Entries in soul calibur (5)


Better late than never review: SoulCalibur V

The once venerable SoulCalibur series has lost its way. The series that swept into prominance on Sega’s ill-fated white box, gloriously representing the downfall of arcades with its stunning presentation and packed feature set, has struggled to find its way in the modern era. After a sophomore success that many fans still see as its pinnacle, Namco produced two sequels that each failed to live up to their predecessors in their own unique way.

SoulCalibur V is evidence of a series continuing to struggle with a serious identity crisis, the roots of which were planted as far back as the beloved SoulCalibur II. The zenith of SoulCalibur’s popularity also saw the introduction of guest characters that, while seemingly innocuous at the time, signaled a marketing-driven tone that hinted at the difficulty Namco would face balancing its desire to sell more copies with the necessity of keeping the game relevant among the passionate niche of fighting game players that make up the tournament community. The clash between the hardcore zealots and the casual button mashers has long been at the core of the series’ problems. 

SoulCalibur V wrestles these inner demons better than either of its two troubled predecessors. The obligatory guest character, Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore, fits SoulCalibur’s aesthetic and tone better than Namco’s own two bizarre newcomers, magic orb wielding Viola and pseudo werewolf Zwei. The gameplay is solid, with a well-balanced cast fighting with renewed enthusiasm thanks to the speed boost the combat has received. Solid ideas have been borrowed from other modern fighting games in the form of super moves and meter management. These won’t win points for originality, but they do more to change up the strategies and tactics of fights than anything in the series’ history since Soul Edge became SoulCalibur. SoulCalibur V feels fresh again.

But trouble lurks in the periphery.

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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. 

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Best of 2009 - Street Fighter IV

Some games have gotten recognition from me on this rather insignificant list because of how individually spectacular they are. There was something amazing or addictive or original about many of the games discussed so far that put them on a level above other products released this year.

Street Fighter IV gets the nod for another reason. Sure it’s a terrifically crafted, well-polished game, but the real reason it stood out to me in 2009 is because it marked the first time any fighting game other than my beloved Soulcalibur series had ever managed to truly hook me.

That’s quite an accomplishment.

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Dreamcast Retrospective Day 8: Soulcalibur

Despite the fact that I recently spent an ungodly sum of money on the best arcade stick on the market, I haven’t always liked fighting games.

In fact, I used to hate them.

Until quite recently, my relationship with them was very casual.  Street Fighter IV marked only the second fighting game I’ve spent any notable amount of time with, and BlazBlue only the third.  These two might have been enough to spur me into buying the aforementioned hulking arcade stick, but they don’t give me a lot of history with the genre.

There has been one fighting game series, however, that I’ve always adored.  One series that has always stood above all the rest for me.  One series that has kept calling me back and provided countless hours of entertainment over the years, playing against friends and the computer alike.  One series that has challenged me to learn its every nuance when other fighting games simply bored me, frustrated me, or turned me away.

That series, of course, is the Soulcalibur series, and the first game launched along with the Dreamcast on 9/9/99.

I didn’t even like fighting games at the time.  To this day I’m still not entirely sure what convinced me that trying out this particular fighting game was such a good idea.  I hadn’t played it at anybody else’s house or tried a demo.  

I had simply read a review in my beloved Electronic Gaming Monthly calling it, and I’m paraphrasing here, I freaking awesome game and I decided to give it a shot.  

One thing that hasn’t changed about my gaming habits over the years is that I’ve never been much for spur-of-the-moment purchases.  I do my research before handing over my money.  I might have read reviews and seen screenshots beforehand with Soulcalibur, but this was about as close as I ever come to buying a game on a whim.

Boy am I glad I did.

Right away I realized that this game was somehow different from other fighting games.  Or at least it felt that way to me.

I could pick up the controller and with amazingly little effort be doing really cool moves.  In a short amount of time I felt like I actually had a hang of the fighting system; I felt like I actually sort of knew what I was doing.  The default difficulty was even reasonable enough that I didn’t have to drastically dial it down just to survive.

It was my kind of fighting game.

I’ve never liked gaming experiences that are “realistic”.  To this day I don’t like to play Madden as I’d rather be playing Mario Tennis.  I don’t like to play Gran Turismo as I’d rather be playing Burnout.  And I don’t like to play Virtua Fighter because I’d rather be playing Soulcalibur.

Something about the fantastical weapons-based fighting system managed to grab my attention where detail-oriented fighters with a realistic bent, such as Virtua Fighter, could never grab me for any length of time.

The original Soulcalibur is still one of the best entries in the series.  The graphics have since been surpassed, but it’s hard to believe how good they still look.  I don’t think any other game since has instilled in me quite the same amount of awe in me that seeing Soulcalibur running on the Dreamcast for the first time did.  As much of a last stand as the Dreamcast was for traditional arcade titles in many ways (see Crazy Taxi, Daytona USA, Ooga Booga, and many others), it also signaled the beginning of the switch to console dominance.  The Dreamcast version of Soulcalibur looked much better than the already highly-acclaimed arcade version and had a better feature set to boot.

Soulcalibur’s experience as a single player game was only rivaled by that of Soulcalibur II, but the original was definitely more memorable.  The series has yet to do better than the Weapon Master mode for single player fun and the first game nailed the balance between difficulty and fun, while still throwing in a crazy amount of unlockable items.  

The character creation mode of the newer games is great and I applaud their willingness to try new things with the single player experience, but the original game’s feature set is still, in some ways at least, the best.  It may lack some of the bells and whistles and newer characters I’ve come to love, but it’s still damn fun.

Unimportant little extras abound and really add to the overall experience.  There was tons of cool artwork to unlock.  There was a mode where you could rearrange the characters in the opening sequence, a totally pointless but fantastic addition.  There were modes that have since disappeared from the more recent installments for no explicable reason, like some of the team battle modes.  It was a truly astounding package.

The newer games may have improved upon it in many ways, but no Soulcalibur game since has brought as much wonder to the table at once as the original.  

I have this terrific game, this game I picked up from out of nowhere, this game that launched right along with the Dreamcast on day one, this game that has spawned a love of the series and fighting games in general to thank for many happy memories playing this game by myself and in countless heated matches with my friends.

Oh, and no announcer in any other Soulcalibur game can ever top the performance given by the guy in the first game.  I don’t know why.  It’s just the honest truth.  Live with it.


Out of My League

I make no apologies for the fact that I am a casual fighting game fan with decidedly average skills. I am not terrible, but I am not terrific either. I am constantly attracted to their depth, shiny graphics, and high replayability, however I simply do not have the time or inclination to spend the amount of time necessary to get to the higher levels of play.

Most of the time I am fine with this. It does produce more than the occasional frustration, as fighting games in general (to their detriment, I think) aren’t really built for a person like me. The casual player is an afterthought in the construction of most of these titles.

Still, when I find a fighting game’s mechanics to be fun enough, I will often fight through the punishing difficulty and fight through the complete lack of tutorials or any way to learn how to play the game within the game itself. I have fun with these games on the level that I like to have fun with them, and that’s fine for me. I wish I had more human competition and I wish I were less afraid to go online, lest I get torn to shreds by the type of players that actually like to go online with these games, but I still manage to have fun with them.

Spending the amount of time necessary to pull off some of the insane combos and techniques that the higher level players do would require a level of single-game dedication I don’t give to any genre. Sure I envy players that can do this, but it is a type of envy that is fully aware that my inferiority will be a permanent state of being. I do constantly strive to get better of course, but within the bounds of what is reasonable for someone with my abilities and relatively short attention span.

The more I play them, however, the more I continue to be frustrated with how much this genre seems not to be made for me. I yearn for a fighting game tailored more for a person like myself - with enough depth to satisfy, but with enough accessibility and friendliness that its difficulty is not punishing, its secrets not locked to all but those who put in huge amounts of time. Smash Bros. is one example of something that's at least in the right ballpark, but while that is certainly a fun title, it’s not exactly satisfying on the same level of depth as a true one-on-one fighting game.

These frustrations have only become more and more prominent recently as I have increased the number of fighting games I am spending a lot of time with. Previously, the only title that was able to hook me for long was Soulcalibur - about as close to the approachable fighting game nirvana as it currently gets. As I have written about previously, however, I have now managed to discover the joys of Street Fighter and have recently begun to become quite fond of BlazBlue as well.

Perhaps it is my inexperience talking, but the 2D fighting games seem to share a particular contempt for newcomers. It’s hard to blame them, really, as they must cater to a fan base more hardcore than just about anything else I can think of, but the problem remains.

As much as the genre frustrates me due to its stagnancy, I shall continue my search for those fighting games that manage to hook me. I have had tons of fun lately learning of the addictive qualities of Street Fighter IV and penetrating the weirdness that is every single aspect of BlazBlue.

This has indeed been a terrific period for fighting game fans and I am living proof that the genre’s newfound (and somewhat unexpected) resurgence has served to draw at least a few newcomers into the fray.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if the “member’s only” nature of the fighting game genre as it stands has turned many of those dabblers away. It nearly happened to me, were it not for my stubborn insistence to finally learn what the hell this Street Fighter thing was about.

I’m glad I stuck with it and I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has discovered the joy of fighting games in recent days (or in my case, at least the expanded joys of fighting games, as I’ve been a Soulcalibur addict for years). I hope that someday, sooner would be better than later, a developer realizes that there’s room for middle ground. I fully believe that someone could make a fighting game with enough depth to satisfy those that wished for it while maintaining enough fun (and reasonable difficulty levels) at a lower level of play to satisfy those that merely wish to make an entrance to the scene.

Meanwhile, I'll just continue my struggle to fit in while trying not to throw my controller at the wall too many times.