The original Soul Calibur was a critical and commercial success when it first hit the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, as well as dominating what few arcades were left in an increasingly console-focused world. The 3D fighting game was one of the most popular titles on the Dreamcast system, and is one of the highest rated games of all time.
Now, almost a decade later, Soulcalibur IV has not only eliminated the space between the soul and the calibur (thus creating an even weirder fake word, as “calibur” itself wasn’t enough), but has evolved for the new generation of game consoles and been released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
While the game is still the same great fighting experience that fans know and love, but adds a number of additions that improve the experience. The most notable of these is online play, which is usually smooth and painless. It works about as well as can be expected for a game that is so dependent on carefully timed button presses, and should be an extremely welcome addition for fighting game fans.
For the most part, the game’s cast includes few surprises for people who have played the previous games in the series. Notable combatants like Ivy, Sophitia, Astaroth, and Mitsurugi all make their return in a character list that exceeds thirty fighters. On top of this, players are given a wealth of options for creating their own custom characters to use in battle. Whether you want to do your best to make versions of the Hulk or Ronald McDonald to do battle with or create a strong, custom warrior straight from your imagination, you have a lot of choices.
However, there are a few character additions that are rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. In the midst of this fantasy world of souls and swords, three Star Wars characters have clumsily found their way into the battle. Yoda appears in the Xbox 360 version of the game, Darth Vader appears in the PlayStation 3 version, and Darth Vader’s “secret apprentice” (from the upcoming LucasArts game, “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed”) appears in both versions.
While these characters play well enough and can be fun to use, their appearance in this world is shaky at best. The stories of some of these common characters make little enough sense without throwing in weird sci-fi elements from another property. That said, while their inclusion in the game can be distracting, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the overall experience, and can actually be a fun thing to mess around with.
Graphically, Soulcalibur IV looks fantastic, sporting high quality environments and character models. The sound, on the other hand, isn’t always a strong suit. The music, while often competent, doesn’t always feel like it fits, and the voice acting of the various characters can sometimes be downright bad.
Unlike certain other fighting games, the gameplay in Soulcalibur IV isn’t extremely difficult to pick up, and people new to the series can grab a controller and still have fun with it. However, when players want to take their game several steps forward (perhaps to play online), there’s a great amount of depth to the fighting system that can lead to some very intense matches.
All told, I find it easy to recommend Soulcalibur IV to fans of the series as well as fighting games in general. It’s not without its flaws and oddities, but it can be a great deal of fun both by yourself and with a friend.