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Best of the Decade: Soulcalibur II

Soulcalibur II

Platforms: GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox

Release Date: August 27, 2003

Publisher: Namco

Developer: Namco

Every Soulcalibur game has meant a lot to me. Until recently, it was the only fighting game series I had ever gotten into. It was one of the titles I bought alongside my beloved Dreamcast on 9/9/99. I bought it on a whim because of a fantastic review score in Electronic Gaming Monthly. I had no idea whether I’d like it because I had never liked a fighting game before, but my gamble payed off and I’ve been playing it ever since. 

Just as I’ve never been a huge fighting game fan, I’ve never been much of a multiplayer gamer either, but the Soulcalibur series has long been the exception to both of these rules. Wrapped up in the many tales of souls and swords I’ve encountered over the years across four games now are countless battles, painful wins and losses both, and many hours of honing my skills, trying new characters, and improving my game. 

The most important aspect that these games have brought into my gaming life is the social element. Few of my friends are into fighting games and the genre usually isn’t worth the effort if you have no local competition to spar with. Here again Soulcalibur proved the exception. I’ve known many people that have enjoyed a quality bout of weapons-based combat and just about all of them have been well matched to my own skill. Winning a close match by that fraction of an inch against a good friend never fails to bring a smile to my face. 

Having always been more of a single player gamer, I can count the number of multiplayer games that have meant a lot to me on a hand or two. As this wonderful social aspect is rare for me, I will no doubt be honoring more of these special games before this list is through. But some of my favorite gaming memories, especially if we’re talking sepia-toned nostalgic memories and not more recent ones, have come from tense prolonged sessions of Soulcalibur.

There have been three Soulcalibur games released in this decade, and four if you count the PSP version. Choosing between them was somewhat difficult, but not as much as I thought it would be. I’ve loved many of the new characters introduced in more recent versions, the graphics are even more astounding, and the character creation system is a blast to play around with. But the simple fact is, when I’m forced to choose only one of them as the best, it has to be Soulcalibur II.

When I pick up a Soulcalibur game now it will be Soulcalibur IV for the character roster alone. But Soulcalibur II has been, unfortunately, the only game in the series so far to truly and definitively improve upon its predecessor in any meaningful way. The single player modes were still tolerable in this iteration, and even better than in the first game. The new characters introduced were a blast, Talim in particular quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Thanks to the brilliant inclusion of Link as the guest character in the GameCube version, I didn’t actually mind the inclusion of stupid guest characters in this iteration, unlike the Star Wars nonsense that clearly dominated most of their energy at the expense of actual new characters in the fourth outing. 

In other words, Soulcalibur II wasn’t a revolution, but it improved upon what was there without going too far. It was well balanced, feature-packed, and fun all around. Future games would mess with the speed, have major balancing issues, replace Weapon Master mode with cheap, frustrating alternatives, and have further issues besides. I’ve had fun with every Soulcalibur game to be sure, but if one is to be placed on a pedestal, it has to be number two.

For giving me countless cherished memories of shouting matches with friends during close fights, for introducing the character of Talim even though balance changes would later make her pretty much useless, and for simply improving on a good thing and making it legitimately better, Soulcalibur II is one of my Best of the Decade. 

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