the default one-player arcade mode).
I would eventually change my mind after prolonged play against higher difficulty computer levels and far more importantly, Dale's cursedly lethal Mitsuguri. I found the two-player competitive battles against Dale to be incredibly intense and satisfying because the difference between victory and defeat in Soul Calibur's weapon-based combat was often just a few deadly blows. This meant a lot of come-from-behind victories and many never-know-what-to-expect outcomes. It's really the two-player versus matches against Dale that drove me to eventually wade though the hundreds of techniques and tactics in order to find and perfect a few more effective killer attacks that would give my character of choice, Kilik, the edge over Dale (unfortunately, this has yet to happen).
Aside from the default one-player 'Arcade' and 'Two-player Versus' modes, there were also more home-exclusive ones that held my interest like the 'Mission Battle' mode. This is a mode that has players hopping around in a board game-like interface and completing missions that almost always involve fighting some character, but with slight additional twists like environmental dangers (extreme blowing winds, sinking sand, deadly mice) or specific objectives (ring-out required, first to hit the floor loses). Completed missions reward you with 'points' that can be spent of unlocking various pictures in the art gallery that range from conceptual designs to promotional illustrations. Unlocking the pictures (which can get to be a pretty addictive quest in and of itself) in turn will open up more bonus features like additional stages, costumes for certain characters, and a 'Exhibition' mode where characters will automatically demonstrate a martial arts form. Beating the 'Arcade' modes with different characters, much like in Tekken 2, can also reveal secret selectable characters. There's also the other, more standard issue modes: 'Time Attack' (completing the game for fastest time), 'Survival' (defeat as many opponents as possible with one life bar), 'Team Battle' (King Of Fighters-style group fights) and 'Training'.
Of course I have yet to mention Soul Calibur's most publicly talked about feature, the graphics. I'm inclined to agree with popular sentiment that the graphics are staggeringly beautiful and currently unmatched in its genre. The environments are fully decked out with either lively natural landscapes for the outdoor stages or with meticulously detailed architecture for the indoor ones. The characters in Soul Calibur may not be as dysfunctionally interesting when compared to the morally depraved Tekken bunch and they may start to look a little facially stilted compared to the bawdy Ready 2 Rumble crew, but they are still technically impressive and boast smooth life-like animation (especially noteworthy due to the authentic motion-captured martial arts techniques), some incredibly intricate costumes, and wonderfully distinct personalities with designs worthy of Namco's grand reputation. Topping off the overall presentation is the background music consisting of wonderfully lavished musical scores that have an epic, orchestra-like ambience, which matches the 'worldly' nature of Soul Calibur.
So much like my first day of class in a new school, I had some initial fears when first playing Soul Calibur. It wasn't what I had originally hoped for (like realizing college isn't just one long party) and I was like a new freshman longing for his yesteryears as a lower-school senior (back when I could muster up one combo chain after another in Tekken 2, resulting in some serious cans of whup-ass). Sadly, those techniques have faded in my memory and I was left to deal with the reality of now being a student of Soul Calibur. But fear not, because after finding new motivation (like punking Dale until he cries like a girl) and studying up on the techniques, I'm beginning to pick up the ropes and see the light that is Soul Calibur. It's only a matter of time now that, as my skills develop, my experience grows and pretty soon I'll achieve my PhD in Soul Calibur. Then people will have to start calling me Dr. Kilik instead of Mr. Fishcake.
Hmm, a Ph.D. in Soul Calibur, eh? Well, now that we have some idea how noncompetitive Chi is, I can offer up my opinion and say that I agree wholeheartedly with everything Chi wrote in his review. I too was turned off at first by the relative ease of beating the game. The exquisite graphics and sound were almost wasted in my opinion and I was looking at giving Soul Calibur a 7.5 or 8.0. Luckily, I did what Namco was counting on gamers to do and that was to continue to play and try out all the options they have offered. It's obvious that Namco was counting on players to play and replay this game as Soul Calibur bursts at the seams with hidden features and characters. Once I got a taste of this part of the game (and Chi will back me up on this) I was pretty close to being obsessed with unlocking all of them using every character in the game. To our knowledge there are hidden costumes, hidden fighters, hidden art galleries, hidden stages, alternate stages, and my favorite: hidden theater galleries (here I could see each fighter put on an exhibition with his weapon of choice). Take heart though, as these are just an end and not a means.
The experience of getting to those 'extras' is what really matters and Soul Calibur delivers. The graphics in this game are truly phenomenal. I can pretty easily say that these are the most beautiful graphics and sounds on any system that I've experienced firsthand. The colors are vibrant and everything is rendered at a steady 60 frames per second and, as Chi said, the musical scores in this game are exquisite. Soul Calibur is simply a joy to watch, but thankfully, it's even more fun to play. The moves are easy to pull off (that scores big with me every time) and look great while they are being performed. And they all flow into each other without much any interruption in the animation (my personal thanks to the motion capture people and programmers). I could go on and on but I really don't need to as Chi and everyone else in the industry has already done so. So in closing, I will say this: Soul Calibur is one of those games where I really felt I got my money's worth. Once I beat the game, I became addicted to playing it again and again and unlocking more things. All this as well as being pulled into a totally enjoyable game. Be aware that the draw of Soul Calibur really kicks after you beat the game for the first time but once you do it never lets up.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence, Suggestive Themes
Parents should take note that Soul Calibur is clean and wholesome martial arts fun as far as fighting games go. You won't find any of the extreme gore popularized by Mortal Kombat. Also, be forewarned that all the Japanese dialogue (with the inclusion of English subtitles) has remained in the U.S. version. There's nothing wrong with that directly and there's even somewhat of a nostalgia factor stemming from the early days of Street Fighter 2 (which was another game that did little to mask its Japanese nuances). I was just surprised because titles today, especially role-playing games, usually go at great lengths to fully domesticate foreign imports.
A quick glance at the enormous 'Moves List' for any character is likely to make the casual gamer, who isn't into extensive research and study in the name of games, squeamish. Though many may be surprised, as I stated in my review, Soul Calibur on its default level settings is a breeze and surprisingly accessible to even casual button-mashers. But anyone who really wants to get into the depth that Soul Calibur offers needs to devote extensive time to learning all the exhaustive amounts of techniques and skills. Having an arcade stick would also help being that some moves are near impossible to execute on a standard control pad. Having human competitors to face off against goes a long way towards motivation in learning and perfecting those skills.