Review: Soul Calibur (XBL)

Soul Calibur
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 07/02/08


The original Soul Calibur is widely regarded as one of the single greatest fighting games ever created. Review aggregators place it at or near the very top fighting games ever because of how many awesomely high scores it’s received, and it sits in the top ten of most aggregation sites when looking across all genres. It outranks Metal Gear Solid 4, Resident Evil 4, Halo, BioShock, Gears of War, Oblivion and, ironically, its own sequels as one of the greatest games EVER. When it debuted with the Sega Dreamcast nearly a decade ago, it was practically a revolution in all possible ways; it looked amazing, played exceptionally well, featured tons of replay value and pretty much sold a ton of gamers on the system based solely on its awesomeness. So it makes sense that Namco, a few weeks before the release of the fourth game in the series, would re-release the first game to a legion of gamers unfamiliar with it, in hopes of rekindling the magic with a new generation prior to releasing the next chapter in the franchise.

Surprisingly enough, though, it can actually still hold its own pretty well, all things considered.

Now, there’s a story to the Soul series of games, and it goes something like this: there are two swords in the world that possess great power, the Soul Edge (which is evil) and the Soul Calibur (which is good). They are destined to fight one another at some point in time, but at this point in the game series, Soul Calibur has yet to be discovered, while Soul Edge is in the hands of Nightmare, AKA the fighter formerly known as Siegfried. Pretty much in the game is searching for Nightmare for some reason or another; some want the power of Soul Edge, others want to destroy it, but all roads lead to Rome, as they say, and everyone will eventually face off against everyone else in some form or fashion for the chance to face down the power of the Soul Edge. The story is serviceable, even now, and while we’re still at a point where the story bits pop up infrequently and say little, it’s still there and still not bad. Insofar as game modes go, you’ve got a ton, including the normal Arcade and Versus modes for solo or multiplay, Team Battle (assemble a team of fighters to face down another team), Time Attack (finish a series of fights in the fastest time), Survival (beat enemies and survive as long as you can) and Practice (practice your moves). There’s also the museum, featuring the various art galleries, ending cinemas, martial arts expositions and such that have been a part of the series for a while. Mission Battle from the Dreamcast game is sadly absent (which allowed you to earn all sorts of novel stuff, like new weapons and such), but is replaced by Extra Survival, a one-hit survival mode where whoever makes contact first wins, essentially. In another novel touch, everything in Soul Calibur is unlocked from the word go, meaning that casual players need not spend forever trying to unlock characters and artwork, which is nice for those who’ve already done this thing, or those who don’t want to, as you can just pick the game up and go.

Visually, Soul Calibur looks better than the Dreamcast version, as it’s essentially a hi-res arcade port, but it’s not exactly stunning by today’s standards. Comparing the games side-by-side, the XBL port has more vibrant colors, cleaner textures, and a few more detailed animations in background stages, so it’s generally a prettier game all in all. The characters animate well in general, and the stages look pretty decent overall as well. That said, the game is kinda primitive looking at this point, with characters having slightly blocky heads and lower resolution textures than most 360 owners might be used to, though it’s by no means ugly and it runs great. Artistically, it’s good, technologically, it’s acceptable, so all in all it’s pretty solid. Aurally, the game is as great as ever, with powerful tunes in the stages, excellent weaponry effects and solid voice clips for the taunts and such, and the audio presentation sounds nice and clean across the board, as it did nearly a decade ago.

The gameplay of Soul Calibur amounts to being one part Virtua Fighter, one part Tekken, one part Dead or Alive, and one part “badass weapons”. Basically, your characters have two slashing attacks, a kick and a block they can use in battle, which can also be used in combination with other buttons or directions as well to achieve various effects. Aside from the normal combo attacks (pressing multiple buttons and/or controller motions in succession to achieve multiple attacks), pressing either of the two slash attacks and block simultaneously initiates throws, and pressing back or down/back and block allows you to parry attacks (the former parries high, the latter parries low). The game basically works as it always has; two characters/teams fight to a finish, either by draining the opponent’s life bar or by “Ring Out”, IE knocking them out of the ring.

Part of the reason that Soul Calibur has garnered such a solid reputation as a game is because of the gameplay, and it’s apparent from the first few matches that this stands intact in this version; the game is as easy to play as it’s ever been, and characters are easy to learn and use, and reasonably well-balanced against one another. All nineteen characters are unlocked by default to start, giving you a nice, large roster for your ten dollars, and all of them are generally fun to play around with to varying degrees. Older fans of the game will also be pleased to note that the characters play as solidly as they ever did, and all of the moves appear intact, meaning that your old favorites are as good as ever. Newer fans might have to adjust a bit to certain characters if they’re playing this for the first time, but many old favorites play similarly to their more recent incarnations, again making adjusting a snap.

The game offers a solid amount to do, as well, which makes it somewhat worth the asking price. Aside from the normal Arcade and Versus modes, as noted, Team Battle is a good multiplayer mode where both players can assemble teams of fighters and battle it out amongst one another, giving the game a bit more multiplayer value. As for single player modes, Team Battle can also be played solo if you prefer, and both Survival Modes are challenging to get through while still being fairly amusing for both the casual and the hardcore fan, as well as allowing a new player a decent way to learn the mechanics of the game and a tangible way of noting their improvement. There are also a decent amount of achievements to earn, which range from easy (beat Arcade Mode, play with three characters) to challenging (beat Ultra Hard without losing, do Ivy’s Summon Suffering in a match), giving players of all levels of skill something to do.

And hey, it’s ten bucks for one of the greatest video games ever, right? That’s not bad, right?

Well, there probably is one thing you should know about Soul Calibur before you buy it: part of the reason the game did so well ranking-wise, aside from the technological power on display when it debuted and the solid fighting engine, was the Mission Battle mode. Mission Battle allowed you to play as various characters with the intention of unlocking stuff (artwork, characters, stages) by way of taking on various challenges. It was a very cool game mode at the time, both because other fighting games weren’t really doing this thing, and because it was another way to improve your skills as you played because it put all sorts of interesting restrictions on the matches (win without taking a hit, don’t fall out of the ring even though it’s exceptionally windy, and so on). One can understand the need to remove such a mode due to size considerations, but it was really a big part of the experience and made the game as well-received as it was.

It also kind of bears noting that the game, while it has aged reasonably well, has a few dings in its proverbial sword that make it less of an experience than it was or could have been. For one, there’s no wide-screen support, meaning that if you use a wide-screen TV, you’ll get a frame around the screen (though this isn’t uncommon in XBL titles, it seems). For another, there’s no online play, which other XBL fighters have offered. In addition, while there are nineteen models, there aren’t necessarily nineteen unique characters; two characters are weapon swap characters (Edge Master and Inferno) with only a small exclusive move roster, and four others (Rock, Lizardman, Seung Mina and Siegfried) are, to varying extents, based off of other characters (Astaroth, Sophitia, Kilik and Nightmare, respectively), and while they’re generally not EXACT palette swaps, they’re similar enough to be noticeable. Thus, there are really about thirteen “unique” characters, and while that still isn’t bad, again, it’s noticeable.

Those complaints aside, for ten dollars, Soul Calibur is a generally worthwhile investment unless you happen to have your Dreamcast hooked up and a copy of the game at the ready. Those who have never played the game will get to experience what is arguably the best playing installment in the franchise, and those who have already played it will be pleased to note the visual improvements and the fact that everything is unlocked from the get-go. Soul Calibur is a pretty, entertaining game that plays well, has a lot to do, and is generally worth its asking price. It’s missing the major selling point of the Dreamcast release, mind you, and the mode that replaces it isn’t nearly as good, it’s missing features that would have made the experience more desirable for old-school fans, and it’s not quite as diverse as the sequels, but for the money, it’s a worthwhile investment that’s fun and entertaining all the same, if for no other reason than to tide you over until you can grab Soul Calibur 4.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Soul Calibur, while not quite a perfect port of the classic Dreamcast game, is still a worthwhile addition to your XBL library for the low asking price. It still looks and sounds great, it’s arguably the best playing game in the series, and it comes complete with everything unlocked, meaning it’s a good, simple introduction for newer fans and older fans won’t have to slog through unlocking everything for the second time. On the other hand, the major selling point of the Dreamcast game, Mission Battle, is absent, as is any sort of online play, and the game offers less options and variety than many fighting games today, even those on XBL. Still, for ten dollars, it’s an excellent buy if you’re a fan of the series, the game, or just 3D fighters in general. Soul Calibur has held up surprisingly well over the years, and for the low price, it’s a good investment.

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