Welcome Back to the Stage of History
For over two decades, Bandai Namco’s SoulCalibur series has stood out as the weapons-based fighter to beat. With its fluid gameplay and colorful cast of characters, it’s a series I’ve always found myself gravitating towards time and time again. Now, following a painful six-year hiatus, the series is back with SoulCalibur VI.
While I enjoyed SoulCalibur V when it released back in 2012, it wasn’t quite the sequel I was hoping for. Mechanically it was perfectly sound. The problem was its lack of modes and somewhat lackluster character roster was a bit of a disappointment for me. Thankfully, developer Project Soul seems to have learned from their mistakes this time around. SoulCalibur VI is simply overflowing with content. The game adds two massive single-player modes to conquer, new gameplay mechanics to master, and a roster of 20 characters — including the brilliant addition of Witcher protagonist Geralt of Rivia — to create the definitive SoulCalibur experience that no fan of the series should miss.
The Soul Still Burns
The star of the show when it comes to SoulCalibur VI’s single-player content is the Libra of Soul mode. Essentially the spiritual successor to the Chronicle of the Sword mode that was introduced in SoulCalibur III, this game type allows you to create your own custom character from one of 16 races and embark on a grand adventure around the world. As you progress along the map, you’ll be able to undertake story quests that move the narrative forward. Or, if you’d rather stop and smell the roses, you can also participate in tons of side quests. These optional missions allow you to uncover new weapons and gear, as well as level up your character to assist in more challenging melees.
Libra of Soul is insanely addicting and packs a surprising amount of depth. As you venture to various locations, you can spend gold to embark on expeditions. These trips off the beaten path allow you to access new battles and find hidden loot. However, you’ll need some pretty deep pockets to participate in these missions. The further out you venture, the more gold you’ll spend funding the voyage. Additionally, more challenging battles may require you to hire mercenaries, which essentially function as extra lives. That said, you’ll need to keep an eye on your finances and strike a balance between expeditions and outfitting your party with the best weapons and items found in the various shops you’ll visit on your quest for the Soul Edge.
Further adding to the mode’s depth is a morality system. At certain points of the story, you’ll need to make hard choices which will tip the scales to either good or evil. These decisions affect the overall story, as well as the quests you’ll be able to undertake over the course of the campaign. It’s not the deepest system out there, mind you. Still, when taken together with the rest of the content offered in the Libra of Soul, it’s hard not to be impressed.
Honestly, this could have been the entirety of SoulCalibur VI’s single-player package and I would have been happy. However, Bandai Namco has further fleshed things out with the Soul Chronicle mode. This story takes place from the years 1583 to 1590 and follows the origins of the game’s cursed sword, Soul Edge. The story in Soul Chronicle mode is told through the main 20-chapter timeline that’s brought to life with visual novel style cutscenes, lush hand-drawn illustrations, and cinematics using in-game assets. It’s a gripping and well-written tale. And, once completed, you can proceed to complete shorter, five to seven chapter vignettes for each of SoulCalibur VI’s 20 playable characters.
Seriously. The amount of content on display is absolutely insane, especially when compared to the anemic selection of modes featured in the previous game. Add to this an admittedly no-frills arcade mode (what kind of arcade mode doesn’t feature boss battles?) and the ever-essential training mode and you have more than enough single-player content to keep you busy for weeks on end.
Simply put, this is the most exciting and substantial single-player offering the SoulCalibur series has seen to date. The Libra of Soul mode is so impressive that I’ll be genuinely crushed if we don’t see it featured in future games in the series. It’s just that good.
A Tale of Souls and Swords
When it comes to the moment-to-moment gameplay, SoulCalibur VI’s combat feels better than ever. The controls are just as tight and responsive as fans of the series have come to expect. And the clashing of steel still delivers that satisfying sense of heft that makes every hit so thoroughly rewarding. Whether you’re sending your opponent off the edge of the arena like the Great Bambino with Astaroth or turning your foe to a pincushion with rapid rapier thrusts from Raphael, SoulCalibur’s deadly duels have never felt so perfect.
In addition to returning mechanics like Guard Impacts and the ever-flashy Critical Edge supers that were first introduced in the previous game, SoulCalibur VI also adds a few interesting new tweaks to the formula to keep things exciting. Perhaps the most significant addition is the Reversal Edge system. Executing a Reversal Edge will initiate an automatic parry that transitions to a slow-motion rock-paper-scissors style mini-game similar to Injustice’s Wager system. Successfully countering your opponent’s input can result in a free hit that can open up your adversary for additional punishment. On the other hand, whiffing it can leave you at a huge disadvantage.
It may seem a bit cheap, but timing a Reversal Edge can be pretty tricky. When used successfully, Reversal Edge can work wonders at getting the upper hand on an aggressive opponent. It’s hardly a win button, though. Overall, I think it makes for an interesting risk/reward system. It spices up the formula just enough by making things a bit less predictable, but not so much that skilled players are at a real disadvantage when battling newcomers.
Another new feature introduced in SoulCalibur VI are Lethal Hits. Aimed at skilled players, these flashy attacks are character specific and are triggered by different conditions such as punishing a player who’s ducking or completely whiffs an attack. And, once a Lethal Hit connects, it not only opens up your opponent to multiple follow-up hits – it also shatters a piece of your opponent’s armor to go along with their pummeled pride.
These new elements, combined with returning mechanics like Soul Charges, Critical Edges, and Guard Impacts, add plenty of meat to SoulCalibur VI’s bones. The end result is a finely-tuned fighting system that feels great while offering lots of room for experimentation.
SoulCalibur VI marks the franchise’s first appearance on the current crop of consoles. And thanks to the power of Unreal Engine 4, it’s no surprise that it’s the best looking game by a pretty wide margin. The character models are absolutely astounding and feature a staggering amount of detail, both in terms of design and their impressive animations. Little things, like the way the fierce valkyrie Sophitia’s skirt blows in the wind to the shifting of the intricate plates that make up Mitsurugi’s armor, all look astonishingly lifelike (save for those damned lizardman tails. They still flap around all willy-nilly like they did in the original game). Add to this some super flashy effects for Reversal and Critical Edge attacks and you have a recipe for one jaw-dropping experience.
Without a doubt, the character models are the main course here. But these detailed pugilists aren’t the only thing on the menu. The intricate and varied stages and superb hand-drawn art that brings the visual novel scenes to life blend together to provide a welcome garnish for this visual feast.
There’s also a ton of variety in accessories, gear, and facial expressions that are used to customize the game’s staggering 16 different races. With so many choices at your fingertips, it’s pretty easy to make the most ridiculously badass (or badassedly ridiculous, if you’re like me) warrior you can imagine using SoulCalibur VI’s superb character creation toolset.
The Legend Will Never Die
Of course, you can’t have a fighting game these days without online support. That said, SoulCalibur VI is no exception to this rule. The game offers support for both Casual and Ranked matches across the PlayStation Network. Sadly, I was unable to dig my teeth into the online component during my review period as the pre-release servers are completely barren. However, we’ll be sure to add our impressions once we’ve had the chance to put it through the paces.
As a fan of the franchise since its inception — hell, I’ve got a Soul Edge arcade machine sitting in the corner of the room as I write this— I couldn’t be happier with what Bandai Namco has managed to do with SoulCalibur VI. Its weapons-based brawls are flashier and more gratifying than ever and are sure to please series stalwarts. As for the new features like the Reversal Edge and Lethal Hit systems, they do a good job of catering to both series newcomers and veterans alike and deliver a shot in the arm to the series’ already rock solid foundation. That said, if you’re a fan of the series, consider SoulCalibur VI a must-buy. And if you’ve yet to discover what SoulCalibur is all about, there’s never been a better time to step onto the stage of history.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment America ; Developer: Bandai Namco ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: October 19th, 2018 ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of SoulCalibur VI given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.