Bandai Namco’s tale of swords and souls returns with Soulcalibur VI; a fresh and inspired take on their eternally retold fighting game saga.
Title: Soulcalibur VI
Developers: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: October 19, 2018
It’s difficult to understate how important the Soul series of fighters became to the genre. While 3D competitors such as Sega’s Virtua Fighter titles and its own sister Tekken franchise were on the market. However, Namco and Project Soul’s original Soulcalibur went on to change things forever.
The 1999 game’s biggest innovation, for instance, was in introducing the eight-way movement system that became a standard throughout 3D fighters in the near-two decades since. It was certainly an improvement over predecessor Soul Edge, but no one could have predicted the type of influence it would have going forward.
The series went on to break new ground in its sequels as well. They thrived particularly on the concept of guest characters, whether they came from other games, comics and even Star Wars. However, the series’ fifth was met with less fervor from the series’ rabid fan base, and sales were down compared to the fourth.
Now, six years later, we have Soulcalibur VI. Given the gap between games, it’s a chance for Project Soul and Bandai Namco to start fresh with its original fighting game saga. Not only have they done just that, but the overall package and refreshing gameplay are some of the best that the series has had in quite some time.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward in Soulcalibur. Pick from any of the 22 available base roster fighters and get medieval on an opponent using vertical, horizontal and special attacks along with the aforementioned movement system. It’s more than enough for veterans to feel right at home, especially since some move sets weren’t changed all that much from previous iterations.
Of course, there are a few wrinkles thrown in to keep things interesting. Reversal Edge is a new mechanic that can act as a counter and an attack. If hit, it initiates a rock-paper-scissors clash that can really turn the tide of any given match. It’s an occasionally cheap, but effective means of clawing back into a fight with an opponent barreling down your defenses.
Beyond that most of other familiar mechanics are here. Critical Edges, Guard Impacts, Guard Breaks and Soul Charges (which are slightly different this time around) and plenty more all make their return in Soulcalibur VI. This all creates a nice blend of accessible, yet deep gameplay that the series has been known for.
While it can be entertaining at times, Libra ends up getting too long in the tooth…
It certainly has an entertaining ceiling for high-level play, but can also be enjoyed by more casual button-mashers. The traditional three-out-of-five sets can be absolutely exhilarating at times, especially if they come down to the final blow or a well-timed reversal.
Soulcalibur VI also offers plenty of other experiences aside from its combat. It features two different story modes, each recounting events from the first Soulcalibur game and acts as a soft reboot for the series. Libra of Soul takes your own created character through a light, RPG-like quest. While it can be entertaining at times, Libra ends up getting too long in the tooth, and more of a grind get the unlockable boss Inferno rather than a fun and engaging story mode.
Thankfully, Soul Chronicle is much more on the lighter side. This mode contains mini-campaigns for each character in the game to give them each more of an origin story and to set the reboot further in motion. Though if plot and lore aren’t quite your thing, the traditional arcade ladder is also available for your playing pleasure.
Casual and ranked online play is also around as well to test your mettle against the world. All things considered, netplay was pretty solid with the occasional hiccups and lag creeping in from less optimal connections. Other than not including casual matchmaking in favor of lobbies for some reason, it pretty much ticks off the boxes for standard online play for a fighter.
As mentioned, Soulcalibur VI has 22 characters at launch when counting Inferno and Day 1 DLC Tira. While this seems like a relatively low number, each of them has their own unique fighting style and weapon to where this doesn’t feel like this is much of an issue.
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New characters like Grøh, Azwel and The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia all fit in nicely with the rest of the fan-favorites on the roster. Plus there’s DLC on the way, including Nier Automata’s 2B as a playable fighter and other associated content. That all said, locking an already-finished Tira behind an Eliza-style paywall from Tekken 7 is still a pretty crummy move, even if it’s an easy buy for those committing to the game outright.
The ensemble looks as good as they ever have, though there are times where the game’s budget clearly shows. This is particular in some of the facial animations and clipping that can be found, but none of that’s really a deal-breaker. They go hand-in-hand with some of the gorgeous stages ranging from dark woodlands, snowy peaks, desert plateaus, pirate ship docks and everything in-between and everything you’d expect from Soulcalibur.
Each character also offers plenty to learn and master thanks to the depth the gameplay contains. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really offer many interactive ways to learn the intricacies of battle. Its general tutorial is hidden early on in Libra of Soul, and character overviews are relegated to walls of text and menus in training mode. Much like last year with Tekken 7, this approach feels a bit archaic when compared to other fighting games currently on the market.
But what not many other games can’t do better than Soulcalibur VI is its outstanding character creator. All of the different texture, body and color options make it very easy for creative types to get lost in the creation suite. As I’m sure you’ve seen since the game’s launch, the possibilities with this function are practically endless. From odd original creations to famous characters from TV, movies and even memes; anyone can now forge their own destiny in the tale of swords and souls.
Maybe absence made the heart grow fonder, but this feels like the fresh start the series desperately needed. While some aspects of gameplay aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel, it still feels deep enough for veterans while also being fun and welcoming for newer players. There’s also plenty of single-player content to sink one’s teeth into, even if Libra of Soul is a bit of a disappointment.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.