Bandai Namco’s weaponised fighting series is back, and it’s in the best shape it has been in for years.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but Soul Calibur has always been a fighting game appreciated by the casual crowd. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that it’s easy to get things done because it only has three attack buttons and one to block. Maybe it’s because of the fact that you’re fighting with weapons. Or it could be the fact that there have always been well made single-player modes. Or could it possibly be the historical themes, or maybe the colourful ensemble of fighters?
Probably it’s a combination of everything we just mentioned that attracted people to play Soul Calibur, which was so widely appreciated that it got an undeserved reputation for being too casual. Perhaps Bandai Namco has heard this and saw it as criticism because in Soul Calibur IV and V, experiments began with different solutions to expand and add depth – and thus they tried to fix something that, in our opinion, was not at all broken.
The technique that usually separates the pros from the rank and file in the lovely world of Soul Calibur is Guard Impact, a counter-system which allows a player who really understands the basics to easily punish their opponent with thoughtful attacks. Most people who play at casual levels usually simply strive to block incoming damage rather than counter it, which means that you only scratch the surface of what the system really has to offer.
The reason why we’re mentioning this is that the biggest news gameplay-wise this time is called Reversal Edge, which is another variant of countering with a rock-paper-scissors system that results in flashy animations (definitely a response to Street Fighter’s ultra attacks in IV and V). Unlike Guard Impact, it is much easier to perform, but it can also result in backlashes where victory slides into defeat. It feels like a feature that is more in line with Soul Calibur’s broader audience, and may not necessarily be what the best players have asked for, but it will at least make it more fun for most people.
Other than that, the single-player portion of the game is something Bandai Namco has been happy to talk about, and for two reasons. One being that Soul Calibur VI, despite the name, is something of a reboot for the series that actually takes place at the same time as the very first Soul Calibur. While we really love fighting games, we also think that the stories in this genre are quite rubbish and unnecessary. With that said, it’s still nice to see some of the classic fighters – including characters like Maxi, Mitsurugi, Taki, and Ivy – in their prime again instead of the ageing folks in later games. Those who really liked the original when it started could, in a way, almost see this as an alternative sequel to that game instead of Soul Calibur II.
The second reason that Bandai Namco has been so proud of what they have to offer single-player wise is the quantity. The foundation is pretty well-developed with a basic story, where you can then choose to play all the characters to see what they were up to during the first Soul Calibur game. But it’s not the only single-player mode, and here we also find Libra of Soul, which is a really expansive mode.
Here we can create our own fighter with the game’s very advanced character creation tool. Whether you want to make a giant barbarian complete with mandatory mullet, a typically curvy female horror movie zombie, or an archetypal kung fu monk – it’s possible to create exactly what you want and then take your fighter on an adventure. Soul Calibur does not seem to have the same budget and status at Bandai Namco anymore and virtually all of the storylines are presented through a narrator and cartoon pictures. It feels cheap in comparison to Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat X, which set a new standard for single-player in fighting games, and the story is still not that interesting either.
Nevertheless, we’re still happily playing to slowly but steadily level up our character, learn more about the game features, and take part in battles that throw the concept around a bit. Those who know their Soul Calibur know that to kill several lizard men, fight while being poisoned, beat people up in dangerous winds and stuff like that is not unique to this part of the series but it’s used much more cleverly here and the adventure actually offers some elements that are borderline role-playing. The most obvious thing is if you want to be good or bad, but you can also equip yourself differently to suit different opposition and buff yourself with items for particularly demanding matches.
It’s hard to say if the game is worth buying just for the single-player. We wouldn’t, but if you really love fighting games and don’t have people to play with locally, and if you don’t want to play online, then this is clearly a better offering than you’ll find in any other fighting game has to offer, with the exception of Mortal Kombat. As far as we’re concerned, however, fighting games are supposed to be played against human opponents and no-one else.
The reason is simple, against computer-controlled characters, the fighting becomes very technical and static. It’s more about getting a hit and then pulling off a nasty combo that drains your opponent of life. Against people, it’s not so easy. To be able to start a combo, you must outsmart your antagonist, which is easier said than done with buddies who know exactly how you play the game.
In Soul Calibur VI, it’s always about varying your combos, trying to trick your opponent into pulling off a Reversal Edge when it’s of no use, exploiting their mistakes and cancelling your attacks to do something completely different from what your opponent (hopefully) thought you would do. Mind games, if you like. Of course, this is not unique to the Soul Calibur series, but in a game that is so easy to play that everyone will be able to offer some kind of resistance after just 15 minutes of fighting, this becomes extra important.
Even the beginner can quickly start fooling you and quickly deliver an effective combo with one and the same button. The controls, which are basically unchanged since the first Soul Calibur was released on the Dreamcast, are still incredibly good and makes it feel like we have total control over our fighter (who, for the record, is usually Maxi). Sure, some stuff has been moved around and the timing is not the same, but we quickly felt at home with the controls and had fun with the fighting.
The fast pace also makes it possible for you to overcome your opponent. By sticking with smooth attacks and trying to launch the opponent up in the air for a good air-juggle (or, even better, over the edge of the stage for an insta-win), you also have the opportunity to get a psychological upper hand. In addition, we think that the three dimensions are used better here than in most other games in the genre, which is partly due to the fact that were fighting with weapons that enhance your range. A heavy attack where you chop with a staff or a huge sword can be avoided by stepping around and then you can launch a wicked combo. It simply feels more natural and intuitive to circulate an opponent and try to strike from unexpected angles.
In short, Soul Calibur VI feels very good to play and it comes with a lot of content. It returns to an era when the series was generally considered to be the best. During the period when the first two Soul Calibur games were released, it somewhat set the bar in terms of graphics in the genre. Since then, Japan has fallen to the West when it comes to visuals, and fighting games are no longer the best-looking.
However, even with that said, Soul Calibur VI feels relatively primitive from a technical standpoint. It’s not even that impressive on PC and we would definitely say that Injustice 2 is a nicer-looking game (heck, even Mortal Kombat X from 2015 looks better). We didn’t expect any graphical fireworks, but we were hoping for better than this. On the other hand, it’s very smoothly animated, which is the most important thing. It also sounds like we remember from earlier installations; we’re talking bombastic tones that do their job and convey the epic feeling Bandai Namco is trying to deliver.
Soul Calibur VI is the best game in the series since part two. It’s lightning fast, intuitive, and very enjoyable. Also, Geralt of Rivia is the best guest character since Link made an appearance in Soul Calibur II for Gamecube. We want to say ‘better late than never’ and we’re glad that Bandai Namco is once again on track. At the same time, we realise that it may be too late. Does Soul Calibur have enough fans today to once again become one of the biggest draws in the genre, or have they been scared away during the last ten years of experimentation? It remains to be seen, but if you have never played Soul Calibur before, part VI is a great opportunity to dip a toe in this legendary fighting series, and for older fans, it feels like a warm and lovely “welcome back” to the stage of history.
Keyword: Soul Calibur VI