Soulcalibur VI (Playstation 4 Review)
There’s a lot we can learn from history, where we went wrong, what worked, and more importantly how we got where we are now. That’s why it was important for Namco Bandai and the team working on Soulcalibur VI to really take a long hard look at themselves and drag Soulcalibur kicking and screaming in to the current generation.
Even though Soulcalibur made it to the generation, it hasn’t brought all of its previous baggage with it. With a new entry comes new mechanics, and Soulcalibur VI has plenty. The first of which, Soul Charge, is a unique take on a powered up stated granted temporarily to all of the cast for a brief period of time at the cost of one bar of meter. Soul Charge helps to bring agency to the actual characters who had previously been defined by the weapon they were holding, rather than who they are as a person. Thanks to these Soul Charges, Kilik finally brings out his evil side, Zasalamel can use some long forgotten powers, and a great deal of the cast gain access to new and fascinating powers. The only issue with Soul Charge is its pliability as a defensive burst, offensive powerhouse, and unbaitable/unpunishable nuisance that, perhaps, makes it a little too strong.
Then there’s Reversal Edge, an attack absorbing counter hidden amongst a cinematic clash. Reversal Edge is available to the entire cast and allows them to absorb numerous hits before responding with an attack in return, it can also break guard if its fully charged. After the attack collides both players are then thrust in to a battle of wits as they choose one of many inputs in the hopes that it beats the opponents. Should the two clash with similar attack buttons, they will continue to another round, else those opting for two defensive movements will return to business as usual. Unlike Soul Charge, Reversal Edge isn’t a catch all response, making it more balanced and nuanced in terms of application, but its ability to gain a chunk of meter does make it a vital tool in every player’s kit.
Finally, there’s Lethal Hits. Lethal Hits are almost quest like requirements for players during matches. They can reward quick reflexes, frame data knowledge, and conditioning massively with objectives like “hit your opponent with a specific move X many times”. It’s an interesting addition that makes sure that a lot of character’s moves have meaning and matches aren’t as linear thanks to the utility of Lethal Hits.
When all of the new mechanics are pulled together with the old, you really get a sense that this could be the best Soulcalibur since Soulcalibur II, thanks in part to the removal of Brave Edges, while retaining the cinematic Critical Edge Supers, and tweaked 8 Way Run movements. It’s just that good. The only real chink in its armour is that there are a few noticeable absences, like Lizardman, Yun Seong, and Amy who all make cameos in the story mode.
It’s often said that history is written by the victor, but the rules surrounding rewriting aren’t quite as clear. So that’s why Soulcalibur VI is starting from the beginning again and chronicling the events, told and untold, from 1583-1590. Kind of. In spite of the timeline reaching all the way up to 1590, the main campaign focuses mainly on Kilik’s journey and the build up to initially fighting Nightmare while all the other stories are plotted about the timeline beneath the central narrative. Unless you want to chronologically play the events by jumping about the characters, voluntarily subjecting yourself to tonal whiplash, to fully understand exactly what’s happening. Alternatively you can just follow each character thread to its finality, making it marginally more digestible. No matter how you consume Soulcalibur VI’s story, the sticking point will always be its presentation. Some characters are relegated to a lower tier of tale, exploring their involvement via some stunning artwork and nothing more. Others are afforded a select few battles against iconic characters and dialogue from fighters that are missing from the roster. If your fortunate enough to stumble upon an actual cinematic, you better put a lottery ticket on. Simply put, it’s not enough to grip anyone and the countless lines of dialogue can prove very off putting.
Similarly, Libra of Souls is also weighed down by far too much dialogue and a distinct lack of action. But instead of offering a story based on current characters, you’re able to gussy up your own and wade in. Throughout the campaign you’ll stumble across familiar faces in pursuit of Azwel, Soulcalibur VI’s latest villain, with the help of Groh, another new face, and a few others. Enacted through a map of the world, and several locations therein, you’ll fight a litany of warriors across a variety of challenges. Things like slippy floors, increased damage, and similar additional conditions all make a return for these challenges, but the core is still very much “fight that guy!”. Again, much like the story, mileage will vary and the rather stinted conversations and alignment based choices do very little to entice you to stick around for the seemingly unending mode. On the plus side, there’s a very good tutorial for Soulcalibur VI’s systems within Libra of Souls, you can switch freely between weapon styles, and upgrade your fighter/weapons in an RPG styled manner.
While the basics of Soulcalibur VI’s systems are eloquently enacted through the Libra of Souls training dojo, there’s a distinct lack of any character specific tutorials. Instead there’s a whole encyclopaedia of Combat Lessons that break down character basics, expert tips, and further information. Usually these kind of tutorials prove quite dry, but every tutorial is embellished with sagely wisdom and quips. On top of that, the movelist themselves offers sample combos and guidance on when/where certain attacks should be used. This kind of support isn’t common within fighting games and it’s a genuine insight as to how the developers envisioned how certain characters should be played. I loved every little detail and they certainly helped me transition from a casual player in to a more knowledgeable one quite quickly.
Even the training mode feels relatively intuitive, although it’s not without its flaws. While it has all the expected functions, it does lack the ability to turn on an option that guarantees a Lethal Hit status is applied on your attacks, meaning that it can prove very very finicky to test out your Lethal Hit specific combos. There’s also a great deal of work that is needed to ensure certain set ups and testing actually rings true to theory, compared to some other games. Although, I’ve always been an advocate of learning by actually doing. Which is more than possible thanks to the arcade mode, versus options, and seemingly stable online play.
In spite of the previous faults, as well as a few niggles with the lack of ability to change inputs in the versus screen, it all comes together beautifully. The sounds design captures the clashing of swords, while the narrator waxes lyrical about battles untold. And it’s all against some of the most scenic backdrops the series has ever presented.
When it comes down to it Soulcalibur VI is the epitome of retrospect, in the sense of history. It has looked at the previous entries, cut all the less favoured aspects, and improved while still managing to progress the series in a meaningful way. Missing characters can be forgiven, lack of cinematics can be swept aside, and boring dialogue can be skipped over. Soulcalibur has never been in a better place and I am dying to find out where the season pass takes us.