Soul Calibur 3
Release Date: 10/26/05
Ah, another year, another Namco fighting game. They’re certainly consistent with their releases; with the exception of 2001 and 2004, Namco has been releasing a fighting game every year since 1995. For Namco fighting fans, this year has so far shaped up to be the best one in a long time. After February’s release of Tekken 5, which fixed a lot of the issues fans complained about regarding Tekken 4, fans were eagerly looking forward to Soul Calibur 3. Not only was the game going to be a direct to console release, but it promised a slew of new single player modes as well as a custom character creation mode. I have to admit, the custom character option was what sold me on the game; being able to make a character in a fighting game was a pretty cool idea, and so long as it was done well, I figured that would pretty much justify the asking price alone.
On the other hand, I got the impression that Namco set SC3 as a console only release because SC2 didn’t do very well in the arcade. Granted, the arcade business isn’t what it used to be; back when Tekken first came out, 3D fighting games were new and interesting and people wanted to play them. These days, DDR rules the roost, and you can barely find a Soul Calibur arcade cabinet anywhere. Tekken has managed to maintain its staying power over the years, but Soul Calibur, not so much. It also didn’t help that SC2 was almost a carbon copy of the first Soul Calibur, with no major changes or advances to make it worth playing again.
So, the question is, is SC3 the new and improved sequel we’re hoping for? Does it hurt the game that it didn’t see an arcade release? Are the new single-player modes as good as we’re hoping? Or are we in for another disappointment? Alright, enough rhetorical questions, let’s get to work.
1. STORY/GAME MODES
The story of SC3 is surprisingly solid for a fighting game: Siegfried, who was turned into Nightmare in Soul Calibur, has separated himself from the sword Soul Edge, and is on a quest to seal the sword forever, or at least until the sequel. Nightmare, on the other hand, is hunting Siegfried so that he may re-join with him. Various other characters have reasons to pursue Nightmare and/or Siegfried, while others have their own agendas that are entirely separate from the main storyline. It’s all standard stuff that’s elevated by the amount of storytelling present in the game. Very few fighting games have attempted to be this story intensive, and this is an interesting development that should please fans of the series.
As far as the actual game modes go, Namco apparently decided that since SC3 was going to be a console exclusive game, they should cram all sorts of gameplay modes into it. Besides standard Arcade Mode (called “Quick Play” here) and versus modes, you also have “Tales of Souls”, which is a story mode for each of the characters; “Soul Arena”, which offers you all sorts of challenges to overcome for gold and prizes; a “World Competition” which allows you to play against the CPU in various tournament ladders, ala Tekken 5 or Virtua Fighter 4; and “Chronicles of the Sword”, which is a dumbed-down Ogre Battle-esque strategy game that allows you to resolve battles in one-on-one fights. Namco has also offered a Custom Character Creation mode, which allows you to make your own personal fighter to whoop on other people if you so desire, as well as an option to customize the color schemes of existing characters. The only thing missing is an online mode, but with the dozens of single-player modes available, you’ll still get your money’s worth.
Story Rating: 3/5
Game Modes: 5/5
The graphics here, overall, are high quality. The environments are very well rendered, and little animation touches like rats scurrying around and flames burning around the characters bring the battleground to life. The characters are all rendered well, and the animations are very fluid and look good. There’s very little noticeable slowdown, and when it does happen it seems to be more for dramatic effect than because of game problems, so it doesn’t really affect gameplay. In other words, the game mostly looks good.
Having said that…
Get used to clipping. The main characters don’t suffer from this problem too much, but created characters clip constantly. Capes, belts, hair and other loose flowing accessories will constantly pass through parts of your character’s anatomy while you play. It’s certainly not going to ruin your experience, but it looks ugly. Also, a lot of the new character costumes are inferior to older designs, which is a little depressing. And the glow effect SC3 uses to indicate that the character has powered up their attacks, while it looked fine in SC, looks dated this time around. None of this is going to ruin your experience, but it’s definitely noticeable.
Graphics Rating: 7/10
The game music is what you’ve come to expect from Soul Calibur: a solid, driving, entirely orchestral score. As always, it feels appropriate and sounds good, but it sounds virtually indistinguishable from previous efforts. This isn’t a bad thing, as the music in SC and SC2 was good, but it deserves mention. The sound effects are also as good as ever, and add to the overall experience nicely.
One new addition to SC3 is the option to select English or Japanese voice acting. Now, I’m not the sort of person that cares too much one way or the other about that sort of thing, but it is nice to have the option available. I also have to say that I preferred the Japanese voice-acting, mostly because the English created character voices are pretty rough. It’s also notable that, in at least one case, the English voice-overs are mistimed; when Abyss (the final boss) makes his English intro speech, the game cuts him off two-thirds of the way in. Overall, though, the voice work of the actual characters is fairly solid in both languages, and you should be able to find a lot to like in both.
Sound Rating: 7/10
The good news for fans of the Soul Calibur series is that the controls are the same as they ever were. Your character has two weapon strikes, a kick, and a block button mapped to the face buttons, and grabs can be executed by pressing the block button and one of the two strike buttons simultaneously. You can also counter strikes by pressing the block button and either forward or backward, depending on the height your opponent strikes at. Every battle takes place in a ring of varying size, and most rings allow you to knock opponents out of them, which is helpfully called a “Ring Out”. This can be used to your advantage in difficult fights, but it can also obviously be used against you.
Now, Soul Calibur veterans will find all of this to be old hat, but some changes have been tossed in to keep things fresh. First off, grapples can now be countered later into their startup, at the cost of the grabbed character falling down to escape, which is an interesting change. Also, the timing of counters has been adjusted, which has made them harder to pull off as a result. And finally, many of the characters have had their move sets adjusted, which was intended to make the characters more varied. This is a nice change, mainly because it means characters like Cassandra, Sophitia, and Lizardman aren’t just pallet swaps anymore.
Ultimately though, a lot of the new changes to the gameplay have hurt the game as much as they’ve helped it. First off, for some random reason, blocking now seems less effective; there were many times I was blocking where I absolutely knew a strike was going to hit, and I was struck anyway. Also, while adjusting the timing on counters made them harder to abuse, they also made counters harder to use for less skilled players. On the positive side, there is a tutorial built into the game that will teach you the timing, but it’s still difficult to master. And while changing up the move sets of redundant characters does add to game depth, it also forces players to re-learn their favorite characters. I also really have to question why, at this point, Namco hasn’t done something about the Ring Out rule. I understand it’s been a part of the Soul Calibur/Blade series since its creation, but an option to FREAKING TURN IT OFF should have been included by now.
As far as the new modes go, Soul Arena and World Competition are basically more fighting against various characters and/or challenges, and they do their job acceptably. Tales of Souls mode is a more in-depth Arcade mode with little Shenmue “Active Time” events that keep things interesting, though most of them tend to repeat. Chronicles of the Sword is fun, but the strategy elements are minimal, and it can become tedious after a while. Also, you have to create different characters to play Chronicles of the Sword, which is questionable, considering that you can’t use those characters in any other game mode. Playing through all of the game modes rewards you with Gold, which can be used to acquire all sorts of neat things from the item shop, including weapon demos, character art, and new weapons and items for your created characters. Character Creation, speaking of which, is actually the best enhancement SC3 has to offer. There’s a large variety of equipment available to outfit your characters with, including some sets that are distinctly based on certain Namco characters. It’s also entirely possible to make some of your favorite characters from other games here, so you could make up anything from Hanzo Hattori to Cloud Strife to Kurenai from Red Ninja: End of Honor.
Don’t give me that look.
The single major downside of the custom characters comes, surprisingly, from their actual fighting ability. Their Job class dictates the weapons your characters can use, and each job can use different weapons and/or souls of normal characters. Unfortunately, a lot of the custom fighters feel shallow and less useful compared to the normal characters. You also can’t change a characters Job without completely remaking the character, and the game doesn’t tell you exactly what weapons/souls a Job can use before you pick it, so you’re left to trial and error for a lot of it. This not only means you’ll have to re-make characters that end up using weapons you’re not fond of, but it also means that you can’t change older characters to new jobs you unlock without deleting them and starting over.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10
SC3 offers a large amount of modes, so as expected, there’s plenty to come back for. There’s a virtual smorgasbord of things to unlock in the game, including hidden characters, extra weapons for normal and created characters, new fighting styles and parts for created characters, and new stages to fight in. Creating characters is also a lot of fun, and you could certainly come back to see what new and/or demented combinations you could come up with. Unfortunately, created characters really can’t be used in anything beyond Soul Arena, Versus mode, and Practice mode, unless you want to re-make those same characters for Chronicles of the Sword. Tales of Souls mode and Chronicles of the Sword mode don’t offer any real incentive to go back and complete them again once you’re finished, though, as they are linear, though you might be tempted to do so simply to earn gold.
One thing I really have to knock against the game, though, is a lack of multiplayer options. Previous SC games offered team battles, where you could build a team of various members to beat the heck out of one another, but this is absent in SC3. There IS a “World Tournament” mode where groups of your friends can compete in a ladder tournament, but created characters can’t be used in this mode, either. Also, there’s no online support, which seriously hurts the game in the long run. Not only are there a lot of fighting games that are incorporating online play these days, which makes this seem like a dinosaur, but it also devalues the custom character mode. The fact that you can’t use your created fighters to whip up on other created fighters online is honestly pretty depressing, and I can’t honestly understand why Namco didn’t see fit to include some sort of online mode in SC3.
Replayability Rating: 6/10
When playing against another person, the balance in SC3 is surprisingly solid. Most of the characters have distinctly different fighting styles and moves, and are well balanced overall. Some characters, like Astaroth, have been improved dramatically over their previous versions, which should please fans of those characters. The only noticeably unbalanced character I found was Abyss, who also happens to be the final boss; while it’s understood that the final boss will be hideously unbalanced, he should not, on principle, be a playable character if this is the case.
When playing the various single player modes, however, there are some serious balance issues. Tales of Souls mode is the worst offender here, as you’ll start off fighting fairly simple battles, only to find yourself being absolutely annihilated by later characters. There’s no option to adjust the difficulty of this mode, either, so if you want to unlock every ending for every character, you’re going to have to spend some time learning how to play as characters you’ll never want to play as. Chronicles of the Sword starts off easy as well, but between fighting enemies that are higher level than your characters and having to fight enemies in environments that have negative effects on your characters, you’ll find yourself frustrated with that before too long as well. The final boss of CotS is also insanely hard, and even if you’re a damn good player you may find yourself having serious problems fighting him. You’ll also need to complete this mode, again, to unlock a lot of the custom character items, weapons, and fighting styles.
I also can’t help but think that SC3 suffered from its lack of an arcade release. Normally, when a fighting game is released to the arcades, fans form opinions of what needs balancing or adjusting, and the developers can gauge those opinions and adjust the game accordingly before releasing it to a console. Without that, SC3 feels as if it was designed to cater to hardcore SC fans more than casual or first-time players. The Practice Tutorial will absolutely help new players become familiar with the controls, but it won’t help them get good enough to defeat some of the challenges thrown at them, and this doesn’t seem like it was even a consideration.
Balance Rating: 4/10
Well, it’s still Soul Calibur. The “Chronicles of the Sword” mode is certainly new, and it’s pretty neat, and the custom character option is all sorts of fun, but behind that, this is still the same game it ever was. Nothing has changed dramatically from SC2, and while all of the new and different extras are certainly neat, they’re little more than different flavors of icing on the same cake you’ve been eating for years. The new characters aren’t anything special, either, unfortunately. The only thing that’s really new and different is the custom character mode, and that’s still not terribly original. Granted, the SC formula isn’t exactly broken, but it would have been nice to see something really new and different for a change.
Originality Rating: 5/10
How addicted you become to SC3 really depends on how well you take to the gameplay mechanics. If you’re able to master the combos and counters, you’ll find yourself unable to put down the game until you’ve unlocked everything the game has to offer. Unfortunately, a lot of players will find themselves putting the controller down in frustration after a session, and after a few times of experiencing that feeling, a lot of players will find their addiction waning fast. Since the single player modes are the bulk of the game, that feeling will probably put those players off of the game entirely.
Addictiveness Rating: 5/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
SC3 is pure Soul Calibur action. That right there might be enough of a selling point for a lot of gamers. The custom character mode is also definitely something interesting that hasn’t really been done well in a pure fighting game before. The lack of balance may put some less experienced players off, and the lack of online mode does hurt the long term appeal of the game, unfortunately. Overall, though, if you’re a fan of fighting games in general, and Namco fighters in specific, you’ll certainly find something to catch your attention here.
Appeal Rating: 6/10
I’ve been a fan of the Soul Calibur series since the original Soul Blade came out on the PSX back in 1998. I thought Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast was one of the best 3D fighting games ever made, and I still kind of do. I didn’t really think Soul Calibur 2 was all that disappointing, but the same can’t be said about Soul Calibur 3. I really hate to admit it, but nothing Namco did with this game, except for the custom character creation, really made me think SC3 was a better game than SC2.
Of the new characters, I only really found Setsuka to be interesting; Zasalamel stuck me as solid but unimpressive, and Tira… well, come on. She looks like a punk rock Poison Ivy and fights with a Hula Hoop sized Chakram. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, she’s slow and unwieldy in combat. Am I supposed to be impressed by this, seriously? The new single player modes were nice enough, and I enjoyed being able to create new characters, but there wasn’t anything here that was ultimately all that exciting. The game ultimately seems to be designed as a single player experience, which is okay, but it’s not really why anyone plays a fighting game. As much as I like the series, I can’t see this game being played much more than I’ve put into it, and that’s honestly pretty depressing.
Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10
Game Modes: 5/5
Overall Score: 5.8/10
Final Score: 6.0 (FAIR).
Short Attention Span Summary
As much as I like the Soul Calibur series, I really think it needs a break after having played Soul Calibur 3. Namco’s pretty much tapped out of ideas, and I think the series needs an update if it’s going to remain interesting. Hardcore fans will like this game, and new fans will enjoy all the different modes, but the single player aspects are mostly overly challenging novelty acts, and there’s not nearly enough multi-player options to satisfy the casual audience.