SoulCalibur IV. It’s been out for quite a while now, so why am I writing a review for it now? The first reason is because not everyone has played the game, and second? SoulCalibur IV is just flat out awesome.
I don’t have much experience with the Soul series. The only prior games I played in the series were both in the arcade and they were the first game, Soul Edge, and SoulCalibur II. What do I remember from them? Well, I have a distinct memory of being weirded out by Voldo in Soul Edge, and I recall playing with Yoshimitsu in SoulCalibur II, but beyond that? I remember nothing else.
Before release, SoulCalibur IV wasn’t even really on my radar. So what drew me in and made me purchase the game immediately after the street release date? I hate to admit it, but Vader and Yoda sucked me in. I wasn’t even a Star Wars fan at the time, I was just lured in by the premise of two sci-fi characters being thrust into a fantasy fighting game. It seemed completely insane to me and, after hearing about the character creation system as well, I was sold. To this day, I’ve played SoulCalibur IV for about 90 hours and love it immensely. It’s only fair that I talk about a game that I hold in such high regard, so here we go.
When SoulCalibur IV was released in the summer of 2008, it had stunning visuals for a fighting game. I maintain my belief that it is still the best looking console fighting game available on the market, though that may change next month when Mortal Kombat hits store shelves. Character models look absolutely fantastic in SoulCalibur IV. Aside from having beautifully rendered faces, each character looks absolutely unique and all their own. Characters such as Siegfried will impress you for their incredibly detailed armor, while others such as Seong Mi-na will warm your heart with charming and realistic smiles. The stages are equally as detailed. The lighting is breathtaking in almost every arena and everything is modeled and textured brilliantly. My favourite stage is without a doubt the pirate ship stage that thrusts fighters onto the deck of a pirate vessel that has been snapped in two. The atmosphere is really wonderful, and it’s a joy to fight on that stage along with a few others. Unfortunately, there are one or two stages that lag behind the rest and aren’t particularly good.
SoulCalibur IV is also a huge treat for your ears. Every music track in the game is vibrant and full of energy, which assists the flow of combat brilliantly. Sound effects are also very pleasant to listen to, even though a lot of the sounds you’ll hear are typical clangs and smacking noises. The voices are worth mentioning, too. While the announcer for the fights may say some pretty unusual pre-fight lines (“Slashing through the shadows, she defeats the evils that lurk behind history!”), the actual characters on the roster all have pretty good actors behind them and they deliver great lines. Tira, voiced by the extremely talented Jennifer Hale, is an absolute treat to listen to as she shifts back and forth between her cheerful and dark personalities.
The actual gameplay is very solid and enjoyable for just about anyone. Each of the game’s characters comes with a weapon and that is what they fight with. Characters such as Nightmare or Siegfried will attack with giant two handed blades while smaller characters, like Talim, will assault you with small elbow blades. Each character feels one hundred percent unique and unlike anyone else on the roster, though I felt that there were a few similarities between Cassandra and Sophitia, but this is understandable considering they have similar fighting styles and are sisters.
There are only three actual attack buttons in SoulCalibur IV, which may make the game sound shallow, but this is far from the truth. The attack buttons are horizontal attack, vertical attack, and kick. The fourth button serves as a block, while your shoulder buttons are used for combining attacks together, executing throws, and performing critical finishes. The critical finish is a new mechanic in SoulCalibur IV that, when the opponent’s guard has been crushed, you can finish them off with a single attack. This may sound overpowered, but the requirements required for executing a critical finish are archaic at best and are seldom reached in most fights. Critical finishes are extreme rarities and, in my honest opinion, are utilized so infrequently that they may as well not even be in the game as they just feel like a useless feature that Namco tacked on to make the fighting system feel a little deeper.
And what of Darth Vader and Yoda? They’re both extremely cool to see in the game, though I find Yoda to be a bit of a pain to use since his movements are very awkward. Vader is a lot of fun however, so Star wars fans should have a blast using him. A third Star Wars character, The Apprentice, seems to be the most technical of the three and is possibly the hardest to master.
In terms of game modes, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the game. There’s your basic arcade and story mode, online versus, character creator, and Tower of Lost Souls. Arcade and story are pretty basic, with the former just being straight fights that are meant to simulate playing on an arcade machine, and story mode is just a few fights that tells you a barebones story (honestly, it’s even less than barebones) and awards you with ingame currency. The online versus is pretty decent, though I found that there were very few match options and the net code seemed inferior to pretty much every other fighter out there.
Tower of Lost Souls is a new mode introduced in SoulCalibur IV that pits players in a series of bizarre challenges that are often incredibly unfair if you are using stock characters. In the Tower of Lost Souls, each challenge pits the player against a series of AI characters who have, literally, unfair bonuses such as dealing ridiculous amounts. To defeat the enemies in these challenges players will have to unlock costume pieces to use in the character creator. Various costume pieces will give created characters all sorts of bonuses to their attacks or defenses. Setting up your character in the right way is essential in clearing the Tower of Lost Souls.
As for the character creator, it’s one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had the pleasure of using in a fighting game. The only one that was nearly as fun was the one in Mortal Kombat Armageddon. SoulCalibur IV’s character creator allows players to choose a character’s complete costume from head to toe while choosing any colour imaginable for each costume piece. Players can then choose their weapon style, voice, physique, and much more. There’s a lot to do in the character creator and, when everything has been unlocked in it, one can spend dozens of minutes coming up with a character.
SoulCalibur IV is without a doubt one of the best fighting games of this generation in terms of just being flat out fun. Any fan of the Soul series who hasn’t checked this game out should really do so, as should any fighting game fans in general who have avoided SoulCalibur IV all this time.