Guest characters are pretty common in fighting games nowadays. But back in the early 2000s when SoulCalibur 2 launched, the presence of characters from other franchises drove gamers wild. This was especially true for the Gamecube version, which featured Nintendo’s most legendary hero, Link. That was what got me to try the series back then, and I’ve continued playing it ever since. But it’s been six long years since we last visited the tale of souls and swords, so I was as eager as anyone to pick up SoulCalibur VI. Let’s take a look at the newest incarnation of this eternally retold tale.
To begin with, I will again remind you that I’m a casual fighting game player, so my perspective will be a bit different from a hardcore player. With that in mind, Soulcalibur VI keeps the same basic play style as the rest of the series, focusing on three main attack buttons and featuring the usual assortment of special moves. It does feel like there have been some changes made to make basic combos easier to use, and I’ve found the timing-based Guard Impact parry move to be easier too.
The biggest new mechanic is the Reversal Edge. It’s basically this game’s take on the Focus Attacks in Street Fighter IV, with a dash of rock-paper-scissors thrown in. Whether you use it to absorb and then counter attacks or just attack with it outright, you have to then choose the right attack type as the two characters clash. It adds some variety to the combat and provides a way to counter attacks without split-second timing, which means it helps keep the battles interesting. I was also happy to see the return of the Soul Charge mechanic, which now acts as a different sort of power-up for each character, as an alternative option to the game’s returning special attacks.
Despite what its name may suggest, SoulCalibur VI is actually a reboot of sorts, retelling the events of the first SoulCalibur. That means the roster features almost all of the characters from that game in their more classic fighting styles and appearances. Sadly missing from the classic roster are Hwang, Rock, and Lizardman. The character selection is bolstered by a selection of characters from Soulcalibur 2 and 3, and a grand total of three new characters. Yes, I said three.
Since this is Soulcalibur, one of them must be a guest character, and this time we get Geralt from The Witcher. I can’t speak to the accuracy of his representation, but he plays well and makes a fitting addition to the roster. The new original characters are both a lot of fun too, but this list of characters feels anemic. 21 may sound like a lot, but compared to 28 in Soulcalibur V and over thirty at launch in Tekken 7, I expected a bit more. And while normally I give developers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to legitimate reasons for DLC to be available at launch, given this relatively small roster, I question why we need to pay extra to unlock Tira.
The good news is, the Soulcalibur series is well known for letting players make their own characters. And while the game’s story has gone back to basics, this feature fortunately returns. In some ways they’ve really expanded the flexibility of the character creation tool; it allows a choice of several character races, including elves, demons, angels, and orcs (albeit under the game’s own names). Some of these really just use creation items that already existed in the last game, but now things like wings and tails act more like body parts and less like costumes.
That said, it still feels like the options are limited. There are improvements, don’t get me wrong; but the costume parts available are mostly a mix of things from the last game and the costumes of the existing characters. And while the new face options are nice, I wish I could edit facial hair separately. It may or may not make you feel better to know that two large sets of new custom character options are part of the season pass.
Finally, I’m happy to report that SoulCalibur VI does include a full variety of modes at launch, something that sadly can’t be assumed these days. There are two separate story modes, one telling the main plot and one focused on a custom character. Arcade Mode, Practice Mode, and the full host of multiplayer modes are all present as well. The custom character story mode, called “Libra of Souls,” is a standout for adding a bit of roleplaying to a fighting game, much like similar modes in past SoulCalibur games.
Like a lot of fighting games this generation, SoulCalibur VI gets into trouble with limited content and day one DLC. But to its credit, the game offers a lot of options for how to play, and introduces some helpful new mechanics. I admit I expected a lot more from the character creation, but at the same time, I’m glad it wasn’t dropped altogether.
All told, it feels like more SoulCalibur, and that’s definitely a good thing. They could have done more to make the game stand out, and I do hope to see more than two characters eventually released as DLC. But it’s a solid fighting game with character creation, and the updated mechanics work well. It’s good to have this series back.