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Soulcalibur IV (PlayStation 3) artwork

Soulcalibur IV (PlayStation 3) review

"Certainly there were many things I could've introed this game with, such as "rarely seen a game of such calibur" or "here's one with soul." But those suck. I'm going straight for the jugular on this one. "

Certainly there were many things I could've introed this game with, such as "rarely seen a game of such calibur" or "here's one with soul." But those suck. I'm going straight for the jugular on this one.

Actually, I'm digressing.

Soul Calibur IV is the latest in Namco's series of fighting games. It has seen way more hype than any of the other installments and, as a result, has a lot more to live up to.

But this is a lot of side talk. Where's that juicy jugular I mentioned? Where's the blood and guts spilling from a freshly masacred game? I'm sorry to dissapoint, but there's really not a lot to critique here. The game is very well done and delivers in all the areas it said it would. It looks beautiful, sounds great, and handles well. That's three of the major four categories of gaming covered. The fourth and big one is the fun factor. And here's where it gets a little complicated.

If I could, I would give Soul Calibur IV not one score but rather a range of scores from about 7 to 10. You see, Soul Calibur is one of those games that covers the whole "the love you take" gambit. It is not the easily accesible Smash Brothers where a few minutes of play are enough to teach you everything you'll ever need to know about the game. But nor is it Guilty Gear, where you have to travel to Japan and learn how to button mash from a mystical guru on top of Mount Fuji. Soul Calibur opts to remove complex combos and instead focus on complex method. It is no button mashing fest. The game expects you to adjust to your opponent's styles of attack, and you have to use timing and the right kind of move to win each fight.

Each fighter is truly unique, and there are about thirty of them. And if that wasn't enough, you are welcome to make your own fighter in a character creation mode that I am glad to say is highly improved from Soul Calibur III. Here the focus is more on appearance and style, rather than on customizing every move. Soul Calibur IV offers customization of a basic foundation of moves through the buying of equipment, which proves to be more intuitive in the character building process. And yes, you can change every little detail of your character, though most of the content and options require unlocking through single player mode. That said, last night I made the set of Chrono Trigger characters. There's nothing more entertaining than watching Chrono fight Ivy.

Fighting in itself is highly customizable and here's where that sliding scale comes in. You cannot pick up Soul Calibur and be good at it immediately. Every fighter is different, every kind of move has its place, and each new pairing requires a change in player approach. You will have to practice. This can make or break the game, I imagine. Not everyone will want to invest the time neccesary to break into the meaty mechanics of the game. And to be honest, I sympathize. There's a lot to learn. There's multiple stances for each character. There's air combos and ground combos and rolling combos and getting out of bed in the morning combos (though I promise none of them are painful on the fingers). There's armour destruction and weapon upgrading and this thing called Soul Charge that I don't even understand yet. It's understandably a lot to bite off and very overwhelming. Those who stick with it, however, will be rewarded with a lasting experience that has an almost unbelievable amount of depth.

I really cannot stress enough how much content there is to enjoy in Soul Calibur IV. Single player alone has three unique modes of play. And for the first time in the series, online multiplayer is allowed. I haven't played the online enough to really offer anything useful on its playability and fun. But let me say that I find the single player alone to be involving enough to last me for quite awhile. Multiplayer can only add to this experience.

If I was asked to show some fangs and shed some blood, I could defenitely do it. The first place I would hit up would be the story. And boy would I tear its heart out. You see, most fighting games escape story criticism by the subtle art of simply not having one. But not only does Soul Calibur have a story, it has a story so complex that the game actually provides you with a screen that keeps track of all the character relations and ambitions. Okay, fine. That's good. I actually enjoy overly complex character connections and objectives. I really liked the story modes in Soul Calibur II and III that sent you on epic journeys across detailed world maps.

All this is good. But why, then, I must ask, does the single player Story Mode in Soul Calibur IV consist of exactly five fights without any story whatsoever? Rinse and repeat for the thirty characters and you've got the equivalent of plot oatmeal. Bland and there never seems to be enough brown sugar around to save it. One of the reasons I love Soul Calibur is because of its rich characters. They aren't done justice here.

Quick time out while I wipe my bloody face on my hanky. I have to say, for all you naysayers out there, the addition of the Star Wars characters is awesome. I'm not even a Star Wars fan and I think it's cool to see Darth Vader walk into a ring and declare "You do not realize the power of the dark side of the force." So stop your flapping and eat your pie, it's good for you. Okay, back to the blood letting.

The game decided to throw out any semblance of a tutorial. Now, as I've already said, Soul Calibur is no Guilty Gear. But actually, Guilty Gear is fairly straight forward, as long as you have three arms and can button mash faster than a pack of dogs on a three legged cat. Soul Calibur, while handling well, is not entirely an intuitive system. Granted, it does have a very extensive training mode that lets you try out all the moves. But it's up to you to train yourself in this mode. There's no explanation for how to do... well, anything, really. It's like showing up to your grandparents' house and being expected to play bridge then being laughed at when you fail miserably. A little bit of a walk through on how to use some of the more complicated things, such as stance changes and soul crushes, would've been appreciated.

The blood isn't spewing anymore. I have only little things left to criticize, such as levels that essentially work the same way no matter how dramatically designed. You have your big area ringed by a pit and your smaller area ringed by a pit. Of course, they look really cool (especially a hangar from Star Wars which you fight on while tie fighters and star destroyers soar in the background), but there's not much to them when you get down to it.

Also, despite the characters having a lot of moves, there are many that have little point, being copies of better moves that are sometimes easier to get off. This is a strange departure from the solid design of everything else in the game.

Along with this, character combos seem a bit dumbed down in terms of impressiveness. Not that it isn't impressive watching Darth Vader throw and then choke someone mid air, but pitted against the other Soul Calibur games, this one seems to have a little less oomph and flair in the combos. I loved Soul Calibur II for the way it made you shake your head in awe as you got your ass handed to you in a blazing series of aerial rapeage. This one's defenitely prettier than any of the others, but at the same time there's a certain lacking in the awe department. Or maybe I've just been watching too many John Woo movies.

Of course, those are all complaints that do little to stymie the excellent performance overal of the game. Here's the deal. If you like fighting games, get Soul Calibur IV. Rarely have I seen such a well balanced fighter with such an amazing level of depth. However, do be aware of two things. One, this isn't the combo fest of Street Fighter and Guilty Gear (for you insane people with ten thumbs on each hand). And two, Soul Calibur is a game that requires much loving. Do not be expecting to plug it in and be a master the next day. It's a game that requires work, but I'll say this... work has never been this fun before.


zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (August 07, 2008)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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