I have a confession to make – when it comes to fighting games, I am, sadly, a filthy casual. I have been to threads online where people talk about cross-counter-quarter stick rotations and have remained completely nonplussed about what everyone is talking about. Despite this personal failing, I have made a valiant effort with Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Injustice, and DragonBall FighterZ. All of them I’ve had a reasonable amount of fun with, despite not progressing past the very lowest tier of a human challenger. The remainder of my time I spend as an outsider, in the warm, comforting, yet easily derisible world of fighting games such as Naruto Ultimate Ninja and Super Smash Bros. However, there is one series that I always make proper time for in this genre, and that is, as the memorable opening announcer always so wonderfully puts it this time, Soulcalibur VI.
What is it about this tale of swords and sorcery that brings me back every time? Well, firstly I think it’s the fact that it’s a weapon fighter rather than a fist fighter. I know all the characters feel distinct in Tekken or Street Fighter with their various martial arts styles, but here I really love the wacky and different cast, as I try to go up against a nunchaku fighter with a massive demonic greatsword, for instance. There’s a great sense that each character will handle the way you expect – you can look at a character and their weapon and the way they hold themselves and almost anticipate just from the animations and style what you will be facing.
There are 20 fighters this time, fewer than in other instalments, but there are two new ones who fit in quite well. Groh is an angsty, mid-2000s character from DeviantArt, written by someone who was obsessed with Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto, but I love him regardless. My personal new favourite is Azwel, a mystic who can summon weapons out of the ether as light-based attacks, and as such can chain quickly between quick or heavy attacks, while zipping around and looking cool. All the old classics are here, from Kilik to Astaroth and Nightmare, and all have pretty good models designed for this instalment. Most of the trimmed roster comes from clones being removed, which I personally don’t mind all that much. The Guest Character, a feature of the Soulcalibur series, is Geralt from the Witcher franchise, and he fits in marvellously this time, as though he was designed for the series. One small gripe I have is that fan favourite Tira was restricted into Day-One DLC for no apparent reason than greed, and something like that never sits too well with me.
Soulcalibur VI‘s roster of 20 characters becomes less of a restriction once you come to grips with the create-a-character mode. It’s possibly the best one I’ve ever seen in a genre like this. Just go and look online and see what I mean – you can pick one of the 20 main characters’ battle styles and from there, choose a race, an outfit, and all the colour schemes and accessories you can unlock. I’ve seen everything from Thanos, to Kratos, to Bowsette, to strange monstrosity versions of Kirby and Pikachu, and even real-life politicians. Even better, you can download other player’s created characters for yourself to use, so you don’t even have to spend all the time being finicky yourself. It’s a wonderful way to increase longevity, and I love it.
Soulcalibur has always had a robust story mode for single player, and this time is no different, with two modes to enjoy. The first one is Soul Chronicles, which follows individual characters plotlines as they interact with each other. The setting is nominally our world in the 16th century, albeit with more magic and demons. The actual main plot is a soft reboot of the original plot, and doesn’t really amount to more than “some people want Soul Edge, the evil Sword, and some people want to stop it.” This mode is largely fine, but there are a few irritations – there are way too many text bubbles and little visual novel moments that are boring in between fights.
Zasalamel for instance, in the most extreme case, has no actual fights in his storyline, so you don’t actually do anything with him, in which case, what’s the point? I did find some moments quite charming, but you also spend too many battles in one particular route fighting random bandits and demons instead of named characters who we actually care about. It is, however, quite delightfully over the top in general, while still desperately trying to be grounded in our world in tone. The funniest moment of this is when, upon coming to our setting and world, Geralt remarks that this world has far less magic than the one he comes from, despite there being demons, mages and various anime-esque warriors engaging in beam struggles and wandering around all over Europe and Asia right in front of him.
The second main story mode in Soulcalibur VI is Libra of Souls. In this mode, you create a custom character, and lead them around a board, engaging in basic role-playing decisions and battles to level up your character and acquire new gear and outfits. It’s quite a fun mode, but the story again isn’t much to write home about, and again the text box issue is abundant. Battles can sometimes last much less than a minute for three entire rounds, so when you have five minutes of text between battles, it can be a drag. But it’s still pretty good for a bit of light roleplaying with a character that you feel more attached to, because of the growth and design you have put into them.
I suppose at this stage I should actually talk a bit more about fighting gameplay? I don’t mean to leave it here as a form of disparagement, it is indeed a fairly robust system, even if it is more pick up and play than others in the genre. In essence, it’s a fairly standard one on one fighter on a 2D plane, with a slight increase in focus on movement than other titles. You can rotate around your enemy and move back and forth with more ease to avoid attacks and can do moves that knock enemies out of the ring for an instant win if you know what you’re doing.
Controls have got three main attack buttons and one guard button – light attack, heavy attack and a kick. These can be combined or combo’ed very satisfactorily, leading to guard breaks, positional grabs, stance changes, and various other character-specific move sets. Some combo attacks can damage armour and remove clothing, which persists across rounds, weakening characters. All special attacks have just enough timing and flashiness to signal what they are, and a skilled player can always have a very clear visual clue of how to respond.
New features in Soulcalibur VI‘s combat include the Reversal Edge, an attack launched with one of the shoulder buttons on the console, which enters both characters into a sort of slow-motion Rock Paper Scissors Match. You can choose one attack, which will either go low, medium or high, and you must try and make your attack be the one to first connect with the opponent, while your enemy tries the same. You also now have a power gauge, which builds up and allows one of two effects – a limited time power boost, or a super attack that goes in one motion, known as a Critical Edge. The trick here is not that these attacks are hard to launch in terms of what buttons to press, rather, you must learn to effectively manage your power bar across rounds and build it up properly.
In summary, the battle system of Soulcalibur VI is easy to learn but hard to master, which is what I prefer. There are a myriad of battle systems and intricacies contained and explained within the tutorial modes, but I found myself enjoying what I could pull off just through intuition.
If you’re part of the Fighting Game Community (FGC) you already know if you’re going to get this one, and you probably either have it or not by now. For everyone else though, I encourage you to get it if you love a little bit of couch play with a friend or family member. It’s got a lot of options and customisability and the create a character mode really does feel boundless in potential. Gameplay is smooth and satisfying and the graphics look great. All in all, Soulcalibur VI is a great little title to pick up.
Gameplay is smooth and satisfying and the graphics look great. All in all, a great little title to pick up.
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