Soul Calibur II
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox, GC, PS2
Publisher
Namco
Developer
Namco
Genre
Fighting
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Violence, Suggestive Themes
 
Grade
The Good

• Awesome fighting system
• Looks great
• Lots of modes, including Weapon Master
• Tons of unlockables

The Bad

• Not much change in the fighting system
• English voicework can be odd

 
Grade
A

Arcade console fighting games are a dime a dozen - so few of them are actually good and worth the time to play, not only with friends but on your own. In fact, only a few series, like Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive, can even be considered consistent in terms of quality delivered. Of course, one would be a fool to ignore the Soul Calibur series - ranging from Soul Blade on the Playstation to the original Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast to this new multi-console sequel - which has easily established itself as a premier fighting series.

Soul Calibur II's premise is based on a group of fighters who partake in weapon-based fighting as each has their own agenda when it comes to the conflict between the evil Soul Edge and the spirit sword, Soulcalibur. Outside of this story setup, you be given small snippets, most of which are resolved in each character's endings in the Arcade mode. Along with the Arcade mode are the standard modes present in most fighters: Versus, Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle and a Practice Mode.

To really flesh out the single player aspect of the game is the Weapon Master mode where the player goes through a series of fights, augmented by a text-based story. In each of the fights, players are given additional requirements or handicaps to deal with. During this mode, players earn gold and experience. The gold can be used to purchase new weapons and outfits that can be used in both the Weapon Master mode and the Extra Arcade mode that is unlocked pretty much right after you get into this mode. Along with the weapons and costumes, this mode is essential for unlocking additional fighters and arenas. My only complaint with this mode is that the text-based story aspect gets a bit wordy. Most players will just skip past what could have been an interesting story if it had played out in small cutscenes just to get to the next fight.

The controls are simple enough to pick up - along with a vertical and a horizontal slash, you have the ability to kick and guard. With the ability to switch around and customize your button placement, any player can have their controller laid out how they wish. Also, you can select options for the other available buttons/triggers, including having them act as multiple button presses, which is helpful in pulling off some of the large roster of attacks available for each character. Unlike some fighting games where you need to "dial in" combinations to pull of ridiculous chains, Soul Calibur II prefers to give a large library of moves that are easy to execute and can be linked together any way you can imagine.

Combat is largely a priority-based system in which one type of attack gains an edge over another attack type or level of blocking. Vertical strikes take priority over horizontal strikes, which are good for striking enemies that use the 8 Way Run feature to move and sidestep vertical attacks. The effectiveness of blocking with the Guard button depends on whether you're standing or crouching against high, mid or low attacks. You can also jump over lower attacks with the Guard button and pushing up on the D-pad. If you time your Guard with a D-pad direction, you can force a Guard Impact, which acts as a parry and leaves opponents open for attack. Throw in the ability to Soul Charge and power up your attack and you'll find the combat quite rich.

To augment this richness is a varied cast of characters, each with their own well-fleshed fighting style. Just about any gamer will find a fighter that appeals to their personal tastes and the whole cast is balanced so that no one character is overpowered. The demonic Nightmare swings his brutal sword attacks about, but takes time to get the blade around. Newcomer Raphael has multiple fighting stances and a lot of quick fencing attacks. Voldo and Yoshimitsu both have unusual fighting styles that can catch the average player unaware. Although not as strong, Taki's agility with sword and kicking attacks can make her effective against brutes like Astaroth. While the Xbox exclusive character Spawn is actually enjoyable to use and has a great array of attacks, Todd McFarlane's cross-console character Necrid is pretty boring as he just borrows most of his repertoire from the already established cast.

The best thing about the battle engine is that is manages to find the balance between appeasing the hardcore gamers and casual "pick up and play" gamers. Combat is easy to get into, but takes some skill and perseverance to truly master. With a wide range of difficulty levels and some effective A.I. at the harder difficulties, even the sturdiest fighting expert will get a challenge in the single player modes. But, because of the hidden depth that the game engine exhibits, I really wish the Practice Mode was more like the extensive training found in Virtua Fighter 4, which would have gone a long way to keep new players from just button mashing their way to victory.

Visually, Soul Calibur II is a sweet presentation to behold. Both the stages and characters show a grand level of detail and depth. Everything down to the facial features look spectacular. Character animations are fluid and responsive. The framerate, except for very rare stutters, runs at a smokingly smooth 60 FPS. Concerning the animations - I was very pleased in that each and every character has a defined personality in the way they move and act. While the more obvious characters, like Voldo and Yoshimitsu, stand out, some of the more "normal" characters all have a certain swagger that fits them well. On top of this, the alternate costumes and weapons that you can earn in the Weapon Master mode are likewise up to the standard of the main costumes - so you won't have to spend your hard earned gold on some lame looking equipment. In replacement of the blood one might expect in a weapon-based fighting game, attacks and blows have a colorful glow or light up like fireworks, accenting an already well-detailed visual package.

The audio portion of Soul Calibur II is strong in its own right, but compared to the gameplay and graphics, has to stand a step back. The music is exceptional and works at setting a specific mood for each stage, but I rarely found a track that made me want to rush out and get the soundtrack. Sound effects reflect the intensity of the action well, but seem to be "grandfathered" from the previous titles. When it comes to voice acting, expect a large volume of before- and after-battle comments, all of which receive adequate voice work. It's not that any of the voices are bad, but that some of the delivery of the lines feels stifled. Mitsurugi's "Don't... [excessively long pause] ...cry" line is a fine example of some of the questionable voice work. Luckily, you can switch to the Japanese voice track if you really want to.

It has to be stated that any successful fighting series tends to stick to its guns when it comes to a fighting system that works well. Such is the case with Soul Calibur II. The fighting system from Soul Calibur is largely intact with little to no alteration. Nitpickers may hold this against the game, but with a system that works so well, Namco would be foolish to do too much tampering. Because of this, those who played the original Soul Calibur to death may not appreciate this new title as much as others.

Soul Calibur II is a must buy when it comes to fighting games. Very few fighting games, not only in this generation, but in the genre itself, are as well put together as Soul Calibur II is. Whether or not you feel it's not much of an upgrade from the past title, you have to admit that the final package stands well on its own.

- - Kinderfeld

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