After Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition Turbo, my love for the fighting genre greatly diminished. The market became flooded with clones and fighting titles which left me as a gamer totally disappointed with manufacturers that simply tried to capitalize on Capcoms' fortune. Immediately after SF2CE, we were brought Mortal Kombat.Those of us who remember this game's entry to the arcade market, recall how innovative the digitization of characters, and addition of gore seemed. The fact is, however, that hard-core fight fans grew tired of its aesthetic appeal rather quickly and opted instead to throw their quarters into the new SF2CE turbo edition.
Nintendo/Rare-wanting to try something new-spawned Killer Instinct. But in my opinion, it failed to capture the true "art" of a fighting game by replacing the strategy of "realtime" combat with that of button combos. So rather than the complex (at the time) joystick movements of SF2CE, the way to win was by memorizing button sequences and rhythms. Not long after that, Namco and Sega entered the genre on a grand scale. Sega's Virtua fighting drew crowds that were disappointed with button combo machines. Meanwhile, Namco took button combos to a new height with Tekken. The gamer was no longer concerned with a major "realtime" strategy, but rather a combination of button presses which left the gamer, upon finishing his commands, simply to witness the results of his button entry. This was a very different style than Capcoms SF, and Segas' Virtua Fighter (which required the participant to enter all of his moves "realtime" leaving virtually no time to admire the results of a successful combo entry. Rather, combos in these games are performed "real time" ).
Knowing all of the above, be fully prepared to see a fight style very similar to Tekken 2 and 3 and not that of the SF and VF series. With that said, I can begin to give you an understanding on the mechanics of this game.
The gameplay is very similar to that of the previous Namco fighters. Although this is certainly the case, much of what you've seen in a Namco fighter has been improved. One prize I noticed right away is the EXTREMELY fast load. Expect your fighters to load up and be ready to fight inside of three seconds! Also, another huge advancement over previous titles is the ability to smoothly dance, circle, and roll around the stage. No longer is it a "pseudo" 3D fighter. In Namco's Soul Caliber, the three dimensional environment is used to its fullest potential. Anyone who remembers rolling in circles to avoid a strike in Tekken2 will appreciate the ease of movement brought to us via Soul Caliber. What I really like about the gameplay is the fact that Namco (seeing the obvious button mashing potential this title could possess) opted NOT to include 1001 hit combos. In Namco's newest fighter, it seems that they have maintained the "art" of a true fighting game. Don't get me wrong--you can still button mash your way to victory, but no longer will a memorized 13 button sequence bring you a sure victory. Now combos take the form of 2-3 hits, then leave it to the USER to enter in the next sequence. In other words, what you have here is a fuse of the button masher AND the realtime strategists. The result is a great fighting title that has a huge learning curve (That's right--in your first few battles expect to get beaten by the nine year old terror down the street. However with a little practice, you'll be juggling the little guy to a "ring out" on a consistent basis). Keep in mind, however, that this is an "attack" oriented game. Those of us street fighters who would defend until the opportunity for a strike arose will have a little difficulty getting used to the all out aggression which is so often rewarded in this game. You will have to defend in this game, but expect it to come in the form of movement rather than solely blocking. To sum it all up, this style of gameplay should be a refreshing addition to both SF, VF, and Tekken fans. With its VAST variety of moves, (it seems that there's a different move for every possible joystick and button combination). This game has more moves than any past fighter bar-none. A quick example is using a simple downward press of your analog and a press of one button leading to Four different moves! First, if you stand still and hit the button. Second, if you crouch and press it. The third move which is triggered by pressing the button just as you begin to crouch. The fourth is triggered by pressing the button just as you stand up from your crouch. Add up the possible positions and combinations of your gamepad, then realize that there's a few moves for every last one of 'em!
At first glance, the graphics on this game look stunning. In my opinion, BETTER graphics than the coin-op. Try hooking this game into your 21" SVGA monitor and miracles will happen. If you own one, you have to try this at least once. I know playing on your PC monitor isn't so appealing, but doing this once will simply give you a look at the future of gaming on digital television. All I can say is WOW!
However, most of us will enjoy this game on a television, and viewing Soul Caliber on a TV is certainly not an eyesore. No detail is spared, and the movements are TOP notch. The fluidity of the characters is like nothing I have ever seen outside of CGI computer graphics. At first glimpse you'll notice the motion capture, and its apparent perfection. Then when viewing the exhibitions (a feature released after the game has been played), you wonder just how the animators took such a contorted movement, and made it seem so real! I know they didn't have models perform the Voldo "roll!" Kudos to the folks at Namco for their ability to bring this kind of detailed fluidity to a video game.
The sound and music in this game almost reaches the same high level as its graphics. The blistering tune "Across Stormy Seas," amongst others, give the game a very powerful feel. The voices are very well done, however, they speak in Japanese (makes me wish I knew the language). But don't worry, the voice of the Announcer IS in English; and the characters which speak Japanese, thankfully, have English subtitles. In actuality the voices (barring the "in fight" grunts and screams) are only heard at the conclusion of your battle and are meaningless to the actual play of the game. My only qualm about the music is that it seems to be generated from a limited number of sounds (i.e. The use of a particular sound may be overused), thus creating a lack of different "moods" to be set during gameplay. Perhaps I am being too critical here, for its music is superior to that of most games. Although I firmly believe that music should be held to a higher standard in video gaming.
The menu options are incredible. At the start of the game they are somewhat limited, but as you fight on, more and more modes of play become available. Anyone who has ever played a fighting game knows that this is a genre meant for two players. Obviously, Namco wanted to break the mold when they released Soul Blade, and now in Soul Caliber they took it even farther. The one player option allows for Team battle, Survival Mode, Time Attack, and Mission mode (almost identical to Soul Blade but with a bit more to it). I trust that you'll find the one player to be by far the most fun you've ever had in a fighting game vs. the CPU due to sheer variety. Add to that the few extra "bones" you're thrown (See the Soul Caliber Walkthrough I wrote in the walkthrough section later this month) upon completing missions and earning points to buy cards, and you have a great replay value. It's a safe bet that you can enjoy Soul Caliber for a good 30 hours of gameplay vs. the CPU. Compare that to the three hours you'd spend on past fighters before you NEEDED someone else to play in order to make it worthwhile. Also, you may find it enjoyable to simply view your favorite character profiles or exhibitions (similar to watching a TV martial arts/gymnastics exhibition on TV). These modes are brought out by buying cards and in themselves can provide you with some entertainment. The more you get into this game, the more it sucks you in!
In the mission mode you earn points for performing certain missions. The more points you earn, the more cards you can buy. These cards (roughly every eighth card) contains a secret (i.e. new outfit, new stage, new mission, new exhibition, new set of cards to choose from). The missions in this game bring in elements long past due to the traditional fighting game. These elements come to you in the following ways:
The above is just a small example of what is asked of you in the mission mode. My question is WHY NOT HAVE THESE OPTIONS IN A TWO PLAYER MODE? To this I cannot fathom an answer. However ,I'm sure that my prayers will be answered in due time. It's simply too irresistible, and I feel that the next Namco fighter will address this. This is one of the major factors which went into me NOT giving this game a 99 or a 100. Yes, deal with it Namco. The better your games get, the more we want! The following is my condensed review:
What kept this from a 99 or 100? Well, the backgrounds appear far off in the distance and, well...that's all I can think of! Simply put, this game is graphically superior to any that I have played on a home-based system. Hook it up to your SVGA monitor and this categories rating jumps up to a 98.
They seemed to do just about everything right. My only complaint here is the lack of "moods" created via the use of different computerized instruments. Even though this is true, the music in the game is incredible.
Sometimes you may have trouble with the button combos and "quick" runs using the analog stick. Get your hands on the arcade stick and this game is virtually a 99 in this category.
Keep in mind I rated this as a one player game. Throw in a consistent human opponent and lastability increases to a 95.
My Score for Soul Caliber : 94
Even if you're not a fighting game genre fan, Soul Caliber is a sure-shot satisfier (yea I know thats not a word, but shouldnt it be?). As of right now (Sept. 99'), it IS the best title available for DREAMCAST. Make it part of your Dreamcast library...you will surely not regret it.
Review By: Jonathan Licata