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Soulcalibur IV (PlayStation 3) artwork

Soulcalibur IV (PlayStation 3) review

"Some of the new characters also try to ratchet up the sex appeal, with one girl in a wire-frame dress (newcomer Ashlotte) tumbling before the start of each match while the camera swoops down to catch a shot of her panties. Most of the character models are admittedly attractive and I like a bit of bosom or a pair of long legs as much as the next guy—perhaps more, if I'm to be honest—but there will be times when you'll surely grimace and wonder why someone got so much sex in your SoulCalibur."

Nearly three years after the disappointing (but still very playable) Soulcalibur III released exclusively for the PlayStation 2 platform--to the disgust of the many fans who had made the series a success on alternate consoles--Namco Bandai has finally updated one of its most enduring and critically-acclaimed franchises for the next generation. With polished visuals, several new characters and plenty of time in development, you'd be justified in expecting great things from this latest installment. At the same time, you'd be right to be wary. Since the last game was so underwhelming, what's to stop this newest outing from offering a lackluster repeat?

Absolutely nothing.

Gorgeous though it may be, SoulCalibur IV is unremarkable. The magic that made SoulCalibur and its first sequel such joys to play is absent yet again, resulting in a perfectly good but infrequently memorable fighter. That's confusing when you consider how much work Namco Bandai has clearly put into bottling the familiar magic again. Perhaps the real problem is precisely that: the development team didn't do enough to bring something both compelling and new to the table. Instead, the game is going through the motions... and sometimes not even on the level that we saw from previous entries!

The usual roster of fighters you know and love or loathe has returned, now represented with next-generation polish that makes every breast more jiggly, every muscle more sinewy, every chest hair more... chest-hairy. Sometimes things get absurd, though. How Ivy manages to keep anything permanently covered with her skimpy attire while she bounds around the various arenas is a question for the ages. Some of the new characters also try to ratchet up the sex appeal, with one girl in a wire-frame dress (newcomer Ashlotte) tumbling before the start of each match while the camera swoops down to catch a shot of her panties. Most of the character models are admittedly attractive and I like a bit of bosom or a pair of long legs as much as the next guy--perhaps more, if I'm to be honest--but there will be times when you'll surely grimace and wonder why someone got so much sex in your SoulCalibur.

Speaking of new characters, you'll have to earn them. A handful of them are available right from the start, with a slew of others joining the fight once you meet certain qualifications or purchase them with gold gained by playing through the game's various modes. This same rule applies even to returning veterans, with the initial group seemingly chosen at random. For example, Talim from SoulCalibur II is locked at the start, but Tira (who made her debut in Soulcalibur III) is not. Meanwhile, Zasalamel from that same game must be purchased if you wish to use him and so must Yoshimitsu from the first SoulCalibur. It's puzzling.

Similarly bewildering is the presence of Darth Vader and a Jedi apprentice. Clearly, they're included as some sort of cross-promotion wizardry, but the question I have is “Why bother?” A follow-up query would be “Why didn't they at least make them cool?” Hearing the metal-encased Anakin Skywalker breathe deeply through his respirator is kind of neat, sure, but his move set feels decidedly wimpy and his light saber is hardly the lethal weapon you might imagine. It doesn't feel like he even belongs here, and really he doesn't. Probably the developers didn't want to waste time making him especially spectacular when he won't return for any sequels.

Though some of the newer portions of the roster don't make much sense and are a baffling change for the worse, at least the core combat system is predictably enjoyable. SoulCalibur IV has always featured beautiful combat as warriors clash with blades, spears, staffs and axes--among other things--and that's certainly the case here. You'll should be able to settle comfortably into your familiar routine if you're returning to the fight after enjoying the previous ones, and selectable difficulty levels offer up differing challenges depending on your preferences. This makes things nice and accessible, though of course you still need to work at it if you want to astonish anyone with your mad skills even on the “Normal” level.

When I first began playing SoulCalibur IV, I went that route and it was quite awhile before I even lost a match. The game's “Story” mode is actually pretty short, without many--or even any--battles that will test your prowess. Ring outs are about the only way you'll stumble with any of the better characters, so it's easy to blaze through a few times and earn enough gold to purchase the game's best content. The default “Arcade” mode is meatier both in terms of length and difficulty, while the “Tower of Lost Souls” area is there specifically to kick your butt. You won't progress very far at all through that series of challenges (which are appropriately divided by floor) unless you invest some time in the character creation mode.

Yes, you can again craft custom warriors as you could in Soulcalibur III. The level of tweaking that's possible will probably surprise you, and it only grows as you repeatedly play the main game to unlock new trinkets. From tiaras to boots to skirts and blades, you can modify almost everything about your chosen warrior's attire, plus there are plenty of options for hairstyle and color, not to mention choices regarding which skills should be associated with your custom fighter. If you're the sort who enjoys playing around with such things, you should be quite satisfied with your options here. It's nice that one important element of the previous game has been improved.

Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about the overall aesthetics. I was amazed by just how much dark and dreary landscape the artists chose as their focus. The lush scenery in previous games is almost completely absent, with only a few exceptions lingering as if to mock those players who appreciated the previous splendor. The change isn't a technical one, since polygons, textures and lighting are the finest they've ever been. It's all artistic. Aside from a few standout areas that include an icy cavern with mammoths in the background and a tumultuous sea, most of what's here has fallen behind the likes of games such as Dead or Alive 4 or Virtua Fighter 5. The abundance of dank dungeons and lava pits just doesn't have the same grandeur.

The real problem with SoulCalibur IV isn't any one of its minor flaws, though, but rather the way they all come together. Battling through a gauntlet of dreary dungeons and rotting towers populated by giggling girls and armored bodybuilders starts to feel silly instead of intense. That's not really something I ever thought I'd say about SoulCalibur. The series isn't dead yet (many others have recovered from far worse), but Namco Bandai had the chance to make this title a triumphant return to form and instead it's just a flashy but soulless reminder of better days. The definite strengths here--from deep customization to a large character roster to online battles--will keep you playing for a long time if you like what you find and there's no arguing the technical merits of the project, but overall I can't shake the feeling that gamers are being asked to settle. Are you in a settling mood?


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 18, 2008)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this Soulcalibur IV review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Lewis posted August 19, 2008:

For some reason I chose to read through this review without first glancing at the score. I was very surprised to see it at the end. Was expecting a 6, perhaps a 7 at a real push.

Enjoyed the review though!
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honestgamer posted August 19, 2008:

Instead of emphasizing it repeatedly throughout the review, I chose to make only 2 or 3 references to the fact that the game is quite good in nearly every way, but truly great in none. To me, that justified a 7 or an 8 and I spent quite awhile agonizing over which was more appropriate. This really was a more difficult game for me to rate than most, though Izuna 2 is now giving me similar issues (dang it!).

I finally settled on 8 because the game is well above average in many, many ways. Most people tend to view 8 as barely worth a purchase these days, anyway. It's all about the hunt for 9s and 10s.

I'm glad you enjoyed reading the review, by the way. I try to write my stuff so that even if someone doesn't agree with the score I stick on the end, he learns something from the text about how much the game will truly appeal to him... or if he'll want to give it a pass. It sounds like I've potentially accomplished for you, and if so that's the best that I can hope for.
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dagoss posted August 20, 2008:

I love how every review for this game seems to have a "is there soul left?" joke. Seriously! I find the ridiculous cheesiness of such statements endearing. I read your "does the soul still burn" bit, and I immediately knew that this review would be full of win.
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psychopenguin posted August 20, 2008:

I love reviews that make me look up words like "sinewy" to find out what they mean. :)
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Lewis posted August 21, 2008:

"Most people tend to view 8 as barely worth a purchase these days, anyway. It's all about the hunt for 9s and 10s."

This is odd, though, isn't it? There's potentially a lot more need for manouverability at the high end of the rating scale than the lower end: while there's likely little difference between a 4 and a 5, there's potentially a huge amount of difference between a 9 and a 10. Still, you're right. I suppose with games prices as they are, if people can only afford to buy a game every month or two then they'll hold out for that 9 or 10 that inevitibly comes along pretty much every month or two.
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Chacranajxy posted August 21, 2008:

B...but Jason, I'm doing the review for the 360 version. Or something. I thought you played the PS3 one?
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honestgamer posted August 21, 2008:

You're right. It got posted under the wrong game profile. That's what I get for posting the review while tired (though I'd written it earlier). I've updated so that it now appears in the proper place, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one looking forward to your review of the Xbox 360 version.
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Chacranajxy posted August 21, 2008:

Yep, either tonight or tomorrow should be the time for submitting. Been a hectic week, but I've gotten to proofing it now.
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espiga posted August 21, 2008:

Both Venter and the rest of the world await my upcoming review for a hentai rpg.
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Chacranajxy posted August 21, 2008:

Those people await my hentai review like mad crazy. Their lives literally depend on that shit.
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Genj posted August 21, 2008:

Good review as usual, Venter.

Both Venter and the rest of the world await my upcoming review for a hentai rpg.

Confirming dis.

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