As an avid fan of Nintendo during my adolescent years, my introduction to the Soulcalibur series was with Soulcalibur II. This was mainly thanks to the inclusion of Link from the Legend of Zelda series. I did enjoy the game thoroughly, and completed just about everything there was to do. For whatever reason though, I was just never tempted back into the Soulcalibur series. Having played Soulcalibur VI, I can safely say that the long-running fighting series has — once again — pulled me back in.
There are a number of different modes in Soulcalibur VI, all of which I will get to later in the review. As is true for most fighting games, the gameplay is definitely the biggest draw. Unless the series in question is Street Fighter or Tekken, I have often found myself struggling to get to grips with the control scheme of most 2D fighters. Despite the incredible depth of Soulcalibur VI’s mechanics and gameplay systems, I found myself mastering the more complex controls in no time.
Like with most fighters, I tend to button mash a bit to get a feel for the game itself. This worked well enough on easy mode, but then once I tackled the tutorial, the game opens up. A lot of the more devastating moves can be pulled off with the trigger buttons, and most special moves require a double tap in a certain direction, followed by a tap of an attack button. It’s mostly really simple stuff, which is fantastic for those who aren’t necessarily genre experts. The biggest difference in Soulcalibur VI, however, is the eight-way movement system.
Many pseudo-3D fighting games have the players simply moving on a 2D plane, with any 3D movement tied to hitting certain moves or dodging from side to side. This isn’t the case in Soulcalibur VI. By using the eight directions offered on the D-Pad, you can move your fighter from side to side, back and forth, and diagonally around the level. This is done in relation to your opponent, so holding down or up will make your fighter circle around the other fighter. Jumping and crouching are done by holding down the X button and pressing down or up. This opens up a whole new level of depth, as fighters are constantly moving around trying to find an opening to attack, all while avoiding any incoming attacks.
There are two different story modes on offer, the first of which is called Soul Chronicle. As the name implies, this is a retelling of sorts, which covers the main story beats from previous Soulcalibur games, with new episodes sprinkled in for good measure. There is the main storyline involving Kilik’s journey, as well as separate stories for each character in the game. Geralt — yes, that Geralt, from The Witcher — has his own story here as well, and, to my surprise, he fits the Soulcalibur universe perfectly. The only issue I have with the story mode is the lengthy downtime between fights — there are a lot of cutscenes to sit through — but otherwise, it is a good way to try out each character in the game, and learn about their backstory.
The other story mode is Libra of Soul. In this mode, you take a created character and go around a map, building that character’s stats and unlocking new clothes and weapons for them to use along the way. The story is more of a journey of self-discovery and focuses more on your creation rather than the universe of Soulcalibur, but it is still a nice mode to explore.
The character creation itself is a lot of fun to play around with. Already, we have seen a few articles pop up online, detailing how players have been able to recreate recognizable figures from pop culture, such as Bob Ross and Skeletor. Don’t worry, creating your own fighter that fits well within the Soulcalibur universe is very easy. You are also able to edit the existing roster of fighters and give them additional outfits to use in the game. There is nothing as outrageous or ridiculous as putting Ivy’s clothes on Cervantes, but you can definitely go the serious route or the zany route if you so choose.
The range of fighters at your disposal is quite varied as well. Like with most fighting games, there are characters that almost zero in on a player’s preferred play style. Astaroth is clearly a brute, and fans of characters such as Zangief and Jack would feel at home with him. Ivy has a lot of range with her whip, so she works best in the hands of players that enjoy fighting from a distance. Other characters such as Voldo and Yoshimitsu are very unpredictable, and as a result, take longer to master than the rest. Each character feels very different from one another, and in most cases, it will take some time to master them. After using them all in Soul Chronicle, I found that I gravitated to Taki, and consequently stuck with her for most of my play time.
Visually, Soulcalibur VI is a wonderful game to admire in motion. Despite the focus being on the fighters in the game, environments look very detailed. Levels are decked out with waterfalls, stone walls, cliffs, and beautiful forests, and that only describes a handful of stages. The characters themselves are very nicely done as well. Costume movement and animation on each character is top-notch, and are done in a way that they don’t look out of place when used on different fighters in the character creator (yes, I tried Ivy’s outfit on everyone for the purpose of this review!). Don’t worry, I covered all the bases — the male fighters look great too, and as mentioned earlier, Geralt looks right at home in his new environment.
Though there is a hell of a lot to like about Soulcalibur VI, it’s not without its quirks. Outside of the two story modes and the standard arcade mode in the game, there isn’t a lot else to do other than standard battles, online and off. To be fair, the Soulcalibur series has never reached the status of a top-tier competitive fighting game, unlike Street Fighter or Super Smash Bros. Putting in two separate story modes feels somewhat like a ploy to extend the life of the game, especially with Smash Bros. coming out in December. A few extra modes wouldn’t go amiss.
Still, it saddens me that the Soulcalibur series hasn’t taken off competitively. As I mentioned earlier, the game isn’t without its depth, especially with the new eight-way movement system. Hopefully, this is the game that will help the series break that barrier, and be showcased at EVO and other such tournaments. This is a series that deserves that kind of recognition, and this new entry is proof of that.
Soulcalibur VI is an incredible fighting game. I almost feel bad that I’ve skipped the last three entries, but Soul Chronicle does a great job of getting newcomers up to speed. Unlike its contemporaries, Soulcalibur VI feels like it was geared toward the single player experience by giving us two great story modes of decent length. Still, its accessible gameplay is its biggest success, allowing just about anyone to pick up and learn, while also offering up an experience deep enough for veterans to dig in and test their skills against each other.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Bandai Namco.