Let me start this review by saying that I’m not a huge fighting game nut. The last fighting game that I truly got into was the original Soul Calibur on the Sega Dreamcast, and I still play it to this day. Before that, I was big into the Tekken titles for PS1 as well as my all-time favorite fighting game, Bloody Roar. That said, I was still looking forward to spending some serious time with the brand new title in the series. If you’re reading this review to get some confirmation on whether or not SC4 is worth a purchase, let me save you the five minutes you’ll spend reading the rest and just send you out the door to your local retail outlet. It’s that good.
Having played all the Soul Calibur titles, as well as its predecessor Soul Edge, but only truly enjoying SC1, I was more than a little skeptical as to whether or not I’d be able to lose myself in the fourth. The videos and teasers that have led up to its release have done a pretty good job of getting me amped to try it out, but that doubt still lingered. That is, until I started my first match. I jumped into Arcade mode and let the game pick my character for me. It chose Yoda, apparently to show off the guest characters first, but I was fine with that as I’m also a huge Star Wars nerd anyway.
The gameplay is very, very reminiscent of each of the SC titles that have come before it, with one exception: this game is the most polished example of a fighting engine that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The animations are buttery smooth and the motion-capture work that is done for each character is truly mind blowing. It makes it so easy to ignore position counting and just concentrate on besting your opponent in the quickest way possible. Each move melds seamlessly with the one before it which makes each fight just as much fun to watch as it is to play.
The difficulty in Normal and Hard mode ramps up evenly and gives you a good sense of how talented you need to be before besting each mode. The core characters (read: NOT Yoda or Apprentice) are very well balanced and only very rarely does a fight become frustratingly one-sided. I exclude the guest characters from that statement because while playing AS Yoda or Apprentice is extremely enjoyable, they are both extremely difficult to beat while playing against. Yoda, in particular, is clearly just there for laughs. He’s a blast to maneuver and has some of the coolest animations in the entire game. However, when you’re up against the pint-sized Jedi master, things are not so enjoyable. For starters, he cannot be grabbed in any way so any special moves in your arsenal are moot by default. He’s so short that all high and most medium attacks are, again, completely useless. You’ll end up resorting to spamming a couple of low and sweeping moves to defeat him, and even then it’s rather difficult as he has none of the limitations you do. This however, is an extremely small gripe and as many times as I died at the hands of the little green runt, I just couldn’t find it in myself to be mad, it just made the nuances of his character even more endearing.
Other new characters that are making their debut are Algol and Hilde. Hilde is very unique to the series as she has both a long staff and a very short sword at her disposal. This makes controlling her both confusing at first as well as extremely rewarding once you really get a handle on her. Algol is used mainly as a boss character and if you’re planning on delving into each character’s story mode, you’ll meet him plenty. For any of the non-guest characters, he can be quite a challenge as many of his moves are extremely hard to defend against. He has many follow-up attacks that manage to hit you just as you’re recovering from his previous blow, which can be mildly frustrating at times. However, this really only serves to make you feel even more accomplished when you finally best him with a particularly flashy finisher. Yoda, in particular, seems to really have his number though, as I was able to dispatch him numerous times with very little effort.
Aside from the previously mentioned Story and Arcade modes, you will also get to enjoy the Tower of Lost Souls, which works much like a streamlined Story mode. You’re thrown into the fray with multiple enemies showing up one after the other and once you start getting to the 10th or 15th level of the tower, you’re going to want to make sure you have some bandages ready because your thumbs may not survive till morning.
As if this all wasn’t enough, the game also features an extremely robust character creation mode that dwarfs the similar mode in SC3. You can choose to either edit the current fighters or create a character from scratch. There is a seriously endless amount of combinations and costumes that are at your disposal and you gain more and more costume options by spending more time in the story and tower modes.
One aspect of fighting games that never really seems like it would matter is the online mode. Fighting over an internet connection will give any gamer a knot in their stomach. The prospect of relying on your internet connection to accurately represent your totally accurate timing (yeah right) is always a reason to worry, especially when you’re risking your gamertag’s clout on it. SC4, however, manages to make online fighting a streamlined and enjoyable process. The fighting is smooth with lag being nearly non-existent. The one single problem that arose was during one match when the screen locked up and it told me the connection was lost, booting me back out to the match screen. This could have been a server glitch, a problem with my connection, or even my opponent’s abortion of the match as I’m sure my Captain Planet custom character is rather intimidating. Either way, with such minimal problems, it’s hard to pin it on programing, and as such I will not hold it against the game.
If I were to sum this game up with a one-line review, it would go something like this: Soul Calibur 4 is the best fighting game in years and it will single-handedly make you mad at every other serious fighting franchise for that fact alone.
- Graphics will make you cry
- Challenging without being discouraging
- Online is surprisingly solid
- Doesn’t come in a gold-plated box
- The people playing online are probably WAY better than you… seriously