SoulCalibur has always held a special place in my heart. As a teenager, I played the hell out of SoulBlade and the original SoulCalibur in the arcades. They were spectacular games for their time, pushing Namco’s PlayStation-based arcade hardware to its limits. I got so good at SoulCalibur’s arcade version that I could beat the arcade mode at will with five characters, and my Taki remains undefeated against human opponents to this day.
I’d spent so much money that I could have bought a Dreamcast and a copy of the game. In the end, I didn’t get that system until after it had been discontinued, a used bundle that included a copy of SoulCalibur. The game was completely remade for the Dreamcast, presenting a home console port that was superior to its arcade counterpart in every way. I’ve been there on day one for every SoulCalibur game after that. My friends and I would spend entire days fighting each other on the GameCube version of SoulCalibur II, honing our skills so much that every fight was a battle for the ages. I even spent a lot of time with the underrated PS2 exclusive SoulCalibur III, with its amazing Chronicles of the Sword mode.
The series lost its way after that, with both SoulCalibur IV and SoulCalibur V going in different, less successful directions. SCIV over relied on Star Wars themed guest characters and SCV tried the old Street Fighter III trick of throwing out most of the original cast for a set of new characters. Now, seven years after SCV, we get SoulCalibur VI. Has Namco learned from the mistakes of IV and V? Are committed to reviving of the series? Do people in 2018 even want a new SoulCalibur title?
The answer to the first two questions is easy; yes! SoulCalibur VI draws inspiration from the first two games in the series. Most of the characters from those games are here, along with SCIII’s Tira and Zasalamel, who makes his first appearance since his debut. Even pack-in guest character fit far better into the world of SoulCalibur than most of the previous choices. The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia feels like he could have always been in the series.
Even the fighting in SoulCalibur VI feels a lot more like the early games. It’s not quite as fast, but after the slugglish SCV, anything would seem an improvement. The game also has a much better meter system, adding additional strategy to the combat without overcomplicating what has always been one of the simpler fighting games to play.
The biggest addition is Soul Charge. This drains the meter in exchange for a period of empowered attacks. There’s also the critical finishers, which spend one full stock of meter for a the game’s equivalent of a super. The power of critical finishers varies wildly between characters, with some doing around 40% damage while newcomer Azwel can hit for 60%. EX moves make an appearance, where a portion of meter is spent to deliver a stronger version of a regular attack. Some characters are more reliant on these than others, with Geralt in particular using them to activate attacks based on his rune signs.
Another dramatic change to combat is the introduction of Critical Edge. This is an enhanced parry system that results in a clash between fighters. A rock-paper-scissors system determines the winner and the results can be devastating. Astaroth, for example, can perform a critical edge that, depending on the stage, guarantees a ring out victory. The slowed-down visuals surrounding these attacks are the highlight of most matches.
All of these additions make this the best-playing SoulCalibur game since III, and Namco have been really smart at making them feel like core parts of the combat rather than the tacked on additions that meter-based attacks in SCV felt like.
Visually, SoulCalibur VI is the best-looking SoulCalibur game yet. That’s unsurprising, given this is the first entry in the series on current-day consoles. It uses the same Unreal Engine 4 that last year’s Tekken 7 used, and it’s clear that the game’s development piggybacked heavily on the lengthy development period of that title, allowing it to be made on a smaller budget than its predecessors.
The reduced budget does show through in the game’s perfunctory story modes. The first of these, Chronicle of Souls, tells the overall story of the game, as well as individual character stories. The second, Libra of Souls, is an RPG-style adventure that uses a custom character. It’s the weaker of the two modes, with a lot more dialog and a lot less fighting. It offers options like weapon upgrades and stat advancement, but overall feels a little too slapped together. It’s certainly not a patch on SoulCalibur III’s Chronicle of Swords mode.
Thankfully, story mode isn’t where anyone playing SoulCalibur VI seriously is going to spend much of their time. It’s there mostly because that’s how things are done in the fighting game world, and, if I’m honest, it’s still a lot better than Capcom’s Street Fighter V was at launch. There is an arcade mode that works like it always has, asking you to defeat 8 opponents as quickly as possible. This mode also allows you to use standby mode, which is similar to fight request in Street Fighter V in that it searches for online opponents in the background as you play. These fights happen in the game’s ranked mode, which uses the now-standard best-of-three sets format. It keeps ranks separate for each character, which is handy as it means players won’t be matched against tougher opponents when they play characters that they have less experience in. There’s also no loss of ranking points for losing, which is a nice touch.
Netcode is pretty good in the online battles, and frame delay isn’t too obvious if both players have a good connection. On the other hand, if a connection is a little dodgy, the music will stutter along with the fight, making for a jarring experience. This seems like it could be easily fixed in a patch, and I hope it is.
Then there is Creation mode. This is where the custom characters live, and it’s a huge improvement over SoulCalibur V, with the addition of online sharing, and even the ability to take your creations online. Custom characters will use the style of one of the existing characters, but everything else is up to the creator. The mode is very robust, too, and the options for applying colours, textures and stickers add a lot of flexibility beyond the limited amount of equippable gear. Want to play as your favourite character from another fighting game franchise? It’s quite possible to do that. Want to make some kind of horrible abomination that will make fighting online an ordeal for your opponent? Go right ahead. Some people have even taken to the tactic of making a custom that looks like one character (say, Sophitia) but plays like another (say, Taki). Creation was the best aspect of SoulCalibur V, and the additions made to it here make it even better. In addition to playing online with your creations, you can also share them with the community.
Speaking of DLC, there’s an entire season pass of characters to come, which is good as it will help flesh out what is a fairly small roster currently. It will also bring more stages, boosting the current roster of seven which is a bit measly. Namco have also made the somewhat controversial decision to make the first character from the season pass, Tira, available from launch.
SoulCalibur VI feels like Namco is testing the waters, to see if the world is once again ready to step onto the stage of history. There are places where it’s clear the game was made on a budget, but it still feels more complete than Street Fighter V did at launch. Like that game, all the important stuff—online mode, solid fighting and a decent if limited starting roster—is present. On the other hand, SCVI does a better job of hiding the areas where money was saved. There is a decent selection of offline single player content out of the box (you can actually fight multi-round matches, something that wasn’t possible in SFV until the launch of Arcade Edition) and, while the story modes don’t hold a candle to SoulCalibur III’s outstanding Chronicles of the Sword mode, they’re at least there.
There remains the question of whether or not the world is ready to embrace a new SoulCalibur game. The environment in which SoulCalibur VI finds itself being launched into is quite different from its predecessor. The series has always been one of the most loved and cherished fighting games and is one of the few fighting game franchises that has permeated the wider gaming community. For many people, having a bash at SoulCalibur became an integral part of any social gathering, regardless of whether or not they were into games or not. Everyone has a fun SoulCalibur battle story from back in the day. For me, personally, being able to play to a new entry in the series 20 years after my first time playing SoulEdge in the arcade is wonderful, and I hope that someone experiencing this game for the first time falls in love with it the same way I did all those years ago.
- Soulcalibur is back!
- Gorgeous new visuals powered by Unreal Engine 4
- Fighting mechanics are the best in the whole series
- Limited number of stages at launch
- Story modes aren't all that interesting
- Audio stuttering during online play