Soul Calibur IV Review (Xbox 360)

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Soul Calibur IV Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Namco Bandai Games

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360

It's not a galaxy far, far away, but it's nice to be able to put a firm date on Star Wars' "a long time ago." Apparently, a long time ago is the sixteenth century, because when fighters from a galaxy far, far away join fighters from all over the world, battling for the right to control two powerful swords – the holy Soul Calibur and the cursed Soul Edge – that's when Namco Bandai says the fighters clash. Only by battling a series of other powerful warriors in an unbelievably Byzantine series of plot twists, and ascending for a battle at the top of a tower can any warrior claim the blades.

Kyle Ackerman

Ever since the original Soul Calibur was released for the Dreamcast, the Soul Calibur games have been the top fighting game franchise involving weapons. Soul Calibur IV is no exception, featuring an incredible variety of moves and customizable characters, while remaining accessible enough that even a button-mashing fiend can win the occasional online match and complete the various characters' stories (at least on normal mode). Yet the hard and arcade modes provide the kind of challenge that experienced fighting game fanatics love.

Is That a Roll of Quarters in Your Pocket?

Soul Calibur IVIf anything, Soul Calibur IV proves that fighting games are no longer about standing around an arcade machine, calling "next" by placing a quarter on the panel, and then trying to bring down the champion of the moment. You can play that way using Soul Calibur IV's online play on either console, but there's so much more in the single-player mode. There are always matches and plenty of talented players against whom to test your mettle. You can play online using the evenly matched arcade characters, or customized characters.

The online mode works quite well, with lobbies to ensure that matches are always taking place, the ability to call next with the tap of a button, and opponents who can rip you up with extended combos, if you don't land your own first. The lack of lag and the smooth operation are impressive – I never encountered networking problems that stopped me from having a great match against a variety of fighting fans.

Unlock Your Destiny

Soul Calibur IVThe single-player mode for Soul Calibur IV is something entirely different. Single player in old-school fighting games on home consoles used to be about playing a series of matches until you felt prepared to fight against a friend. Now, Soul Calibur IV's single-player experience, while fulfilled through fighting, is entirely about unlocking an incredible horde of characters, weapons and costume options.

The traditional play mode is the Story mode, in which you take any chosen fighter through a series of battles, sometimes against multiple opponents, but always ending in a battle for the Soul Calibur and the Soul Edge. On the normal difficulty level, completing the story is trivial and requires little more than a few minutes of button-mashing. On the hard difficulty, completing any character's story takes a little skill, but not a lot.

The Purple of "Absolute Loyalty"

Soul Calibur IVEven if you've been with the Soul Calibur games since the beginning, you might be attached to the story behind the franchise. Certainly, I have some affection for some of the familiar characters, all of whom are back along with new ones. But I couldn't claim to remotely follow the myriad, complex links between all of Soul Calibur IV's characters. To that end, Soul Calibur IV provides a vast plot diagram to explain how all the characters are linked in their quest for the two swords. I didn't get a lot out of the diagram, but at least now I know the purple flowchart arrow indicates "pledges absolute loyalty."

There's also the Tower of Lost Souls mode, in which you have to progress through 20 levels, going up or down, fighting against a series of foes on each level before arriving at the next level. Both the Tower of Lost Souls and Story Mode, aside from just giving you a chance to enjoy all the fighting, let you upgrade your characters' skills, unlock new fighters, new costume options and new stages. Further skill progression and careful character customization with those newly unlocked options make it even easier to complete more of the Story mode or to finish off the Tower of Lost Souls.

Kill Me and I Will Unlock More Options Than You Can Possibly Imagine

The money and unlockables earned in the Story and Tower of Lost Souls modes power the character customization system that takes the ability to create your own fighter from Soul Calibur III much further. It's possible to create a new fighter or customize one of the existing ones nearly endlessly. I've seen combatants that range from slightly tweaked versions of the standard fighters to a man built on Sophitia who was a vicious, soup-ladle-carrying version of the biker from the village people.

Soul Calibur IVCharacter creation is remarkably complex. It's not just about picking the costume elements that best satisfy a given fetish. You start with a fighting style, but add clothing and equipment with their own abilities. The stuff you add to your character augments attack, defense and health, but also adds to the capacity of that character's skills (Power, Impact, Boost, Gauge and Special). The character can then be equipped with skills (assuming the style has been leveled up sufficiently) that augment the character's abilities in battle, doing everything from increasing damage output to preventing the combatant from being tossed out of the ring. Watch out, though – that equipment can actually be destroyed during battle.

Sound complicated? It is. But once you get the hang of it, it's possible to create characters that can breeze through the game's various story modes with minimal effort. The Arcade mode is the way of playing through the single player campaign with the basic, balanced fighters. I prefer online play this way, because if you play with customized characters, the best fighters always have a build custom made to wreck whichever character you like to play.

Soul Edge of the Sith

Soul Calibur IV is already a very strong fighting title, but this iteration of the franchise has an extra draw – both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions feature characters drawn from the Star Wars series. There is an apprentice character, while the Xbox 360 gets Yoda and the PlayStation 3 gets Darth Vader.

The PlayStation 3 version is better, and not just because Darth Vader is 1.29 million times more fun to play than Yoda (although it seems sacrilege for him to fall in combat). The game looks slightly better on the PlayStation 3 than on the Xbox 360. Even the three most recent Star Wars films couldn't completely undermine Vader's icy coolness. As Vader, I got to choke Algol... with the force! Yoda just wants to contain the evil.

There are two ways in which Yoda is superior to Vader in Soul Calibur IV. One is that Yoda sounds more like Frank Oz's Yoda than Darth Vader sounds like James Earl Jones' Vader. The other is that he's small and nimble enough that he's incredibly hard to hit or grab. That gives him a serious edge when he's trying to reach and destroy the Soul Edge.

So if you have the ability to choose the system on which to purchase Soul Calibur IV, go with the PlayStation 3 for the slightly crisper look. But you won't go wrong with this fighting game, either way.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 14, 2008 3:35 AM.

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