SoulCalibur had a lot going for it when it was among the few games that comprised the Dreamcast initial catalogue of games. It helped that it was one of the best fighting games of that generation, but it also offered plenty of quality content that kept many a Sega fan busy while other titles became available. We all know where that console eventually ended up, and since then, the series has struggled to keep fans interested, often relying on tie-ins to other franchises as its main hook, with varying amounts of success. It looked unlikely that the series would get a new entry anytime soon, but Namco Bandai played their chips well, and SoulCalibur VI is the revival that the franchise needed, thanks to the way that it dips back on its well, mainly the mechanics that made the first game so fun back in the day.
But let’s kid ourselves here: SoulCalibur VI still relies on the same tie-in shenanigan as all previous entries since the first game in SoulCalibur as a proper series (Soul Blade was actually the very first entry, mind). This time, Geralt of Rivia of The Witcher fame is the guest character, and considering my experience with SoulCalibur after the Dreamcast one, that is only the second one and not much else, he’s a much better fit within the cast overall than anyone else has ever been over the years, be it Spawn, Link, Heihachi, Ezio Auditore, and obviously Darth Vader and Yoda. His powers and abilities translate incredibly well to fighting game form, and what’s most importantly, he’s extremely fun to use. While I’m yet to reach any level of competency with him, or any other character in the game, it’s a whole other matter, but man, I’ve been having a blast trying to learn him.
As for the rest of the group, SoulCalibur VI manages to have a pretty robust selection, even if it’s not as hefty in terms of numbers as other fighting games. Every single character has their own different weapon and fighting style (with one exception being Nightmare and Siegfreid, who both wield a zweihander, being that they’re the same character transformed), which comes as a welcome differential, allowing players to find the one style that better suits the way they play. I certainly liked the two characters that are new in SC VI, Azwel and Grøh. Azwel’s unique weapon’s been a ton of fun to learn — I’ll touch on that more later, when I talk about custom characters. As expected, newcomers will feel skillful by picking Maxi and his nunchaku, or Kilik and his bo, and true enough, moves come off flashy and very powerful without the use of a lot of inputs, but there’s also a lot of depth that comes when both sides in the struggle discover the block button.
Blocking comes as one paramount skill to learn in SoulCalibur, as with any fighting game worth its salt, and once it gets added to the equation, it turns into an entirely different affair, allowing for other aspects to jump in and make their presences felt, like movement, which happens to be in 360 degrees within an arena here, and more advanced techniques that are both coming back in this entry or are completely new. The latter comes in the form of Reversal Edge, a comeback maneuver that can be activated by using a direct input, or that comes in sequence with a specific character combo. It acts similarly to Injustice’s bout, a rock-paper-scissors elaborate animation that can deal a decent amount of damage if it lands. I personally find it to be a little on the cheap side, due to how easily it can be used during fights, but the most annoying aspect is that it’s also imbued within attack strings for certain characters like Mitsurugi. It kind of takes away a bit of the skill factor in performing combos and attacks well in favor of introducing a crutch to rely on, and unlike other attacks like say Mortal Kombat’s fatalities, the Reversal Edge simply isn’t optional depending on who you choose to play with, which is disappointing. It feels like a flashy, slow, and wholly unnecessary feature.
On the other side of the fence, I just love the absurdity that comes with this game’s character creation suite. While nothing new to the franchise (it’s been part of it since SoulCalibur III), creating a fighter of your own and throw down with them online still makes for some of the best moments in this game. The amount of options to choose from is just staggering, and there’s already been quite a number of ridiculous creations all around the web the couple of weeks following SoulCalibur VI’s release. The best part of creating your own brawler, aside from having say, Shrek armed with a hammer and having a squeaky voice, is that you can now use him to play through mission mode, dubbed Libra of Soul, an overly dramatic and stuffed version of one of the original SoulCalibur’s best modes, a list of levels comprising a journey all across the world in which you take part in fights with a host of different effects at play, even allowing you to use consumables, hire mercenaries and such. While I would rather have had a more direct game mode that didn’t deal with as much story fluff as Libra of Soul does — a lot, way too much of it — it’s enjoyable enough to make me overlook some of its cringe-inducing moments.
Alongside Libra of Soul, the Soul Chronicle is the de-facto story mode that can be played in order and that introduces the game’s new backstory that hopes to explain all the insanity that follows the over two decades of clashes and the seven games that have followed. I can’t for the life of me say that any of it makes a whole lot of sense story-wise, but it’s a fun excuse to jump in and have fights between some of the series’ most iconic characters outside of merely picking arcade mode from the menu — you can still do that! — and it allows you to pick all of the roster and play the scenario in order following a timeline, even including Geralt. This might sound absolutely bonkers, but his excuse for being in the game comes off as more credible as some of the cast’s, and I just love that this is the case here. SoulCalibur’s never been about making sense, and it’s obviously not to be taken seriously here at all.
While I could’ve done with less cringey character designs for most of the female fighters in the game, like Taki and Ivy’s, who seem to grow in undergarment sizes with each new entry in the series, there’s much to laud Bandai Namco for the sheer number of options that they give in the way of allowing people to visually customize the established cast. It’s also cool to see the battle damage that takes place from round to round, even if, yes, female characters tend to end up in even more skimpy suits the more they lose. But there’s something that can be taken away from this entire debacle, and it’s not just a strap of two off of Taki’s absurdly skin tight ninja outfit — you can totally make your own character that fights like her, but looks just like you want it to. It’s by no way an excuse for the developers to include such deliberate male fan service material, but it helps in the way of allowing those who are not comfortable playing those characters make use of their skills in other ways, and that’s certainly a step in the right direction, even if it does not help shine the game in as good of a light that I would’ve hoped.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that like Tekken 7, SoulCalibur VI is powered by Unreal Engine 4, which helps give the game a real sharp presentation. Weapon impact looks fantastic, and outside of a few throwaway choices when it comes to graphical effects when it comes to blurring and some environment effects tricking me into thinking an arena was bigger than it actually ways, resulting in a comical ring-out loss on my part, SoulCalibur VI is quite a looker. I can’t say the same for some of the menu and dialog box character portrait that come into play during both of the story modes, they sport some of the weaker art in the game, with incredibly mixed quality 2D drawings, but those are few and far between and in no way come in the way of enjoying the game. They’re just darn ugly at times.
All in all, SoulCalbur VI is an excellent pickup, especially so for anyone like me, who’s fallen off from the series at a point. There’s absolutely no prior knowledge requirement in order to enjoy it, and thanks to some great pick-up-and-play characters, there’s a fighter for just about any type of player. I’m bound to spend even more trying to find my own this time around, too. I know it’s easy to make promises when you’re just coming out of a particularly enjoyable spot with an online fighting game like this one, but if all goes well, I might just be around with SoulCalibur VI for quite a while.