Storied franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken and Virtua Fighter were arguably the chief pioneers of the fighting genre and each of them represents their own distinct focus. Street Fighter is the fast kid in class, Tekken is the easy approachable arcade hit, and the master of intricate combat is Virtua Fighter. Hidden amongst its influential peers is Tekken's weapon-loving younger sibling, the Soul Calibur series. A series more aligned with arcade combat than anything else, as well as having a strong focus on long and drawn-out melodramatic narratives and customisation. After a long hiatus from the spotlight and after plenty of attention has been given to its competitors, is it finally time for Soul Calibur to rise up and claim the fighting game throne for itself?
The answer is a resounding: maybe. An answer that demands a thorough explanation if we're going to adequately explain the potential positives and negatives of the game.
As we stated, the Soul Calibur has always been a franchise which held its story in a high esteem - for better and for worse. The sixth chapter is no different and it will feature multiple narrative layers and plenty of storytelling. Firstly, there is the story of Kilik and his search for the mystical Soul Edge weapon in order to rid the world of evil. Secondly, each character will have their own dedicated narrative, akin to previous titles in the franchise. Lastly, Max Payne-esque 2D artwork will also be utilised as a chronological motif. In other words, Soul Calibur wants to prioritise story more than almost all other fighting games on the market. If the story trailer is anything to go by, however, the series still has some ways to go considering the abysmal and exaggerated voice acting and the melodramatic performances. We will give Soul Calibur VI a chance to prove itself on this front and give Bandai Namco the benefit of the doubt.
A chief component in the Souls Calibur universe has always been the inclusion of characters from other games. Soul Calibur IV had Star Wars favourites Darth Vader and Yoda, the second game included Link from the Legend of Zelda, and the most recent instalment introduced the almighty Master Assassin Ezio Auditore to the fray. Soul Calibur VI is no different and the game introduces Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series. Like many characters before him he fits perfectly into the universe and comes complete with all his signature moves (even the animations are in the game) and he's a blast to play.
Prior to our hands-on with Soul Calibur VI we went to a small presentation by the developers, and the demo placed graphics in the spotlight. Created from the ground up using Unreal Engine 4, they praised the visuals rather a lot. Yet, in our opinion Soul Calibur VI doesn't live up to this bold talk from a purely technical standpoint. Textures are grainy, the facial animations are more aligned with their Xbox 360 counterparts than current gen, and many effects simply don't justify the credit that the developers are giving themselves.
At the end of the day, however, what really defines a fighting game is not whether its story delivers or the graphics blow you away. No, it is and always has been about creating intuitive and fun combat. On this front Soul Calibur VI excels. Not only are the controls tighter than ever, they likewise come with a variety of new and exciting functions. Chief among them are the intense reversal attacks. If an enemy accumulates enough points they can perform insanely powerful finishing moves, which can be stopped in a sequence triggering intense swordplay situations. In moments like this, Soul Calibur VI moves away from the idea of Tekken with swords and creates something unique. Besides new intense scenarios, Soul Calibur VI feels more balanced and well-polished than ever. Every fight has great intensity and forces you to adjust to each character differently due to their individuality and balancing.
So can Soul Calibur VI rise above the competition? The story is still shrouded with mystery, the graphical fidelity is subpar, yet we still couldn't put the controller down once we had started playing. The desire to keep bettering oneself, to learn new abilities and master the distinctive range of characters creates an exciting, engaging experience. So to reiterate our earlier statement: maybe.