It’s been six years since the last entry in the SoulCalibur series, though in honesty it feels like so much longer. Maybe it’s because the last game I really invested loads of time into was 2008’s brilliant SoulCalibur IV (who doesn’t want to play as Darth Vader and Yoda, right?), but either way, it’s been too long.
Naturally then, it’s incredibly exciting to see Bandai Namco revive the series on current-gen consoles with SoulCalibur VI and wow, is it something special. It’s not only packed with content, fantastic to play and stunning to look at, but is also accessible enough for both veterans of the series and newcomers alike to feel right at home from the get-go. It has simply never been a better time to return to the ‘battle of swords and souls’.
Whilst there’s plenty to talk about with SoulCalibur VI, a good place to start would be the fighting itself. For those who don’t know, it’s a fighter that focuses more on the use of weapons, with each character in the game having their own speciality weapon that sees their fighting style change up. Do you go for Raphael with his ultra-quick rapier, or do you go for range with Kilik and his staff? Alternatively, you could go for Ivy and her whip-sword (it’s as cool as it sounds) or instead go for all-out power with Astaroth and his giant axe. There’s a lot of variety between the characters, their weapons and their fighting styles, but the diversity is finely balanced to ensure that no character is really exploitable and that each showdown is determined by skill.
You could easily button-mash combos on your way to victory in SoulCalibur VI, though there are plenty of intricate systems included in the fighting that when mastered can give you the upper hand in battle. One of the most obvious ones is the Soul Gauge: a meter that fills up as you dish out and take damage. When full, you’re able to either hit your foe with a powerful attack known as a Critical Edge (activated by hitting the right shoulder button) or activate the Soul Charge to increase the strength of your attacks temporarily. This is one of the easiest functions to use in a battle, but it’s certainly a game changer – there were more than a few occasions where a Critical Edge won me a fight when tied at two-rounds apiece with an opponent.
A new addition to the fighting in SoulCalibur VI is the Reversal Edge, which adds a cinematic slow-mo game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ to combat – sure, that’s simplifying it a bit, but the concept is the same. Basically, when a Reversal Edge is activated you can unleash one of three attacks, with each one either weaker or stronger than one of the others. If you hit the equivalent of a ‘Paper’ when your foe hits a ‘Rock’ you’ll hit them with a nice strong attack. On the flip-side, if they get a ‘Rock’ and you got a ‘Scissors’ then you’re taking a beating instead. Of course, you’re replacing the ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ with skull-crushing blows from weapons, but you get the picture.
It’s a neat idea that doesn’t only look cool but can actually turn the tide of a battle in your favour. There were a few times where I found myself the victim to countless combos from an opponent, only for a Reversal Edge to see me able to take the advantage again and score an unlikely victory via a Ring Out (yes, they return). It’s not the sort of thing you can necessarily always use strategically given that the odds of success aren’t guaranteed, but their presence is certainly appreciated.
Besides those, you’ve got also the aforementioned Ring Outs which hand you a victory if you manage to knock an enemy out of the arena, and the Guard Breaks which allow you to hit a brutal counter on an enemy if you manage to guard yourself from their attack at the right time. It’d be easy to be tempted to just hold down the guard button when an enemy is sending attacks your way, but the ability to completely cut the flow of their actions and get in a hit of your own certainly makes timing your guards a much more tempting option. Everything just comes together to make for a fighting experience that’s not only easy to get to grips with, but that will take some time to master. One thing that stays consistent though is just how exciting and fun it is, with SoulCalibur VI undoubtedly offering one of the most entertaining fighting experiences I’ve played in recent years.
Of course, modern fighters can’t just rely on the combat alone these days, but are expected to offer a deep cinematic narrative experience to go along with the countless brawls. This is an area in which SoulCalibur VI excels, with it not offering just one story mode but two.
‘Soul Chronicle’ leads you through what could be considered the game’s main story, with it giving you the opportunity to play as all of the main-line characters as you see how the tale unfolds from multiple perspectives. Between battles you’ll see the narrative play out in a visual novel style, with static images and plenty of text (and believe me, there really is plenty) telling the tale in some depth. Sure, it’s not as cinematic as the story mode seen in the likes of Mortal Kombat and Injustice, but it’s still easy to find yourself absorbed by it.
‘Libra of Soul’ takes a more interesting approach, with it not directly telling the story of the characters of the series but instead seeing you create your own to lead on a grand adventure – it does crossover with the story of ‘Soul Chronicle’ too though, so at least you’ll get to encounter your favourite characters along the way. More interesting is the fact that you’re able to take on countless side missions (some of which spice things up by adding different circumstances to each battle), as well as upgrade your gear, level up, and even purchase items that’ll give you a boost in battle. It’s like its own miniature RPG in a way, which is both an interesting and thoroughly entertaining way to present a fighter.
A fighter is nothing without a good roster of characters, though this is an area which SoulCalibur VI can feel a little weak. Don’t get me wrong, seeing returning favourites like Mitsurugi, Ivy, Kilik, Voldo, Cervantes and Sophitia is great, whilst new characters Azwel and Groh are fine additions too – however, the character count of twenty feels quite small when compared to the likes seen in the recently released Injustice 2 (twenty-eight at launch) and Bandai Namco’s own Tekken 7 (thirty-six at launch). Sure, it’s nothing to scoff at and additional characters are coming as DLC, but it can feel a little underwhelming since the series has a ton of great fighters who didn’t make the cut.
It is worth mentioning that the guest character Geralt of Rivia (of The Witcher fame) is a great addition though. Guest characters can be a little silly in fighters at times, but Geralt isn’t only a lot of fun to play as but actually fits in well with the game’s 16th Century narrative. Heck, he even has a role in the game’s story mode which works too. Whether you’re a fan of The Witcher or not, Geralt’s presence in SoulCalibur VI will definitely be appreciated.
Whilst SoulCalibur VI’s roster might not be huge, it does have one feature that’ll ensure you’ll never run out of characters to play as: the Character Creator. You can create your own characters in the game using a myriad of customisation tools, with an abundance of costume parts available to make a mixture of slick looking warriors and vile monstrosities. Honestly, the customisation options are great, with the player able to create fighters that are humans, skeletons, monsters, demons, mummys – there’s just so much choice. However, whilst you can fine-tune their appearance, their fighting style is going to be based off one of the pre-existing fighters, so each created character won’t ever have a unique moveset. Still, it’s neat to play around with, whilst the fact players can share their characters online means you’ll never run out of awesome (or horrific) fighters to play as.
I haven’t had a chance to check out the game’s online modes properly yet, with the online community not being active whilst playing the pre-release version of the game. I’ve had a handful of fights which have all gone smoothly though, whilst Bandai Namco have been pretty consistent with the quality of the online servers in their recent fighters so I’m hoping for the same sort of experience here.
As far as local multiplayer is concerned, unfortunately you’re limited to just standard battles. I was REALLY hoping there’d be Team Battle included since it’s my favourite ways to play a fighter with friends, but instead it’s just one-on-one affairs. It’s not the end of the world, but still, it would’ve been nice to have had some variety. There’s no Survival mode on offer for single player either, which is a shame – sure, we might have two story modes to play through, but everyone loves the challenge of taking on an onslaught of fighters in Survival, right?
Finally, I’d be remiss not to talk about the game’s visuals, which weren’t only bloody stunning throughout but also maintained a solid framerate. The character models themselves are really impressive with a lot of attention to detail not only given to their attire (which breaks apart mid-battle might I add) but also their weapons too. Environments are also fantastic to look at, with plenty of vivid colours and startling sights making up each historic battleground. SoulCalibur VI is just a spectacular looking game throughout.
Gamers have been spoilt by the amount of great fighters that have released recently, but I think that SoulCalibur VI might be my pick of the bunch. The fighting in the game is balanced, accessible, and entertaining, the TWO story modes offer hours of quality content to work through, whilst the game also just so happens to look stunning throughout too – what more could you ask for?
Sure, the roster isn’t as big as other fighters and there aren’t game modes like Survival and Team Battle, but at least SoulCalibur VI gets the important things right. It’s just a bloody brilliant game, and one that I can see myself coming back to for a long, long time.
Developer: Project Soul
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC