Review by rickjames420
"The best fighter since Street Fighter 2"
Alright, I admit it, I'm starting to get up in years. The joints are starting to creak, radio music is sounding worse and worse, and new fighting games are driving me into epileptic seizures. You know what I'm talking about: the SF 3 Alpha's, Marvel vs. Capcom's, DOA's, etc. Somewhere along the line, responsive controls and tight game mechanics were thrown out the door for flashier graphics, more on-screen activity, and bizarre ultra-hyper-quadruple-team super 600-hit combo special attacks.
And then, like a blessing from Ryu's dead sensei, Namco dropped the first Soul Calibur on lucky Dreamcast owners. Sadly, I wasn't one of those lucky owners, and was only able to play the game once or twice. So when I got my hands on SC II for Gamecube, it was my first chance to really delve into the game, and I couldn't have been any more thrilled. Do you ever flip on the SNES to get some old-school SF 2 action against your roommates? I certainly do. Well there's finally a worthy upgrade: you're sure to keep Soul Calibur II on-hand for years to come.
While both the single-player and multi-player aspects of the game are fun, there's really a world of difference between the two, not only in the available modes but in the way you'll find yourself playing. Let's look at the two separately:
Single-player, 7/10: The game features a huge variety of modes to try to keep you busy. The key in that is "try." Although single-player is fun, the computer AI is somewhat lacking and thus you'll find yourself tiring of the single-player version of the game as soon as you start to hone your skills. The game features a very fun Story Mode in which you unlock characters and weapons while completing a variety of challenges (fights where you can't get knocked down, endurance matches against ~5 enemies, fights where you can only throw your opponent, fights where only air juggles do damage, etc.). This is great the first time through, but unfortunately it's quite short and it's not character-specific, so if you've done it with any character there is no reason to go back and do it again. There is also your standard Arcade Mode, in which you can see a bit more character-specific story and unlock some more goodies. The most disappointing thing about this mode is that you don't have to fight every character to beat it. Each character has a set of 6 or 7 characters they have to battle, plus the boss. It just feels like a cop-out on Namco's part, and I fail to see the justification behind it. Once I had played Arcade Mode with each character, I saw no reason to EVER play it again. It's more fun to play one of the other single-player modes: Time Attack, Survival, and Practice. In Time Attack, you choose from three different difficulty levels, which determines not only the difficulty level of your opponents but also the number of opponents you face (up to 20). The easier settings will go by quickly, but the expert mode is addictively challenging. Between rounds, you only regain a small amount of health, so both your skill and consistency are tested. In Survival Mode, you face a seemingly unlimited number of opponents. Every five victories, the difficulty level is increased and the amount of life you regain between rounds is decreased. This becomes very difficult, very fast, which makes it a great way to play the game by yourself. The Practice Mode is a great way to learn moves and timing, and to improve your overall game. It has a number of settings you can play with to practice specific game situations. One of my favorite ways to play the game by myself is to just go into Practice Mode, ramp the difficulty up to the highest setting, and go at it. You can zone out for quite a while, just trying different strategies and learning to react to your opponent.
The main problem with single-player, at least for me, is that after a certain point, it will actually make you a worse overall player. Think of the game as an incredibly elaborate version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. No matter how skilled you are, it pretty much comes down to predicting what your opponent will do. Unfortunately, the computer AI is fairly predictable, and if you play single-player much you will begin to expect certain move sequences. When you try to play a human opponent, you'll find yourself caught off guard by move sequences you've never seen before and haven't trained yourself to recognize. It's a problem that only advanced players will encounter, but a problem nonetheless.
Multiplayer, 10/10: Here is where the game shines, or more accurately, melts your skin off and then incinerates your bones. This is, without question, one of the greatest ways for two people to waste the rest of their lives. Playing a human opponent in this game is intense, challenging, balanced, intense again, and just flat-out cool. The characters and game are balanced enough that a novice can pick the game up, and within a few hours could be winning rounds (if not matches) against a skilled player. It's the type of game where you can slip up once and find yourself in a huge hole, so the pressure is always on. There aren't "special" moves like in most fighting games (Link aside, who shoots arrows and throws bombs). It's all realistic combat: once you've learned your moves and your opponents moves, it's all about spacing and timing. With the quick characters, you'll find yourself making feints and jab-steps, baiting your opponent until you have your chance to move in. With characters with long reach, you'll be jabbing and poking to try to keep those fleet-footed opponents as far away as possible. The big characters are like a combination of both: keep the opponent at weapon's reach, but if they do get in, move in and throw. There are so many dynamics, so many ways to counter your opponent's counter, that the game comes down to sheer guts. You have to be aggressive, you have to get in your opponent's head, you have to bait your opponent, use moves that you know won't land just so your opponent will expect that move the next time they see it and then BAM you change it up, your opponent's stunned, you move in for the kill BUT NO, they guard impact and now you're on the defensive, and the pressure builds . . . Every match is just like this. Imagine a tennis game where both players are two feet from the net but they still manage to have 20-hit volleys. There are the standard Vs. and Team Vs. Modes, and both are great fun. Basically, you can't a better two-player game. It's perfect for a dorm-room or house with multiple gamers. You WILL NOT get tired of playing your friends, especially since it's almost impossible for someone to become unbeatable with every character.
The story in this game is actually surprisingly deep for a fighting game. In fact, it's so lengthy that it almost becomes a problem. Story Mode is filled with incredibly long (LONG) descriptions and chapters. I'm actually lowering the score for there being too much text. It desperately needs some cut scenes, because I'm not playing the game to read a 10000 word essay about some sword and some people who want it. I quit reading the descriptions about halfway through. What I gathered is that there's this sword called the Soul Calibur, and a bunch of people want it for various reasons, and some of the people are demi-gods or something. Personally, this is about as much description as I want out of my fighting games. The story is actually pretty well-written, just WAY WAY too long. But if you want an RPG-esque story in a fighter, you'll love it.
Though no comparison to some of the prettier games for the system (read: Metroid Prime), the graphics in SC II are more than adequate. The character designs are quite good, you have a number of unique costumes to choose from for each character, the frame rate holds up, and the animations are great. The way the characters move might be the most gratifying part; you never lose the sense that the characters really know how to use their weapons and do so in a realistic way (try watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 after playing with Mitsurugi for a while, it's awesome). My only complaint about the characters is that there's no visual indication of your character taking damage. Some blood or torn clothing or something would have been nice, and isn't too much to ask on these new systems. On the bright side, the level designs are awesome. They're without a doubt my favorite part of the graphics. They have great backgrounds, decent textures, and each one is totally unique. Overall, the gameplay is so good in this game that it would still be fun if the characters were stick figures fighting on a blank background. So the better-than-decent graphics are more than adequate.
I have a love/hate relationship with the sound in the game. First off, what I hate: the music. Bland, boring, somewhat annoying, almost entirely forgettable. There's just not much to say other than that about the music. It's practically like it's not there at all. Now, what I love about the sound: the effects. The weapon clashes are precise and really make you feel like you're in a weapon-fight. And if you've played Viewtiful Joe, you'll feel right at home with the aural cues in this game. Every character has a unique set of grunts and expressions, all of which give you precise cues about when to execute moves. For example, Maxi will let out a distinct grunt as he enters each of his stances. Most of the time, it's a LOT quicker to execute a move based on these grunts than it is from visual cues. Not only are the characters' expressions useful, some of them are hilarious. In my house, any time you play as Yunsung it's just expected that you will take every possible opportunity to get him to proclaim "Neeext!". Maxi's "Wuuuaachaa!" is also hilarious. There are many more, and I'm sure you'll find yourself repeating them any time you're bored or need something to put a smile on your face. If only Namco had taken the time to put these little touches into the music as well. But overall, I think the effects more than make up for the shortcomings of the music.
This is quite simply one of the greatest games to come out in years. I reserve 10's for truly groundbreaking games that spawn new genres. Soul Calibur II isn't really revolutionary in any way, but it is one of the most well-executed games I've played. I'm sure to have it ready to play with the rest of my favorites for years to come. It's incredibly crisp, beautiful, and just all-out fun. I do wish single-player was a little better, but this may even replace Street Fighter 2 as my 2-player game of choice. Just a flat-out incredibly fun game.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/07/04
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