A special thanks to Bandai Namco for sending us this game to review.
A tale of swords and souls eternally retold… but currently on its sixth iteration. Soul Calibur VI, the seventh entry into the mainline Soul Calibur franchise (seeing as how the first game in the series was 1996’s Soul Edge), finally arrived on home consoles after a six year hiatus. The Soul Calibur franchise has always been one of my favorite 3D fighters, partially because it is very beginner friendly, and partially because the games tend to offer tons of bonus modes, from character creation to tactical RPG grinds. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the competitive aspect of the series; I remember many late nights in my college dorm challenging friends to rounds of Soul Calibur II on the Gamecube. More recent entries, however, didn’t really grab me the way the first four did. I was curious, then, to see if Soul Calibur VI could hold my attention.
This is a reboot of the series that takes place after Soul Edge, where the ninja Taki and the Greek warrior Sophitia defeat the maniacal pirate Servantes, who was the current wielder of the evil weapon Soul Edge. The game takes place between 1583 and 1590, covering the same ground as the original Soul Calibur. This story, however, contains new and different scenarios, creating an alternate timeline from the previous Soul Calibur titles. It allows the series to get a fresh start, though it also makes sure to include several beloved characters – even those that only appeared later in the story. Like all games in the series, the crux of the story has to deal with the evil emanating from Soul Calibur and the search for its holy counterpart, Soul Edge.
The plot can actually be experienced through two different story modes: Libra of Souls and Soul Chronicle. The latter follows series favorite (or, at least my favorite) Kilik in his pursuit of the villain Nightmare and the demon blade Soul Edge. As the story continues, others join you on your quest, and every character gets individual chapters to expand on their story. The story mode is engaging…once it gets going. It features full voice acting, but it’s often over mostly static character art, with so much of it between fights I was finding myself bored at the start of my adventure. The fights get more involved and the story more gripping, however, so I ended up enjoying my time in this mode greatly. Libra of Souls is a basically the story for your create-a-character, and it consists of a full RPG mode that runs parallel to the main story.
As mentioned above, the Soul series has always had simple to understand gameplay. You can move in eight directions, you can block, and you have three attack buttons – one for vertical attacks, one for horizontal, and one for kicks. If you understand that and spend a short amount of time studying combos, you’ll be good to go. Standard fights last 3 rounds, and can be won by either reducing your opponent’s health to zero or (less frequently) by ring out.
There are plenty of advanced mechanics as well, for those of us that want to take our fighting games a bit more seriously. The newest feature is the “Reversal Edge,” a technique that is activated by holding the R1 button. It’s basically a perry that initiates a Paper / Rock / Scissors style cut scene where vertical attacks beat horizontal, which beat kicks, and which beat vertical. It takes a few rounds to figure out the intricacies of it, but using it adds an additional layer of strategy to a match while also adding a bit of flair. Another fun feature is destructible armor. This is a feature that apparently made its debut in Soul Calibur IV, but as I barely played that title, it felt new to me.
The real star of the show for me, however, were all the extra modes. Online play felt great, both story modes gave me plenty to do when I wasn’t playing online, and, most importantly, that “Create a Soul” feature was fantastic! I am a sucker for any user created content, and create a soul is one of the most robust create a character tools I have ever used in any game. You chose between a number of base races, including mummies, lizard men, and even plain old humans, and then customize them with a large number of accessories and gear (much of which needs to be unlocked, but I appreciate having to work for things in a fighting game. Your mileage may vary on this one, obviously). You then assign them the “soul” of a playable fighter…which is good as you won’t have to learn any new movesets. Honestly, though, I had more fun going through other people’s creations in game (and downloading the ones I liked) more than almost any other aspect of this title.
The move to Unreal Engine agreed with this franchise. Everything in the game looks good, maybe not jaw dropping, but good. All the characters are nicely detailed and animated, the menus are crisp and easy to navigate, and the features in the extra modes (such as the overworld map in Libra of Souls) are nicely realized. The stages, as is the norm for most 3D fighters, are just ok. I don’t know if I could really say any one of them in particular stood out for me. The game is fast, smooth, and the fights themselves have a lot of flashy movements and slow motion effects. It’s a game that’s as fun to watch as it is to play. It is, overall, a slick experience, with the orchestral music and fully voiced cutscenes adding a lot of value.
This game is fast, responsive, and most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.That’s something I can’t say I felt about this franchise in a long time. Soul Calibur VI is, simply, a fighting game experience that experts and newbies can enjoy in equal measure, with enough single player and multiplayer content to keep gamers of all type coming back for more.