|Xbox, GC, PS2
| Violence, Suggestive Themes
| The Good
Awesome fighting system
Lots of modes, including Weapon Master
Tons of unlockables
| The Bad
Not much change in the fighting system
English voicework can be odd
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
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.