SOULCALIBUR VI, eh? What with this and Tekken 7, if there’s one thing that Bandai Namco are good at it’s keeping a long running and fan beloved story going. The world has been imperilled by, and saved from, Soul Edge more times than you can shake a stick at, but each time we get drawn back the story feels fresh and the fighting action has been top drawer. Can Bandai Namco pull it off again, or is SOULCALIBUR VI one step beyond?
The story this time around feels like a bit of a reboot, having taken us back to the 16th century and to the point where Cervantes has just been defeated and Siegfried has claimed the Soul Edge, being transformed into Nightmare for his trouble. I seem to remember this time frame being around at the end of the second game / start of the third, but after the obligatory cut scene that takes us through what has happened so far, the game proper launches. And luckily, there are a plethora of modes to play through too.
There have been a few changes this time around and one of the first options you’ll want to take in is the intriguingly named Libra of Souls. This is a style that harks back to the Weapon Master mode in the second game, with the added benefit of a powerful character generation program. There are a number of races to choose from, including the Lizardmen and the new Malfested, a breed of human who have been infected by the Evil Seed, which was unleashed when Sigfried claimed the sword. You can choose from male and female, as usual, and then a whole load of bodily characteristics to make the avatar into exactly what you want. The style of weapon you choose at the end dictates how your character will play, so initially I went for the style of Taki with her two short katanas.
As you progress through the game, you will find new weapons that are more powerful, either through defeating enemies or by buying them in shops. If these weapons are for a different style, your character will adopt the new style, so upgrades have ensured that I’ve spent the majority of this mode fighting in Mitsurugi’s style. Partaking in missions sees different characters introduced to you as companions or enemies, and pleasingly the story in this mode links back to the main story mode, so progress in Libra of Souls can unlock new chapters in the main narrative. Beating enemies and winning battles also earns you XP, and we all know what XP makes, right? Yep, more levels! And as you level up, the health pool of your character can also increase, making you harder to defeat.
In addition, victory brings gold, which is used to travel to new destinations, or can be spent on new weapons or food items. This can be equipped at the start of a battle to give you a boost. The right choice of food can be the difference between life and death, literally, with items like Cider allowing you to gain 30% of your health back after a killing strike, allowing the tables to turn more than once. The upgrading of weapons has to be done fairly frequently, but you do always need to consider one thing – even if the weapon in question is much more powerful than the one you are currently rocking, is it worth trying to learn a new style in order to use it?
There is a surprising amount of depth to this mode as well, seeing you make headway into the storyline to explore surrounding areas and hire mercenaries. It is these guys who can be sent into battle instead of you, giving you a fighting chance in some of the harder later battles. Any damage your mercenary inflicts stay in place if they get defeated too and that in turn can make the fights easier. Add to this the wide variety of circumstances that you’ll find yourself in, ranging from beating multiple enemies with reduced health through to enemies who are healed each time they hit you, there is a lot to see and do, even if you just follow the story missions. Of course, doing this misses out on a lot of extra information, so it’s worth doing as many side missions as you can. Seeing the way that the story arcs through in both this mode and the regular story mode is very pleasing, with real thought going into the way the tale hangs together. That is highly unusual in a fighting game.
The visuals of SOULCALIBUR VI are very good indeed, with silky smooth animations and a great design to both the returning and new characters. Yoshimitsu looks as weird as ever, but no longer like some kind of space squid ninja mash up, Taki looks as *ahem* nubile as ever, and even my seven year old son, when watching me play, asked why Seong Mi-Na was not wearing any clothes on her midriff when she was fighting people with swords. If anyone out there has an answer that I can give to the young boy, please let me know!
The animation is worthy of special mention too, with each muscle in a fighter’s body bulging and swelling in response to the moves that you ask them to perform. The response to the controls is immediate and inspires confidence, and even if on the harder levels the AI seems to be almost psychic, blocking and countering every move you make, it feels like the game is perfectly balanced. The sound is exactly as you’d expect as well; all clashing swords and pained grunts and screams. There is even fighting talk as powerful attacks hit home and a nice touch sound wise comes from one of the surprise characters in the game, Geralt of Rivia, who is voiced by the original voice actor. Following his story through almost feels like an extension of a Witcher game, and the way he fights, even down to the signs that he uses, feels like it’s completely natural. He slots into the game so easily, it’s like he was designed to be played in a 3D fighting game…
The stages are the usual size for SoulCalibur, with ring outs always a danger, and this can be a good tactic against the tougher enemies, forcing them back and then hitting then with an attack to lift them off their feet.
Obviously, the big draw for any fighter is to be able to test the skills you have learnt against real people, not just the AI. Luckily, SOULCALIBUR VI comes with ranked and casual modes for fighting online, so if that’s your bag, Bandai Namco have got you covered. As I’m reviewing as an early adopter, the online scene isn’t exactly thriving at the moment, but I have had no trouble being able to get into ranked battles. It must be said that the Casual option seems to be a bit of a barren wasteland, either by creating my own lobby or searching for others, however, ranked battles are working well, allowing the net code to be tested.
Actually starting the match, and then getting connected to the opponent, does seem to take a while, but is probably no more than 90 seconds. The problem is, when you’re chomping at the bit to play, it feels longer! Once the connection is established, the game plays exactly as it does offline, with the same fluidity, the same speed and the same strategy needed, but with the difficulty turned up to 11 as human players can’t be cheesed like the AI sometimes can. It has to be said that a good job has been done with the code here, and there is no slowdown or input lag, even when playing against those on the other side of the world with less than stellar connections.
All in all then, and SOULCALIBUR VI does not disappoint. It’s loud, brash, violent and full of eye watering attacks and special effects. And yet this superficial appeal is eclipsed by the depth of the fighting system, the way the characters move, the way that there are mini systems at play in the counter attacks, and the way the whole story arc hangs together. With all the usual modes like Arcade and Versus available in addition to the two main story modes, and online working as well as it does, this game is the new benchmark for fighting games.
You owe it to yourself to play SOULCALIBUR VI if you have even the slightest interest in fighting games.