SoulCalibur (Dreamcast) review
"For me, Soul Calibur is not just a game; it's a work of art. Even today it still looks stunningly beautiful. It's a game of immense depth and playability. The fighting system is easy for newbies to get to grips with but offers limitless potential for prolonged expert play. Along with Tekken 3, Soul Calibur is one of the most amazing fighting games ever created. "
For me, Soul Calibur is not just a game; it's a work of art. Even today it still looks stunningly beautiful. It's a game of immense depth and playability. The fighting system is easy for newbies to get to grips with but offers limitless potential for prolonged expert play. Along with Tekken 3, Soul Calibur is one of the most amazing fighting games ever created.
The game picks up the story where Soul Blade on the PSX left off. Holy Warrior Sophitia and Ninja Taki had destroyed Cervantes the pirate who was consumed by the power of the evil sword Soul Edge. The sword was shattered into pieces and Cervantes killed. However disturbed knight Seigfreid came across part of the blade and it took over his body and soul resulting in the mutated creature Nightmare. Now as rumours of the Soul Edge still being in existence reach around the globe the first cast of characters (minus Li-Long) and some new faces - Lizard Man, Xiangyua, Ivy and Asteroth join in the search for the legendary blade.
Set in the middle ages the whole game exudes an olde worlde feel, from the armour and costumes worn by the characters to the sepia tinted map you can take quests across and the beautifully lit and designed stages the combatants fight across. The graphical beauty of the game is still breathtaking. The characters move with a grace and fluidity unmatched in any other game. The textures of the characters are amazing. At the end of each bout the victor can move the camera around and zoom in on their moment of triumph. Many a time I tracked the camera across sultry fighter Ivy's buttocks marvelling at the way the muscles moved under the skin. On some stages the way the light flashes of the blades or flares across the camera is spectacular. Even the water surrounding some stages moves realistically and shows the incredible love and care that has been lavished on every aspect of the game.
The fighting system has been criticised by some for being simplistic. One button slashes the weapon vertically, another horizonatally a third kicks and the forth blocks. The analogue stick can also be sued to perform and eightway run which allows each character to run around the in full 3D a break away from the toe-to-toe fighting of previous 3D fighting games. Indeed it is very easy to activate powerful combos and for a while you can win with button mashing techniques. However delve deeper and you'll find that ther block option has three aspects. A normal block, a knock aside or a reflect. Time it right and the quick fast character like Maxi who was hammering you with his nunchkas can be knocked aside, suddenly he is defenceless and vulnerable to a massive counter attack. Granted some characters are much easy to master than others, Seigfried and Nightmare have little in the way of combos but deal huge damage with there massive swords. Yet choose the ninja lady Taki and her super speed and somersaults can run rings round the less skilled player and her lack of power means very little when her opponent can land a blow on her. Other characters like Lizard Man and Sophitia have great juggling skills and scoring a ring out (the fights take place on stages where characters can be knocked out for an instant win) are much easier with them.
For a person like me who is very interested in martial arts the realistic depiction of all the different fighting arts are the icing on the cake. The way Kilik and Sueung Mina handle their poles or the way Xiangyua uses her short sword are all amazingly done. Even Voldo the gimp suited pervoid fighter who moves more like a dancer than a fighter is a joy to watch. As part of the many extra features you can unlock are each character doing an exhibition of their fighting skill. You could almost believe you were watching a real person.
Oh yes the extras, Soul Calibur has plenty of added value after you have played you way though Arcade mode to unlock the secret characters. There is a brilliant Mission Battle mode. Here you choose a fighter and move across the map fighting under certain conditions. For example on one stage you have to avoid the rats that will bite your feet and cause you to fall over, in another you'll sink into poisoned sand the longer you stay still. Some of the funniest are ones where a force pushes you and your opponent towards the edge of the ring allowing for some spectacular ring outs. Completion of the missions earns points. Spend these points in the gallery and you unlock superb artwork based on the game as well as extra costumes, two player mode stages and game options. These allow you to do nifty things like re edit the opening sequence with different characters. Pointless but funny when you can replace Sophitia with Asteroth posing in a girly fashion!
Two-player mode offers insane amounts of longevity as well. It's always one of the first games to come out on our fighting games night. The range and balance of the characters means that a person who has never played before can achieve quite spectacular results and not get disappointed when and give up on the game that can happen with more technically complicated games. Even my mum plays this game sometimes for goodness sake! Of course get two skilled players together and its mind-blowing just to watch as a spectator often I've been playing some tense bouts against a fellow fan and we've heard gaps, intakes of breath and congratulations for a particularly good move coming from the people watching.
Its a shame that this jewel in the Dreamcast crown was never exploited in the UK to its full potential. To understand why this game did not sell as well as it could have done is to take a quick crash course in the clottish censorship laws that exist in my country. One of the tensest battles in modern popular culture is the influence of violent imagery on television, cinema and now in videogames. One the one side people claim that children become more aggressive after playing particularly violent games on the other side people argue that violent imagery cannot in itself incite violent behaviour and resist censorship. This has led to many odd and frustrating trade offs between the pro and anti-game lobbies and surprisingly in the UK both Soul Calibur and its prequel Soul Blade (Soul Edge in the USA) suffered from very strict UK guidelines on the representation of martial arts weaponry.
In the 1980's any film or TV programme depicting nuchukas or throwing stars or similar eastern weaponry were totally and utterly banned from popular cultural representation. Most infamously this led to the gutting most Bruce Lee films and the renaming or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Back in the mid-nineties Soul Blade on the psx was only allowed a release if Li-Long's nunchakas (two sticks joined by a chain) were removed and replaced with two bent wooden sticks (!)
By the time Soul Calibur came around the law had been relaxed and nunchakas were now allowed to be shown on TV and sold without the need for a martial arts license. However Soul Calibur was never to achieve its true sales potential in the UK. All games are given a guide rating by ELSPA, this suggests the age the game is suitable for but is not legally enforceable. However like Resident Evil 2, Soul Blade and GTA, Soul Calibur was certified by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). The 15 rating it was awarded meant that it could not be legally sold to anyone under that age and also, most gutting of all could not be used to promote the game on in-store demo machines as small children might see it. Crazy huh? Just one more nail in the Dreamcast coffin.
I find it hard to explain in mere words just how awesome this game is in every respect. Probably the best recommendation I can give it is that it inspired me to extend my interest in martial arts in to weapons based areas as well as empty hand combat. Alas this did have a downside. The nunchuka is not an easy weapon to master and one rather stupid attempt to imitate one of Maxi's moves resulted in the fracturing of one of my teeth and its subsequent removal. I said before that there is always an argument about whether kids imitate what they see on the screen well of course they do when those people are doing cool stuff like the people in Soul calibur can do. I'm not a kid but I defy anyone to play Soul Calibur and not secretly start posing round their bedroom with a broom trying to twirl it around like Kilik or Seung Mina. This game will take you over body and soul and play it long enough and you'll want to be a martial arts master for real, not just on the TV screen.
Community review by falsehead (March 08, 2004)
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