Review: Soul Calibur II (Nintendo Gamecube)

When it comes to certain kinds of games, I am ruthlessly hard. It would be exceedingly difficult for me not to treat each and every fighting, wrestling, and puzzle game that comes my way with a healthy level of skepticism and not call things the way I see them. This means that a beautiful, professionally executed game with a legacy of quality but lacking the spark of emotion necessary for a good game to be, in fact, great, will get hammered. Unfortunately, Namco’s newest fighter suffers that very fate. Soul Calibur II is a very easy game to look at, has excellent ambiance, and some cool characters, but unlike previous installments in the series, this one falls flat and leaves me feeling well… nothing after the system is off. For a game, especially a fighting game to get my approval, it should be difficult if not impossible for me to put down and do something else, but after a few hours, I was making up excuses to stop playing.

The Soul Edge series began with Soul Edge in the arcades, a fun little 3- D weapons fighter when things like that weren’t too common. Not that 3- D weapons fighters EVER became too big a genre. When it hit the streets, SE rocked my world. I was a senior in high school when I first played Soul Edge, picked Voldo, and became a very big fan of the series. I have fond memories of my friends and I going to the local Wal-Mart in our town of ten thousand and playing Soul Edge until our quarters ran out. When the home version with a less awesome name, Soul Blade, came out, my buddy Mike bought it and he couldn’t get rid of the rest of us. Every single day from right before graduation to the beginning of college, at least one person was hanging out at Sheble’s playing some Soul Blade and mooching off his parent’s soda. Hell, my senior spring break was spent in the room over my parents’ garage playing Soul Blade and eating cheap Hungry Howie’s pizza. Who can forget how awesome the original was? From the opening to the endings for each character, from Sophitia’s hurricanrana, Heaven and Hell, to Voldo’s creepy throws, Soul Blade gained a special place for me as THE preeminent Playstation fighting game, a title it never relinquished. Just thinking about Mitsurugi’s ending and Siegfried’s triple vertical combo, which we called “Ëœthe Boston Celtics come to town’ in honor of it’s crotch ripping nature, makes me want to go pick up a copy. Seeing as it’s very common and under $20, I’d say go buy that instead of Soul Calibur II and spend the rest on pizza, you can’t go wrong.

When the SEGA Dreamcast launched in 1999, the only game I even considered getting for it was Soul Calibur. When I finally got my beloved Dreamcast, Soul Calibur was among my first purchases and it blew everything else away. What Soul Blade had done in pushing the Playstation as far as it could go, Soul Calibur did for the Dreamcast. I still remember the intro video making my jaw drop and the first time I played as Lizardman. Sure he was a Sophitia clone, but he was so well texture mapped and animated that I fell in love. His victory celebration where he gave a lizard call and walked in a circle was one of the coolest things EVER to grace a fighting game. Nightmare, the evil version of Siegfried, with his organic armor and sword. Maxi. Xianghua. Astoroth. Yes, Namco’s design team put some truly incredible looking and playing new fighters into SC, but most importantly, they introduced Ivy Valentine, the only character to invade my Siegfried/ Voldo tag team and make it a triumvirate. Beautifully designed with a great look, a very different style and weapon, and the best animation of a female character EVER, Ivy, Ms. Valentine if you’re nasty, put on some SERIOUS beat downs in Soul Calibur II. Even though my posse of friends had spread around the Midwest, Nick, the only other one of us to end up in Lawrence, Kansas, still made his way over to my apartment for some serious fighting. Voldo vs. Voldo, Nightmare vs. Taki, and, most of all, Hwang vs. Mitsurugi were the order of the day. To think that a majority of people buying Soul Calibur II will have never played it’s much superior prequel is a horrible shame. Hell, go on E-bay and buy a SEGA Dreamcast, a second controller, a VMU, and Soul Calibur for under $50. You will get so much more enjoyment out of that combination than Soul Calibur II. You can even go the Lee route and buy two bottles of tequila and a couple limes with that $50. Just don’t spend it on Soul Calibur II. Well, while I consider that a review, “the man” thinks I should break it down a little so you know exactly why not to buy this game.

Game Play: Somewhere in Nintendo’s underground bunker:

“Don’t you think we should make this controller more easy to use? What if the people want to play something aside from Pikmin?”
“Other companies are bound to make games that require more than one fucking huge button to play.”
“Other companies? Surely you kid. We ARE fucking Nintendo. They come to us, not the other way around.”
“But what if a game comes out for all three systems and ours has the suckiest control in the history of gaming?”
“Then… hmmm, let me think…”
“We don’t want to make it impossible for people to play games with more than two buttons or that require you to use the directional pad, what about fighti…”
“I’VE GOT IT! We’ll put god damn Link on the cover! And we’ll make him so powerful that it only takes one button to beat the game. Who needs other characters?”
“That’s brilliant!”

You know, if it didn’t go down that way, it should have. The simple fact is this, I cannot play this game for over half an hour without a hand cramp. That is not conducive to mastering a fighting game. While most of the blame goes to Nintendo’s insane controller design team, Namco SERIOUSLY needed to tweak the controls of this game for it to be playable. They didn’t. If you have a fighting stick, ignore this score. If you are an octopus who plays video games, well, you kick ass.

As far as game modes go, this game has them in motherfucking spades. So many options that it would be virtually impossible to master them all. In all honesty, Survival (Death Match) improved this score by one, it’s that much fun. If you played Ninja Gaiden for the NES and remember the Ninja death duel at the beginning, this game mode will warm the cockles of your heart. It is that much fun.
Game Play: 4.5

Graphics: Something Namco in general, and this series in specific, has done unwaveringly is produce games with beautiful and captivating CG cinematic. This game is no slouch in that department. The intro video is a thing of such unmitigated beauty that I can’t help but watch it every time I turn the game on. Even more impressive are the in game models and how well they animate. Voldo, Ivy, Maxi, and Astoroth all have so much gorgeous animation that you could swear they were alive. They are simply breathtaking to see in action. That’s the good stuff.
The bad thing is, every character has at least one hideous outfit. Voldo and Astoroth’s third outfits are SO bad I used them both one time each. Voldo’s second outfit, even, is hideous. Thank god they made sure the women had good outfits. Unfortunately, this dedication to fan service also included giving most of the female characters huge nipples, bigger breasts, and, in poor Talim’s case, serious cameltoe. Another problem is hair. I don’t understand why, but the Dreamcast Soul Calibur had better hair animation than this game does. Why? There is no excuse for a four year old game on supposedly inferior hardware to have better hair animation than this version. My other, less important, peeve is the way that some weapons (read: most) will plunge right through the floor during certain characters’ (read: Voldo’s) victory stances. Just plain ugly and uncalled for.
Graphics: 7.0

Sound and Music: Of all the features used to get you involved in the world of Soul Calibur, the music is the most faultless. There is not a single bad song or voice in the entire game. From the gorgeous orchestral score to the various yells and screams of combat, this game has quality to spare. While I miss Rock’s trademark “Moo,” I can’t help but love the cocky voices most of the characters now have. Special points to Nightmare for having the best arrogant game voice in recent memory. Above all other considerations for sound, however, is one piece of music. No matter how stupid I may think Link’s presence in this game is, and trust that I consider this to be quite an idiotic move, but my god in heaven, hearing the classic Zelda theme in the Soul Calibur II style is a truly magnificent thing. This one piece of music brought a smile to my lips. The other defining sound feature in this game is the announcer. I can hardly think of a non- sports or wrestling game in which the announcer adds so much to the overall experience as the announcer in the Soul series has.

Transcending History and the World,
A Tale of Souls and Swords, Eternally Retold.

Just makes you want to do some stabbing, huh?

Music and Sound: 8.0

Fun Factor:
Be prepared, this is going to be a rant, I just feel it coming. What has made the Soul Calibur series so memorable and enjoyable has been the evolution of characters and the way they carry over from game to game. For those who don’t know, Hwang, a character in the previous games, is gone and replaced with a younger, and less cool, character Yunsung. Yunsung isn’t NEARLY the same character as Hwang so much as a boy in his clothes. Then, they put in a character for Weapon Master mode called Assassin who plays like the Hwang of old. Unfortunately, he is only usable in multi- player modes and is THE UGLIEST CHARACTER IN A SOUL CALIBUR GAME EVER! So this means that Hwang, a core character from the first game is replaced by an ineffectual new character and a barely usable clone in hideous clothing. ALL they had to do was make a fucking Hwang outfit for Assassin and a still picture ending. Come on, it’s not like the endings take longer to make than they take to earn. 6 still pictures and some plot stuff. I know it sounds like I’m taking the loss of a character pretty hard, but I was a serious Hwang player and instead of being able to reenact my previous battles with Nick, who now lives in Michigan, I must dig out my copy of Soul Calibur I and my Dreamcast. Is it nitpicky of me to dock a game for something like this? No, because my enjoyment of the game was severely damaged by the lack of Hwang. To make matters worse, Taki has new, ridiculously large breasts, now. Because all ninjas have huge tits. The new characters don’t fare much better. Talim, the elbow blade using wind worshipper, is a fun little change of pace and Raphael is a useful and characterful fencer who fits in well. Cassandra, a Sophitia clone, Charade, a Weapon Master type character, and Necrid, a shitty and ugly action figure in the making with other characters moves and an energy sword, are wastes of disc space. Seriously, cut out these three and the semi useful Weapon Master characters, slide in a few CG endings, and I’ll even forgive the lack of Hwang, but as it stands, these six are a drag on game flow and a waste of my time. Ugh.

Then there is Link. Link is Nintendo’s ace in the hole. Link is the reason people are picking up Soul Calibur II for the GameCube instead of for the X- Box or Playstation 2. Link is a degenerate power character that can make it through the ENTIRE arcade mode with one button. Like Kilik in the first Soul Calibur, Link is a power character that you can let your siblings or significant other use to beat you once and a while. While it is cool to have Link in a fighting game, this Link is so cheap and nasty that I dread fighting against him and it isn’t fair for my opponent if I pick him. Then, well, then there is the throw. If you play as or against Mr. Pointy Ears, you will get to know the throw well. Not the Shield throw, or the underleg throw. No, the Arm Twist throw. A + G = a ringout IF you figure out the range. I beat the arcade mode with one throw per fight. It was the first and last move I used in each fight. Just move backwards a little and let your opponent attack, block, and the fight is over. Ring outs are no fun.

At the end of the day, though, the simple fact is, this game is not fun to play. Little nagging problems will bug you the whole time you play it. The hand cramps will get on your nerves. Having a little green elf ring out you EVERY fight will bug you. And as soon as the little red light on your GameCube goes out, you will have forgotten your time with Soul Calibur II. For all it’s beauty and all it’s skillful execution, this Soul has no heart.

Fun Factor: 2.0

The 411: Soul Calibur II is an exercise in bloodless game play, literally and figuratively. Sure, it has it’s rush at times, but the vast majority of the time, I found myself wondering what else I could be doing. Will I be skeet shooting with my copy? No, but I sure as hell won’t be playing it, either. The very definition of a lackluster sequel.

Game Play: 4.5
Graphics: 7.0
Sound and Music: 8.0
Fun Factor: 2.0
Overall: 5.5



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