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SoulCalibur Review Rewind


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On 07/04/2012 at 11:02 AM by Esteban Cuevas

The tale of souls and swords as it was originally retold.
RECOMMENDATION:

Unless you own a Dreamcast, this version should be in everyone's collection.

In the beginning of the previous decade, the fighting genre saw a decline in popularity. The genre had become overpopulated and stale and much fewer titles were released. However, the original SoulCalibur stood out as one of the absolute best. The Sega Dreamcast's killer app has been ported to the XBLA and is still one of the best games of its genre and a title every fighting game fan should own.

The original SoulCalibur was lauded for its enjoyable weapon based fighting system and highly responsive controls, which are still great today. Matches are always fast-paced and high-adrenalized. Quick button presses, offensive and defensive shifts, and combos are all wrapped up in an easy to understand button layout. Combos range from easy button mashing to complicated juggling affairs; switching from offense to defense is simple thanks to easy maneuvering and guarding, and each character favors different play styles. If you like a quick character, try Taki. Keeping a distance from your opponent important to you? Go with Astaroth. Like to throw your character's positioning off? Voldo's your guy.

Although not a deep system, its simplicity opens the game to a wider audience. Recovering, attack attributes and the then-revolutionary 8-way run are intuitively comprehensible with only the two defensive techniques needing instruction. Guard impacts throw people off guard and parries shift your opponent's footing. Unlike later entries in the series, both defensive skills are open to you, regardless of the positional level of the attack. SoulCalibur was and is straightforward enough for new players to get into but nuanced for fans of fighting games.

It was also polished and balanced in other ways; this is the kind of fighter you can follow by the frame as the frame rate is always consistent, glitches are essentially non-existent and exploits, to my knowledge, are absent. Animations are beautifully done and purposely appropriate, as showcased in the Exhibition mode. A statistically equal set of weapons and a balanced move list for each of the 19 characters assures that all battles are as fair and impartial as possible. Overall the fighting in this game just feels right, striking a perfect balance between fairly complex mechanics with accessibility and speed with tactile enjoyment, something the series hasn't quite achieved ever since.

SoulCalibur also excels in the arena of presentation. The XBLA version has not received an HD overhaul but it has raised the resolution from the Dreamcast version for the benefit of HD televisions. While it doesn't result in blurriness, the graphics as a whole definitely show their age, with the lack of complex textures being immediately noticeable. However, everything else exudes polish. Weapons have graphical flourishes when in motion, characters have decorative costume designs, levels show off beautifully crafted backdrops (some of which are in motion), and all of the menus are displayed in a grand bravado style.

Moreso than the visuals, the soundtrack draws you into every match. The orchestrated songs evoke epic set pieces and present every round as a momentous bout of truth and honor. Pompous jargon aside, all of the tracks are quite fitting as themes to their corresponding level/menu/etc. The series is known for its bombastic music but the first SoulCalibur has some of the most memorable tracks in the franchise and after a session of play, you'll be searching online for the soundtrack to buy.

A memorable presentation also conveys the game's story. After the events of the first game, Soul Blade, one of the two Soul Edge blades has been destroyed and the wielder of the evil blades, Cervantes, has been defeated. Siegfried has claimed the remaining sword, which has promptly transformed him into the demonic Nightmare. While Nightmare travels around Europe, killing and harvesting souls for the creation of another Soul Edge, warriors from across the country are embarking on quests to get the sword for themselves, either to destroy it or to use it for their own personal gain.

As the series went onward, the plots became more contrived and convoluted but here, many of the characters had logical motivations which made for a compelling tale. Also, this game introduced the Soul Calibur sword into the lore, which has remained the series' namesake ever since. Although it serves merely as motivation for the game and the various rivalries presented in the seventh match in Arcade mode, it's definitely vastly more than a means to an end.

In addition to Arcade mode, the standard mode options like Versus, Team Battle, Time Attack, Survival, Extra Survival, and Practice are included. A Museum option includes some beautifully done artwork and interesting character profiles for you to look at. Unfortunately this brings up this port's biggest problem: what's not here. An adventure-type mode called Mission Mode has been omitted from the original Dreamcast version, and a mode that allowed you to customize the characters featured in the opening sequence is absent as well. All of the content that was unlocked in Mission Mode is available from the start, but this adversely affects the replayability of the game.

Aside from leaderboards, SoulCalibur on the XBLA is completely offline. Considering the community that would be present to play this online, this makes this oversight hard to forgive but forgivable. A more pressing problem involves the controller configuration. LB and LT can't be changed separately to different button mappings, and neither can RB and RT. While this isn't a major detriment to the game, it is worth noting and it's just bizarre that I can't remap all of the buttons on my controller. The lack of flexibility is due to Microsoft's 150MB limit on XBLA titles at the time. Still, a post-release patch or downloadable content would have been much appreciated.

SoulCalibur has aged gracefully over the years and is often listed on greatest games lists. This port's exclusion of previously included (and important) modes and inability to inject newly available features takes this version of the game down a considerable amount. To its credit, the gameplay and presentation that was so highly revered is all perfectly preserved here. All the sights, sounds, and sword clashes are here for you to enjoy and to remind you why the tale of souls and swords is eternally retold.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

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