by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Soulcalibur is the only 3D fighter that I’ve been in love with since the beginning. It took until Tekken 7 for me to really find my way in it, but I’ve been with Bandai Namco’s 3D Weapons-Based Fighter since Soul Edge/Blade back in the mid-90s. The characters and settings inspired by real-world cultures and styles really captured my attention, and though I never really got amazing at it, I still really enjoyed playing this one with friends, never really getting all that upset when I lost. Besides, my main was in essentially every game (Cervantes/Voldo). But Soulcalibur V made some really weird choices that ultimately left me disappointed. Soulcalibur VI, on the other hand, fixed all that and so much more. Bandai Namco managed to make the focus on both the single-player and the online multiplayer at the same time. It has all of the hallmarks of the franchise I love: Awesome characters, at least one guest character, created characters, sharp, exciting gameplay, and fanservice. There’s a little something for everyone in Soulcalibur VI.
Soulcalibur VI can be considered a reboot to the franchise, and goes back to the 16th century and the events of the original Soulcalibur. Certain hidden truths will come out across the main story, which is known as “Soul Chronicle” mode. If you want to enjoy a lengthy, dramatic story you can also do so with your created character in “Libra of Soul” mode. But this mode had one very minor nitpick for me: It did not let me play the created characters I had already made for online play/local versus play. Instead, I had to make a brand new created character, and I simply did not want to make the same character twice. It’s not a major complaint or a negative for the game, but it did bother me enough to mention it for people going into it. I won’t talk about Libra of Soul much, other than it is a story just for your created characters, where you grow in strength, engage in incredible battles, and interact with a well thought out story. It reminded me a bit of Soulcalibur IV or III, but that’s okay. I love that kind of exploration story mode. All I will say is that Soul Edge is critical to both of these stories. In Libra of Soul, the player is tasked with defeating Astral Fissures from the world and can be good or evil, with particular choices opening up depending on how the player acts. This creates potential replay value for different characters, styles, and morality decisions.
Soul Chronicle is different, in that you have a timeline with certain events happening across several chapters. If you just play straight through from the beginning, it swaps characters as you reach certain milestones in the story, so it can be used as a great way to learn some of the characters if you’re uncertain about who you want to focus on. The cast is decent sized, with more to come in DLC. In Soulcalibur, more than most fighters, I feel like it’s important to nail down who you want to play in competitive play down to a few characters (one, with a few pocket picks ideally) because this is a very technically sound game. There is not a fighter where button mashing is all there is. Sure there are combos, and a 3D plane to worry about, but there is simply so much to know. I will say that the most important thing you need to know, the greatest secret to improving in Soulcalibur is this – sidestep. Learn to sidestep and do it often. Sidestep and catch them off-guard, sidestep to avoid big attacks/critical attacks, sidestep just to throw someone off balance. It’s not even a new technique, but it’s possibly the most powerful thing to know. But you can’t just spam it. You have to know “when”.
Soulcalibur VI is a four button game – Two Weapon Attacks, a Kick, and Guard. But it also offers tons of variation, with characters having extra stances, holding a direction+an attack creating new attack options, and then there’s the 8-Way Run System. The 8-Way Run System is a way to move in all 8 directions from a neutral, standing position. This opens up further options for special and powerful attacks in a game that already has very high damage. The training mode’s list of attacks can feel very overwhelming because each character has “so many damn attacks”, which is why I’m a little disappointed training doesn’t have some form of tutorial system where it teaches a particular characters useful combos and chained attacks.
The Museum does make up for that though by offering tips for beginners, up to advanced uses of a character – things players of all skill levels ought to know per character. Soul Charge is back and can be used to increase the power of your character temporarily. Though in Soulcalibur VI, it freezes time and zooms the camera in when it’s activated. I still feel it can be risky to use, if your opponent isn’t within range of the knockdown it can provide. Using Soul Charge can leave you defenseless against a longer-ranged fighter as you stand there and powerup. There is one new feature to Soulcalibur VI’s combat, speaking of it, that needs to be mentioned: Reversal Edge. This is new to the franchise as a whole and is a new option for defense and counter-play.
Reversal Edge is a Rock-Paper-Scissors mini-game that is borne of a counter-hit. If you time that counter-hit just right, the game slows down and creates that RPS game. Success lands a blow on the enemy and you can turn an otherwise unfavorable situation back to your side again. Now, I’m torn about how I feel about it. I like it as a system for beginners and veterans, creating another way to counter, because there are definitely times where Soulcalibur can feel overwhelmingly frustrating, being beat down across the screen with sickening (but cool-looking) combos. On the other hand, I do feel like it can really slow down the pace of a match, and when the majority of my matches were Best-of-Five, RE after RE becomes incredibly annoying. Maybe that was the strategy, to drive me mad with mini-games. All of the grabs, juggles, huge flashy special attacks, big damage, and ring-outs are still here though. Some characters can ring-out easier than others though: One of my favorites being Raphael being able to glide into the air and knock someone back by quite a distance.
While the story modes are fun, the real meat-and-potatoes comes from online matchmaking and gameplay. I played on a wireless connection to see just how the game held up. I’m glad to say that I received little to no lag at all on 3-bar connections, and everything felt smooth. However, it was taking an upwards of 20-30 minutes to find a single ranked match, and this was a few days after launch. This would normally bother me, but one of the lessons I learned from fighting game players (that are much better than me) is that all of the real growth and challenge come from the casual lobbies. So that’s what I did. I played through several lobbies, and win or lose, I came out happy knowing that I wasn’t losing due to horrific netcode; I was losing because I was being outplayed. I was so busy trying so many different characters that I was not focusing on improving with one or two characters. Update: During the week I managed to find more ranked matches, so that has definitely improved. You can queue up for ranked matches while in Arcade Mode/Training Mode, and that’s important. I’d go absolutely mental just sitting there, waiting for a match to pop up.
Welcome Back, To the Stage of History: Great (4/5)
Soulcalibur VI is easily one of the best fighting games to come out this year, maybe beyond that. It’s easy to pick up, even if you haven’t played a Soulcalibur game in years, even ever! It can feel overwhelming to learn so many attacks and positional situations, but I sincerely enjoyed it. It’s fun to practice, the character creation is pretty deep, and I’ve seen some absolutely incredible creations. Seriously, if you’re Burumouse and are reading this, please show me how you made your Kamen Rider characters. I need to know. You’re going to run into some inappropriate and weird characters, like characters with gigantic dongs, or other weird stuff. Just about every player I’ve met online prefers to use their created character with the weapon of choice, which is absolutely fine. One thing I worried about was the custom armor having some kind of statistical bonus on it, but it doesn’t so rest easy.
Ultimately, the gameplay is smooth and enjoyable, the game is gorgeous, and the combat is fluid and easy to understand. It’s hard to master, but there are so many outlets to learn more.There’s 8wayrun, you can watch tournaments, and any number of pro fighters will be picking this up. Bandai Namco has put out two of the best fighters to date with this and Tekken 7. Okubo Motohiro called this a tribute to 20 years of Soulcalibur, and it’s one worth experiencing. No matter how cool you thought it was to play as Yoda and Vader, they didn’t really fit the story. Geralt from The Witcher though? He easily blends in with these characters and is pretty awesome to boot. Soulcalibur VI is a must play for fans of the series. I did notice that there are some pretty awkward/bad hitboxes, but that is something that can be fixed with a patch. I do wish it would provide more data in the training mode though. I’d love to see frame data/damage numbers to optimize combos and attacks in a given situation, but as a mostly casual player, that’s not a must. It would be helpful though. It sort of feels like a reboot of Soulcalibur 1 or 2, without feeling rushed or messy. My soul continues to burn.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Soulcalibur VI Screenshots