SoulCalibur VI is a fighting game that should need no introduction. Well, at least its pedigree shouldn’t. Regardless if you’re a longtime follower or just a button-masher, Namco Bandai’s melodramatic series of arcade fighters has rightfully been christened as the ultimate 1-on-1 weapon-based fighting game choice, largely because it’s really the only one left. While there’s been much change since its PlayStation origins as Soul Edge to its genre-defining success on the Dreamcast, SoulCalibur has remained remarkably consistent in delivering solid fighting thrills – with more than a dash of absurd spectacle.
Which means it’s probably a good time for a new entry, as it’s been a long six years since the last chapter soured fans with its change in story, roster and gameplay. At this point the franchise has comfortably embraced the fantasy of heightened whimsy, almost as if the development team at Project Soul wanted to make a game that was fun and enthralling to play again.
Pulling directly from the phrase of “a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold” SCVI reboots the storyline of the original SoulCalibur. The game knows just how much information needs to be doled out, despite lack of continuity, and does whatever it can relating the ridiculousness of the backstory of a cursed sword. The main ‘Soul Chronicle’ mode is a timeline format that chronicles the main plot and available characters; mainly told through static artwork images with voiceover dialogue and occasional matches sprinkled throughout. Some of the imagery is cool if you appreciate seeing imagery, but possibly too dry for average players to become fully invested in.
Telling an intricate story in any fighting game has always been daunting and SCVI is another victim of this effort, mostly self-inflicted. The other story mode called ‘Libra of Soul’ is vaguely similar but lets you create an extensive-looking character avatar and choosing preset fighting template before taking part in a text/menu driven journey to rid yourself of the evil seed. This is equally generic and is another halfhearted distraction for non-fighting game players. It doesn’t work for me but at least gives players an opportunity to maximize the usage of their customized characters.
However, the gameplay itself remains solid, if further simplified in scale compared to the more recent entries. The structure really hasn’t changed to a measure degree and the opponent who’s able to balance timing, range, and basic counters will be able to quickly dictate the outcome of any match. As usual, knowing your character’s expertise of weaponry requires a learning curve that goes farther than Tekken at moments, but I’m talking on the scale of expert level play. SCVI attempts to smooth out the differences by making air juggles and specific moves noticeably less overwhelming in damage, and making ring-outs less of a crutch than before. These changes should make beginners less frustrated and give everyone a better chance at a comeback.
Most of the original cast returns and longtime fans will be ecstatic that mainstays like Sophia and Taki are thankfully brought back, while the addition of new characters like Grøh is somewhat unique without straying too far from the essence of the series, a trait that often went overboard in recent titles. Grøh’s claim to fame is the ability to split his saber into two blades and alter his stance and movement, effectively adding tactics that encourage confusion tactics and quick retaliation. Using him effectively will take time and patience to become fully acquainted with but he soon becomes an unmistakably quintessential SoulCalibur addition.
One of the series’ signature approaches has been to introduce guest characters, a then-lauded tradition that every game had since SCII. Sometimes the tie-ins worked wonderfully while other inclusions were bizarre or unusual. This time, Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher is a spotlight entrant who fits incredibly well within the SoulCalibur realm, an all-rounder that applies “sign” spells to his skill repertoire that range from safe rushdown to command dodges. Needless to say, I really like Geralt in this game as he works rather well both novices and advanced players.
Beyond that, SCVI feels like business as usual with a determined effort to lure in new and/or curious players. The series as the world currently knows it is well over twenty years old, quite a long time from its arcade origins and subsequent Dreamcast port; which is still heralded (as proclaimed by the gaming media) as one of the finest modern fighting games ever created. Consequently, that is one hell of an expectation for any game to rise up to, and we’ve seen this series do pretty much any and everything to reach that summit again – even if it’s insurmountable.
What is a new to the action is the reversal edge – a parry system that can be activated (by pressing A+B+K at once) for a dramatic slow-motion standoff. It’s basically a flashy version of rock-paper-scissors, only very flexible in execution and strategy. If you’re feeling lucky you can engage in action or decline by guarding (G), you can even counterattack with your own combo or dodge the initiation entirely.
Everything else is also business as usual. The training mode is complex and doubles as a tutorial to help get your feet wet with everything involving basic mechanics, and a suite of information to help you get acquainted with a character of your general playstyle. Of course, majority of players will end up in online matchmaking, which at the time of this writing (ver 1.00) did work, but can be heavily dependent on your geographical region and lobby rooms currently available. I was able to get a few battles in and the netcoding was above average and will hopefully improve over time.
SoulCalibur VI ticks in all the boxes for being another good-looking and triumphant entry of the long-running arcade fighter. Aspects of swordplay are largely weighted but also accounts for novices just now getting into the proverbial legend, it remains enjoyable as before. Some features like campaign modes feel dated by any standard, but at least Bandai Namco knows their core audience and does right with plenty of fan service. It may not be the return-to-form Soul fans have been craving, but SC6 is a marked improvement that should help the healing begin.