With the recent launches of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I got to thinking about some of the other big console launches I have seen over the years. One of those consoles would be the Sega Dreamcast and its wide variety of launch titles. While people were arguably more excited over the likes of Sonic Adventure, NFL 2K, and The House Of The Dead 2, it would be a sequel to an old PlayStation fighter that would draw the most acclaim.
The original Soulcalibur was a graphical showcase for the system and after thinking about it, would probably go down as my favorite launch title for any console period. This would make the four year wait for Soulcalibur II almost unbearable, but the series wouldn’t let me down with that title either. While future iterations of the franchise would leave me feeling cold, I would continue to carry a special place in my heart for the first two entries. So when the news came out that Namco Bandai was planning on releasing Soulcalibur II HD Online, I was thrilled. Could this re-release live up to my expectations? Or would it be a classic case of nostalgia letting me down?
As it has been throughout the entire series, the quest for the legendary Soul Edge provides the main storyline for Soulcalibur II. Originally wielded by the vicious knight known as Nightmare, the sword was destroyed by a group of warriors before it could be fully unleashed. This would eventually lead to the formation of the Soul Edge’s holy counterpart known as the Soulcalibur and the battle between the two would lead to the destruction of both. In the four years following that event, a group of fighters would come in contact with the fragments of the weapons and each would go on their own quest to either permanently destroy the Soul Edge or keep the power for themselves.
While the storyline here is nothing special, it’s the wide cast of characters that helps make Soulcalibur II an enjoyable experience. When you have a roster that runs the gamut from stoic samurai to pseudo-gimp to ghost pirate, you know that you are in for a good time. Each of these characters also has their own unique style of play.
If you are someone who likes a fast brawl filled with combos, then the nunchuk wielding Maxi or elbow bladed Talim will suit you. If perhaps battering your opponent from afar is more your speed, then someone like Astaroth and his huge axe or Ivy and her snake sword will be your guy/gal. In addition to all of the official Soulcalibur characters, this HD re-release also includes the PlayStation 2 and Xbox specific characters, Heihachi from Tekken and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. Although the lack of the GameCube exclusive character Link is an (expected) disappointment, having access to both previously console specific characters is a welcome touch.
Speaking of different play styles, one of the things I originally appreciated about Soulcalibur II was the fact that it was remarkably easy to pick up and play. I hadn’t touched the original in almost 10 years prior to picking up this re-release, but within a couple of minutes it felt like I had never stopped playing. Getting back into the title so easily also allowed me to go deeper into the combo system than I originally did. Nailing down tactics such as combo breaks and Soul Charge strikes may not be necessary for success, but it certainly helps.
Soulcalibur II HD Online comes packed with all of the requisite fighting game modes as well. You have the traditional arcade mode, which helps provide each character with a back story, main rival and ending, as well as a survival mode and team combat setting. The big hook of the game, though, comes from the console only “Weapon Master” mode. In “Weapon Master” you select a character of your choosing and make your way across a variety of regions in search of the Soul Edge. Each stop on the map leads to a different fight fought under a different rule set. So, for example, you may have to deal with an enemy who can only be hurt via a throw. Or perhaps the floor of the level is covered in ice, causing everyone to slip and slide around. The “Weapon Master” mode helps provide a good amount of variety that I think most fighting games lack after a certain amount of time.
Since this is an HD re-release, the graphics have also received a noticeable bump in quality. The colors are vibrant, the character designs still look great, the animation looks better than ever and unlike the re-release the original Soulcalibur received, Soulcalibur II HD is output in gorgeous 1080p. While it may not look as nice as other current day fighters, it does look better than I ever thought a PlayStation 2 game could. One odd bit about this re-release, though, is that it lacks the original Japanese voice acting and instead only features English dialogue. Obviously this isn’t a huge deal, but I would have liked to have had the option for both.
While the game itself remains as enjoyable as ever, the online modes for the title could use some improvement. For starters, the lack of a spectator mode and lobbies is a serious disappointment. Gamers are becoming more and more interested in watching fighting tournaments such as EVO and the fact that you can’t watch people duke it out online is upsetting. Of course, this could all be offset if the online gameplay was smooth, but unfortunately that is not the case here. The lag that pops up isn’t entirely game-breaking, but in a title that relies on timing as much as Soulcalibur II does, even the slightest lag issue can really be a problem.
Despite its online issues, Soulcalibur II HD Online is still well worth the $20 entry cost. It’s a gorgeous re-release of one of the most enjoyable and easily accessible fighters of the past decade. Plus, while the franchise may not be the king of the genre like it used to be, at least I can still enjoy the series from when it was in its prime. As our trusty announcer would say, “the soul still burns.”
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Even with shaky netcode, Soulcalibur II HD Online is still an exceptional re-release of one of the best fighters of the past decade.