Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Project Soul, Dimps
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Review by Jay Borenstein
Soulcalibur is a tale of souls and swords eternally retold, a fighting game with weapons and diverse, charismatic fighters. The sixth entry in the Soulcalibur series was announced shortly after the series’ 20th anniversary, and comes 6 years after Soulcalibur V. Was it worth the wait?
While I’m not a huge fan of the new reversal edge mechanic, overall Soulcalibur VI is a fun and immersive game with its signature 8-way combat, ring outs, over the top combat, and an impressive amount of single-player content.
More souls than you can shake a stick at
Soulcalibur has always been about destiny, souls, and how the fates of various warriors entwine with the demonic sword Soul Edge and the holy sword Soul Calibur. Soulcalibur VI takes place in a fantastical version of Asia, Europe, and Africa in the late 16th century, where the world is being corrupted by Soul Edge. The game has two single-player modes, allowing you to learn more about this story and hone your fighting skills in a safe environment.
Chronicle of Souls is a series of stories for each of the characters individually, as well as the main storyline primarily involving Kilik, Maxi, and Xianghua. Each of the stories is placed on a timeline so you can see how they all overlap, and you’ll unlock additional story notes along the timeline when you play the other story mode, Libra of Souls. The drawn character portraits and voice work in the between-fight cutscenes immerse you in the world of Soulcalibur and gives you context for what is otherwise a series of battles. In general, this mode is fairly easy, which gives you the opportunity to explore each of the characters’ fighting styles without too much of a struggle.
Libra of Soul is the meatier story mode in Soulcalibur VI where you create your own custom fighter and embark on a lengthy campaign at the centre of the turmoil surrounding Soul Edge. The custom character creator gives you the option to be several different races and creatures, and with a plethora of clothing and body customizations allowing you to make some pretty ridiculous fighters. Rather than be forced into choosing a fighting style based on the game’s primary characters, you will find various character weapons in this mode, the use of which makes you assume that fighter’s style.
Your character is a ‘conduit’ who is influenced by the power of Soul Edge and has the ability to close fissures related to the evil power. There are a few choices in the game that allow you to align towards Soul Edge or Soul Calibur, which will also influence what weapons you have an affinity with and the side missions available to you. The start of this mode also includes a series of mostly optional combat tutorials which is useful for beginners or veterans alike.
You’ll explore the map of the world, engaging in both story and side missions. The story is interesting, and told through talking heads and text, with some truly challenging battles that often involve the main Soulcalibur cast. When traversing around the world, you can easily go back to any point along the story route, and also engage in expeditions off the beaten path to get to side missions that pop up. Going on an expedition costs gold, and the cost increases based on distance and the terrain you’re traversing. Throughout the game, I never felt that running out of gold was an issue. Gold also allows you to buy food, weapons and weapon upgrades.
You’ll level up in this mode, and weapons and food offer you different bonuses to get through the battles, which are laden with all kinds of conditions including enemy buffs and terrain effects. When you run an expedition over long distances, you also have a chance to run into random encounters. If you lose those encounters, you fail the expedition but still pay the entire cost. What’s more, if you run into more than one random encounter on an expedition, your health will carry over, making lengthy expeditions more dangerous.
Many of these battles are challenging, requiring you to experiment with different weapons and food to succeed. It’s a fun adventure, all in all, I spent around 15 hours enjoying it.
Fight, fight, fight!
As for the combat itself, it’s mostly well thought-out and a treat to play with friends in local or online matches, with a few small issues.
Like previous Soulcalibur games, fights take place on a 3D plane, allowing you to maneuver around the arena and circle your opponent. Each fight is best 3 out of 6 rounds, and most of the arenas also have cliff or water edges, allowing you to knock your opponent out of the ring as an alternative to KOing them. Each of the game’s 20 core fighters is completely unique in the way they move and fight, including Geralt from The Witcher who is Soulcalibur VI‘s guest character.
While Soulcalibur VI doesn’t have alternate costumes for each fighter, you can use the character creator to either make a completely unique fighter or create a character using any of the core fighters as a starting point – both of which can be used for local matches and online.
One thing that has always been great about Soulcalibur is that, unlike fighters such as Street Fighter, the attacks don’t generally require insane button combos to pull off. This makes the game accessible to new players, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a learning curve as there are plenty of fighting mechanics to master.
The three primary attack buttons are horizontal attack, vertical attack, and kick – and can be used in combination with each other and different directional inputs to unleash different moves. Attacks can either be high or low, and when you block you need to anticipate what attacks are coming your way so you can stand or crouch accordingly – often in the middle of a combo. Skilled players can also block at the last moment to initiate a guard impact, knocking your opponent off guard so you can execute a counter-attack. Certain attacks which generally have a long wind-up are also unblockable.
All characters also have grabs and throws, that can be a great way to attack blocking opponents but can be countered through a quick response. Grabbing an opponent from different angles will result in different throws, some of which can be used to ring out opponents.
The action in the game can be a little chaotic from time to time as the battle effects can dominate the screen, making it hard to see or tell what’s going on. These effects are in place to help players know what kinds of attacks are being unleashed against them, but it can often be disorienting, as you can see below:
Each fighter also has a soul gauge that increases over the battle, and can hold two full charges. A full charge can either be expended to activate soul charge mode, powering up your attacks and unlocking new ones for the duration, or used to unleash your fighter’s critical edge super attack. A critical edge attack can be blocked, however.
Which brings me to the game’s unfortunate mechanic addition – reversal edge. By holding the reversal edge button, you can block a succession of incoming attacks both high or low, as long as your opponent is attacking your front. Releasing reversal edge will then hit your opponent (provided they’re not blocking or interrupt the attack), and start a mini-game. Opponents will back away from each other, and then each player inputs a command using one of the attack buttons or block and / or a direction. Basically, it’s a rock-paper-scissors mode where you have to try to predict what your opponent will input, and the attack executes automatically. If you input the same command (i.e. two people using high attacks), no damage will be inflicted and you get another input opportunity. This bizarre addition is unfortunate as it completely disrupts the flow of battle and adds an element of chance that doesn’t feel right in a fighting game. What’s more, successful reversal edge attacks add a huge boost to your soul gauge, incentivizing people to use these lame attacks.
With this exception, fights in Soulcalibur VI are fun and energetic, and playing with friends both locally and online is intense and will result in shouting and potential controller throwing.
Verdict: Play it!
If you’re into fighting games, but get frustrated with overly complicated moves and fighting mechanics, Soulcalibur VI is a good balance of accessibility and challenge. The game has a lot of charm, and a surprisingly well-developed single-player mode with plenty of content to keep you busy.
Soulcalibur VI is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.