When we played the very first Soul Blade on the PlayStation back in the '90s, we were totally smitten by what was happening. Castles crumbled, ninjas attacked, gods appeared, and that was only in the opening sequence. This experience still frames the franchise for us, and if there are two things that we would describe as characteristic of Soul Calibur as a series, it's beating each other up with weapons rather than fists, and that it actually has a real story.
With that said, we want to add that by "real story" we don't mean a well-written narrative that makes us sit and bite our nails wanting to know how things are going to end. Soul Calibur is, of course, a fighting game and that means that after one or maybe two games are finished with we're out of reasonable reasons why basically exactly the same people have to meet again and again to beat each other up. What we mean instead is that this is a game where the storylines are so incredibly bad, and in the genre, Soul Calibur is best in class.
The Mortal Kombat games have begun to challenge this trend in fighting games with the two latest games, but besides these two alternatives, there's virtually no reason to recommend these titles to anyone who is going to mostly play alone. This is something we were thinking about and had in mind when we visited Bandai Namco's office in Stockholm recently to test Soul Calibur VI, what with it mainly focusing on single-player.
Specifically, the Soul Calibur series is the one we've played the most over the years, due in part to the fact that there is an undeniable amount of depth while at the same time still being very easily accessible to beginners. Together with the Tekken series, it has been the game that defined the concept of "button mashers"; a game where you rapidly press the buttons to make cool things happen and where it actually takes a few hours of training to stand absolutely safe from the bombardment a happy amateur can unleash.
The last entry in the series was, unfortunately, a weaker game and we didn't play as much as we usually do when a new episode of Soul Calibur is released. It's still Soul Calibur II, perhaps primarily the GameCube version with Link, that stands as our highlight, but in pre-talk about Soul Calibur VI it seems like it's a step back gameplay wise. In order to confirm this, much more time is needed than playing at Bandai Namco's place for one day with a limited version, but with that said, it seems to be on the right track.
The game actually includes two single-player campaigns. One of the more traditional kind where you play through a reasonably forced tale that involves the evil doings of Cervantes and, of course, the magic weapon known as Soul Edge. What is a bit unique is that this time events take place around the time of the first Soul Calibur, which offers a slightly different perspective on the same story. However, anyone who loves their fighting games will know that Taki, Seong Mi-na, and Voldo had more hassles than we first thought in the original game, and for those who still do care about this side of thing, there are quite a few golden nuggets for fans to find.
As we've mentioned though the story itself is really quite secondary, but it's there and it's fun to play through. There is the main story and then separate ones with all the fighters' different perspectives on the same narrative, which also includes Geralt as a guest, and naturally he spends his time chasing a witch. The story sections consist of encounters between one or more fighters and these can either be meetings with the regular ensemble or those the developers themselves let you make with the built-in tools available to create your own. Additionally, special rules for the matches will force you to vary your game style like focus on throwing opponents, performing combos, or trying to stay on the stage in hazardous winds. Basically, it doesn't try to fix what isn't broken, and it's all looking promising.
The other single-player mode available, Libra of Soul, lets you create a character and then go on your own adventure with them. You level up, buy weapons, and make a lot of choices during the journey, which also takes you around the world. There are even level trees and the opportunity to buff yourself with food before tougher battles. This has the potential to be a fan favourite and we really like this initiative. It remains to be seen whether it continues to be fun even after ten hours, but after the hour we played we wanted to continue. And that is not something we often feel when playing fighting games alone.
The character creation is on its own level in Soul Calibur VI. There are several archetypes to choose from, such as skeletons, mummy, shapeshifters, the zombie-like malfested, and so on. All of these can then be created as both men and women, available with different voices, and with tailored appearances. Those who like to make their own fighting superstars will really like this portion of the game.
So how does it feel playing then? We have already played most characters, such as our favorite Maxi, as well as the likes of Geralt and Mitsurugi. When Bandai Namco says that it has returned to the roots of the series, the publisher really means it, and our first impression is that the game once again is as easy and comfortable to play as the Soul Calibur series should be. Doing air juggles with Geralt works well and his switches between hard and fast attacks make him a winner. For those who know their Witcher history, a lot of work has gone into this as he moves and fights exactly as we remember him.
Azwel, the new boss in the game, is another happy surprise. He has his own fighting style focused on magic and seems to be a character one must really meet several times to learn exactly where his attacks hit and how the follow-ups look. We also want to highlight the promising counter system, Reversal Edge, which is loosely based on rock-paper-scissors. Where the Dead or Alive series tends to be a bit too easy to perform counters at times, this is an intermediate between the more advanced systems, such as later Street Fighter titles, and Dead or Alive. Reversal Edge is easy to get to grips with, but landing them against your opponent is a completely different story.
To sum up, things are looking promising, but unfortunately, the two single-player modes only have voiceovers instead of video in the intermittent periods, and they included a lot of dialogue. However, it is still way, way more than most games in this genre offer. And that's what we expect from this series. The game system also feels speedy and the higher skill level of the later games in the series seems to have been lowered once again. In short, we're more positive about Soul Calbur VI than we were before we played it, and now we have another reason to look forward to October.