STAFF REVIEW of Soulcalibur VI (Xbox One)

Thursday, November 1, 2018.
by Royce Dean

Soulcalibur VI Box art Once, in passing, I overheard an old man say something surprisingly profound. He said “Life is simply a collection of stories”. That shook me to say the least because it was ultimately true. Everything we do in this lifetime is something that happens momentarily and then becomes history. Every second of our life becomes the past the instant it is no longer the present. From there it is up to us to decide what that moment meant to us. Where does it fit into the grand epic scheme of our lives? Of course not everything we do is of note. Not everything ends up on the highlight reel so to speak... but some things do. These are the stories of our lives and the things that make us, us.

When I’m an old man sitting on a park bench talking to the pigeons I hope to accomplish two things. One, pass on some kind of profound wisdom to a stranger that changes their life for the better, and two, don’t get arrested doing so. Weird old guys talking to birds waves pretty much every red flag after all. Even if I don’t manage to see that through, there is one thing I’m absolutely sure will be part of my “old man kit”, and that's repeating stories ad nauseum. Forgetting I've told something to somebody only to tell them the same thing the next day is something I do already and will no doubt get worse with age. The next thing you know I’ll have stories about wars I’m too young to have been in, develop “trick joints” for every type of weather, and be wondering why my children named all of their children Billy. It’s okay though, because no matter how many time I’ve told the same story to Billy, I’ll never have told it more times than Namco-Bandai has told the story of Soul Calibur.

“A tale of souls and swords eternally retold” is its catchphrase after all. They are straight up admitting it. The thing is though, unlike with many genres of games, nobody cares if a fighting game does it. This is something not too different from what I call the “superhero method”. How many different characters have killed Batman’s parents over the years? Which characters make up the Avengers? For some there is a “right answer” to both of these questions, but the truth is that there are many different answers because each story has been approached so many times. This is true of Soul Calibur VI.

While the multiple games over the years have a story to tell, it’s roughly the same story about good versus evil and the mythological swords that embody the struggle. This has always been a smart move to me because it lets the developers get away with keeping the same roster over and over through the years without having to deviate or worry about timelines too much. What am I saying? In a historical world where Samurai’s fight Pirates and Ninjas fight Knights, all of that is out the window anyways.

Soul Calibur VI is the best in it’s series in a long time. I’ll just come right out of the gate and say that. Of course the bar hasn’t been set overly high in recent years with its most recent predecessors having featured Star Wars characters and terrible pseudo replacements to fan favorite roster members. I haven't had this much fun playing Soul Calibur since the heyday of Soul Calibur II and guest character Link of “Legend of Zelda” fame. Soul Calibur VI does a lot of things right by dialing everything back to basics and really reinforcing the elements of Soul Calibur that made it both strong and unique.

The paramount question on everyone's mind when analyzing a new fighting game, or even just debating whether or not to play the thing, is “How’s the combat?”. I’m not a fighting game pro, but I do enjoy them and have some experience with Soul Calibur's past. In short, Soul Calibur VI feels great. The gameplay is visually smooth, the controls are responsive and each of the game's 22 characters feels powerful. What more could you ask for? Soul Calibur’s main draw and focus is just as much about the memorable characters as it is their weapons. Unlike in other fighting games, like Street Fighter, which feature characters who differentiate themselves by their martial arts, Soul Calibur’s roster instead hosts fighters with weapon mastery.

Gladiators, Monks, Barbarians, Knights and Assassins, all find themselves comfortably on the list and each fights in the way you might imagine they would in reality. Combat is simple to learn and execute, but deep enough for those looking to really set themselves apart from their competition. Attacks are broken down into middle level and high attacks, with low attack being doable from a crouching position. Kicking and guarding make up your other face button commands, with combinations of your face buttons allowing you to perform maneuvers like grabs.

I could dive into the details of every single mode and game style, but when it comes to fighting games some modes just don’t need explaining when a quick overview will suffice. Soul Calibur VI, of course, features many staples of the fighting game genre. In the well labeled “Battle” category on the main menu you’ll find Arcade mode. Arcade, in case you were born yesterday, is the grandfather of all fighting game modes that pits you against a chain of continuous opponents that ends only after you beat every foe, or they beat you.

You’ll also find Training mode, which happens to be the first thing I did in order to shake off some rust. Training hosts the usual amenities, letting you choose both your own and the CPU’s characters. From there you’ll be able to browse your move list, then alter how the CPU character behaves to help you focus on practicing whatever it is you want to improve. Finally in the “Battle” category you have Vs. mode. Vs. is your standard multiplayer match that lets you play single matches against CPU or other local players. Who says there isn't a reason to have friends come over anymore? Soul Calibur VI also boasts both ranked and casual online play for those that both like and dislike keeping score. There are online leaderboards and a menu that lets you browse through saved replays.

More so than any other Soul Calibur title, Soul Calibur VI has single player and story driven content by the boat full. Soul Calibur, as a series, occupies the fantasy history realm placing all of its events in our worlds actual past, while putting a fantasy spin on it. Each of the games characters hails from places around the world such as Japan, Greece or London, to name a few, but what are also present are magical swords, terrible beasts, and hellish dimensions.

The story mode in Soul Calibur VI features a main plot that follows a select cast of the characters on their journey through this medieval world in pursuit of an evil force that is driving people mad in its wake. But, that isn't all. Upon completing the main story you’ll unlock additional stories for many of the other characters which detail their place in the world during the events of the main plot. Not only do these stories help to bring life to characters that are already beloved by the fan base... they’re done so in style. Being set in the 16th century, most of the games storytelling is done by using backgrounds resembling parchment and told through imagery that resemble paintings and drawings. The story mode alone, depending on how skilled a player you are, will take more time to complete than your average 10-15 hour game.

If that wasn’t enough, Soul Calibur VI has another story mode in store for you. This mode, named “Libra of Souls”, takes you on a journey as seen through the eyes of a soul that happened to get caught up in the mess. What I mean by that is the character that you play as is one of your own creation. When you boot up Libra of Souls for the first time you’ll be prompted to make up a custom character through Soul Calibur's comprehensive “Create a Soul” interface, one which allows for the the creation of completely original characters that fight based on styles used by existing characters in the game.

Libra of Souls tells its story much in the same way which the narrative is presented in story mode, with time appropriate artwork and materials, only this time there are many more RPG elements in play. As you progress you’ll move about a rudimentary map of the old world spanning from Europe to Asia with each new completed mission earning you experience and gold. The levels you gain while playing dictate how powerful the weapons you may wield will be, whereas gold is used to purchase said weapons from shops, as well as helpful items like food that can alter properties such as health regeneration in battle. In both Story mode and Libra of Souls you open up historical pieces about places, events, and characters which can be viewed in the games “Museum” section along with a library artwork and music.

Characters can also be crafted from the ground up outside of Libra of Souls from the main menus “Create a Soul” option. There are two types of characters that you’ll be able to make playing Soul Calibur VI, the first, and more interesting, are 100% original characters that start you off with choosing both a race and gender for your new hero, and then it unleashes you into list upon list of different customization options. The body of your character can be adjusted not only by way of hair style and eye color, but by proportion as well. Each section of your custom characters body can be adjusted with a slider to be thinner or bulkier. From arms, to waist size, to muscle tone, this character can truly be whatever you envision.

From there you can pick from loads of armor, scars, tattoos, and even change the color of their skin to something unworldly. My natural creative instinct drove me to making something of my own the first time, but it wasn't long until I was recreating favorite characters from other games just to see if I could, and I indeed could. The other second option for character creation in Create a Soul is the ability to customize traits of existing roster characters. As far as i’m concerned, if you’re going to make something into something it isn’t, you might as well make something new. You know what i’m saying?

How Soul Calibur VI looks was touched on a bit earlier, but it’s hard to understate just how great the hand drawn elements of the game really are. It sells the old world time period fantasy of Soul Calibur in a way that none of the previous games have done before. Even the menu screen features artwork that looks like painted canvas. When you get to the character select screen, each of the roster members has a drawn portrait that turns into a full character splash on your side of the screen while the 3D model loads.

Load times are actually my one major gripe with Soul Calibur VI in general. While most of the game runs very well, the character select screen has some serious performance issues. It can take upwards to a few seconds to slide over even one spot on the selection menu, which puts a serious damper on the mood. Nothing says high-paced weapon based fighter like taking a 45 seconds to pick just one character that's across the selection screen from where you are.

The character and environmental artwork is absolutely on point. Each of the games environments are not only bright and distinct, but feel real in their own ways and are accompanied by a complementary score. At no point did the music overshadow the gameplay, or vice versa. Instead what you got was an experience that felt whole and engaging. While you were obviously sitting at home on the couch, you still felt pulled into the storm dock or frozen tundra you were dueling in at the time. The character designs are not only good, they’re phenomenal... save a few that I have personal disappointment with. Most of the characters are thrown back to their original appearances in Soul Edge and Soul Calibur, with characters that appeared later (like Raphael, Talim, and Zasalamel) going back to their earliest designs too.

Soul Calibur is easily my favorite traditional style fighting game, and seeing it get back to form with a solid new entry in Soul Calibur VI warms my heart, and my thumbs. Bandai Namco has taken great strides in getting the franchise back on track, and it seems all they had to do was listen to its fans. Gone are the weird and increasingly questionable combat mechanics; instead what we have is a product that feels clean, inviting, and refreshingly fun. It’s the first Soul Calibur since the early days that I’d be comfortable recommending to a player that was either new to fighting games, or games in general, because I know they’d have a good time. It feels strange to say this, but I’ve enjoyed my time with Soul Calibur VI so much that i’m actually looking forward to spending more money on whatever DLC characters, stages, or modes they throw our way in the future. I guess Soul Calibur's soul still burns after all.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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