Soulcalibur VI: ‘The most ambitious crossover ever’
I recall a conversation I had with a friend in which he referred to a game, incorrectly, as a “fighting game.” Since I am reviewing a video game within the “fighting game” genre, I feel it is necessary to get everyone on the same page before starting.
A fighting game is a genre in which two players, usually on a two-dimensional arena, fight each other until one of their health bars is empty. The players rely on punches, kicks, throws and special techniques to defeat the other. It is the child of the Beat-Em-Up genre (a genre in which you beat up bad guys who appear on screen, with games such as “Battletoads”, “The Simpsons Arcade Game” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as examples), so there is reason for confusion. However, there is an assumed player-vs-player component to “fighting games” that isn’t seen in “Beat-Em-Up.” Examples: “Street Fighter” and “Super Smash Bros”.
Soulcalibur VI is the latest installment in the Soul series though, despite being the 11th game in the series, newcomers do not need to play the others in order to enjoy this game. Soulcalibur VI (SC6) is a soft reboot, taking place during the period of the first Soulcalibur. Soulcalibur V faced massive backlash from the fans, so this game is an attempt to appease and win them back. At the same time, it allows new players who weren’t into fighting games at that time or not old enough to play the 1996 game, to join in. Since the series will end if it doesn’t sell, it’s going to need all the help it can get. Enough of the history, let’s get into the game.
SC6 is a three-dimensional fighting game set in the 16th century. Fighters from various parts of Eurasia are searching for the legendary “Sword of Salvation,” Soul Edge. In reality, much like the One Ring from “Lord of the Rings,” Soul Edge is an incredibly evil weapon. The weapon has a mind, and an eye, of its own, corrupting and controlling anyone who uses it. There’s also a rival sword called Soulcalibur (roll the credits) that is meant to vanquish Soul Edge, though that is not say the weapon is good. Ultimately, the world of Soulcalibur is one of a battle between good and evil.
SC6 is known for three things: weapons, art direction, and guest characters and create-a-character mode. First, SC6 is a fighting game based on weaponry. All of the characters in the game use a different kind of weapon ranging from reasonable, like nunchakus and sword/shield, to the more fantastical, like a gun-sword. While not the first or only fighting game to use weapons (though it is currently the only 3D fighting game to do so), the series popularized the concept and implemented it better than other games. Playstyle is affected by the reach of a weapon rather than if they have a projectile. A disproportionately large two-handed sword is going to have greater reach than nunchakus, but it will swing slower and be easier to dodge. Everyone in SC6 has long-reaching and short-reaching techniques; some will just have more of one or the other.
Mechanically, SC6 is simpler than most fighting games to get into. There are three different attack inputs: vertical attacks, horizontal attacks and kicks. Each kind of attack has its strength and weakness, such as vertical attacks being high damaging but sidestep-able while horizontals are slow but catch sidestepping opponents. As a result, the game demands using a variety of attacks and using all eight directions of movement. Fortunately, the skill floor is very small as sidestepping attacks is as simple as pressing up or down, but, if you are unable to dodge the attacks, SC6 has a unique feature called Reversal Edge that will block almost all attacks for you and initiate a counter attack. There are also finishing moves called Critical Edge, but most people could get decently far in ranked matches only relying on two to three moves.
Second, Soulcalibur has consistently been a very beautiful series and SC6 is no exception. Although set in the 16th century, the game provides some of the most picturesque settings a fighting game, and arguably all games, will provide. On one end, there are bright, scenic stages like “Shrine of Eurydice”, a softly lit stage with Greco-Roman pillars and statues framed between the two walls of the map. On the other end, there are dark and sinister maps like Kunpaetku Temple, a square platform in the middle of a lake with colossal, sharp, green, chained hands overshadowing the platform. The audio serves to enhance the atmosphere by using elaborate, orchestrated music and a deep-voiced narrator telling the lore of each map. As a recommendation, google image search “Soulcalibur 6 proving grounds”.
Last, but definitely not least, Soulcalibur is known for having guest characters in their roster. Previous games have featured Link from “The Legend of Zelda”, Ezio Auditore from “Assassin’s Creed” and Yoda, Darth Vader and The Apprentice from the “Star Wars” universe. SC6 has decided to take a different approach by adding Geralt of Rivia from “The Witcher” series (as of writing this, they are also adding 2B from award-winning “NieR:Automata”) and by making his move set available in the Create-a-Character mode, SC6’s most valuable feature. While not necessarily game-changing, adding Geralt’s move set to the game allows for more variety when it comes to custom characters. Ever imagined who would win in a battle, Shrek or The Hulk? Thanos or Deadpool? Ronald McDonald or Donald Trump? You can find out with enough time and creativity by creating the characters. The Creation mode allows you to choose height, size, voice, species (you can be a lizard person, an angel, etc.) and color patterns of clothing and armor. It is a simultaneously exciting and calming experience to spend hours trying to recreate your favorite character.
With all that said, would I recommend the game? Hesitantly, I would say yes. Fighting games, more so than others, tend to have a split in their demographic. On one end, you have the casual community, those who do not want to play against other players and/or just want to play the story mode and, on the other end, you have the competitive community, those willing to spend hours/day in the practice mode so they can play online. For this last part, I will create two sections, one for casuals and the other for competitive. Read the one, or both, that applies to you.
For casual players: When it comes to offline content, SC6 is on the better end of providing things for you to do (The only other games that rival it are “Mortal Kombat X” and “Injustice 2”, both made by the same company). The game gives you two story modes to play through: Soul Chronicle and Libra of Souls. Soul Chronicle tells the story of the established characters in the game. There is a main storyline, focusing on the redemption of a monk named Kilik, and side storylines explaining what the other characters are doing in the meantime. Happening alongside their stories is Libra of Souls, a separate story mode where you create a character to play as and interact with in this world. Both are primarily told through text and Libra of Souls has multiple endings decided by the actions you take, though the variety of choices is very limited. Most choices are either “good” or “evil” option with a meter telling you how good or evil you are. While Libra of Souls is long (12 hours is the longest it will take according to howlongtobeat.com), the mode becomes tedious very quickly. Nevertheless, you will get your money’s worth from the single player component of the game if you are casual player.
For competitive players: While the game has the basics (a training mode, a versus mode and an online mode), the game suffers from some inconveniences. First, the training mode is clunky and bare-boned. You can examine your moves and watch a preview, but you can’t display the inputs while you try it. You can set the actions of the training dummy, but only up to two actions (in comparison, “Tekken 7” allows you to set five actions and both randomize the order and frequency). While there is a section dedicated to explaining how each character works, it is purely through text and you cannot look at the tutorial while practicing. Furthermore, it is missing useful features such as being able to see how long a move takes to recover from and, while I would not expect to see it in most fighting games, the training mode would benefit from having a section dedicated to explaining how to play your character against the rest of the cast.
Online mode is just as poorly designed, consisting of Ranked mode, Casual mode, Rankings and Replays. Ranked mode is fine. The major problem comes from Casual mode, the mode that allows you to play against other players without decreasing or raising your rank. While ranked mode search and put you against other players at your skill/rank level automatically, you have to manually join or create a lobby to play against others in Casual mode. Furthermore—and this is the insane part—even if the lobby has 10 players in it, only two players can fight at a time. The remaining eight players have to watch until they are next in line to go against the winner of the previous match (if you are last, expect to wait 10 to 15 minutes to play one match, assuming you lose). It is unbelievable that the developers would create a poorly designed method of matchmaking in Casual mode when they designed a simple and efficient method in Ranked mode.
While SC6 as a competitive game is fun, it suffers from technical issues, poor planning/design and lack of quality of life features. I would only recommend this game if you truly like the concept of beating people up with a weapon. Otherwise, I would recommend “Tekken 7” over this game, assuming you want to play a three-dimensional fighter, since it is better designed and has a larger player population.