Review by discoinferno84

"Give me the beat boys and free my soul..."

I remember walking into Gamestop in the summer of 2003. I usually just wandered around the various game racks or checked out any new demos for the consoles. But on those blistering summer days, only one demo had me going back time and again. I As soon as I played Soul Calibur II for the first time, I knew it was a game that I'd be adding to my collection. Later on, I learned that Link, one of Nintendo's most beloved mascots, was to be an exclusive character on the Gamecube version. Being the casual fanboy, the fact of Link's presence made me want the game even more. But it took precedence of the real reason why I though the game would be great. Aside from having a popular exclusive character, Soul Calibur II has the necessary elements to make it a truly great addition to anyone's game collection.

With most fighting games, we come across a cast of fighters that are fighting for life's intangibles, like honor, glory, or love. But the characters of Soul Calibur II are fighting for a physical object: the almighty Soul Edge. This weapon bestows the wielder with tremendous power. But there's a catch; the Soul Edge is inherently evil. However, this won't stop our fighters from their conquest. Our fighters are presented with individual decent background stories to appeal to the audience. Each character wants the Soul Edge for a different reason. Some want it to restore peace to their homelands, while others want to use the weapon to bring death and destruction down upon humanity. Whatever the reason, you must guide your character on their quest for the Soul Edge.

We are presented with an excellent cast with characters from all walks of life. You've got everything from the Hero of time to an undead pirate captain. There are characters that have some historical context, like Raphael or Mitsirugi. There are also characters that have supernatural aspects, like Cervantes. All of them have unique personalities and attitude that create a more appealing presentation. Talim seems so sweet and innocent until she carves into her opponents with her trusty blades. Yunsung is just some headstrong and patriotic young man, so it takes a woman like Seung Mina to keep him in check. The different character quirks create more likeable characters. Although these background qualities add so much, the basis of your choices will revolve around the fighting styles of the individual characters. Unlike most fighting games, Soul Calibur II features characters that use weapons as opposed to bare fists. And just like the characters, the weapons available cover a wide range of fighting styles. Some characters use swords, some use staffs, and some use weapons the likes of which we've never seen. Once you've decided on what character you want to be, you have to learn to use his or her weapons to their fullest extent.

One of the great things about this game is the underlying need for strategy in the gameplay. You've chosen a fighter based on your preferences, so you have to deal with the advantages and the limitations that come with each. If you're into distance fighting, Nightmare or Astaroth will be your best chance. But with that long distance attack comes the need for attacking quickly and adapting to smaller, faster targets. If you want someone up close and personal, Maxi might be a good choice, but woe to those who don't learn how to use his wild combos effectively. Even though Link comes equipped with an endless supply of projectiles, button mashers will have a hard time learning some patience and button timing. Overall, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses that can be used and abused in the heat of combat. But aside from that, there are deeper strategies of dodges, counters, sidesteps, combo chains and other factors hidden within the gameplay. Anyone can pick up this game and learn a character, but the truly talented gamers will master a character and learn the aspects of the in-depth gameplay.

The gameplay is backed up by a multitude of gaming modes. You've got the standard Arcade mode and Versus mode by default. There are also Time Attack and Survival modes to consider. When you unlock new weapons, you can also unlock new gameplay modes. But the main chunk of this game revolves around the Weapon Master mode. Unlike the Arcade mode, this focuses more on a storyline as opposed to simple fights. You character learns the basics of fighting and is sent out on a conquest. The adventure leads your character though different lands and locales. And at each of these places, you'll have to face another fighter. Also, there are special conditions or rules applied to each fight. Sometimes you'll have to win while your health bar decreases. Sometimes you'll have to face down whole teams of opponents. But your goal is to go from land to land and complete each trial.

This sounds interesting, but the real reason to play Weapons Master mode doesn't have anything to do with an in-depth storyline. This mode is vital for collecting all the unlockables available to you. When you win a battle, you are awarded experience points and gold. Once you've leveled up enough, you can gain access to new areas necessary for the completion of the story. But the real importance lies with the gold. You can buy all sorts of unlockables using the cold hard cash you've earned. You can get everything from new weapons to individual character art. Everything that you require is recorded in an overall collection, so you can look back and see what you're missing. Also, the unlockables add so much more to the existing game. When you acquire a new weapon, it comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some weapons have healing abilities, while others bestow more power to the user. The limitations of these unlockable weapons add a whole new aspect of strategy to an already deep game. And since each character has quite a few weapons to collect, it's a pretty safe to say that you'll be spending hours unlocking everything this game has to offer.

But as you're executing multiple button combos and stabbing your opponent, don't forget to take a look at where you're doing battle. The graphical qualities of this game are excellent and make great use of the Gamecube's abilities. All of the characters have excellent detail that creates a more realistic presentation. You can see Nightmare's shiny armor and or the scales of the Lizard Man. Also, their weapons are rendered with great detail. Link's Great Fairy's Sword looks just as it did in Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. But the real beauty lies with the levels on which you're fighting. When you start battling, you are thrust into a realistic setting for your fight. And these locales are as varied as the contenders. You can fight Cervantes in the depths of an ocean cave. You can fight Nightmare in a massive cathedral. The details of the individual arenas have been included with plenty of care. If you look closely at the waters of Cervantes' cove, you can see a large shark swimming just under the surface. If you fight Raphael, your arena is a beautiful rendition of the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles in France. Not only are these arenas blest with detail, but they also create a realistic atmosphere. You feel as if you're right there, watching the fight happen within these surroundings.

And these great graphics are backed up by a superb use of sound effects. Every character ha a unique voice that meshes well with their personalities. Raphael has a pronounced French accent. Nightmare has a rumbling voice that can strike fear into any fighter. As for Link…Well, let's just say that Link can't speak English. But his battle cries are more than enough to convey his emotion. Also, the sound effects of the fights are right on target. You can hear the loud clang as metal meets metal and the deep thud as a foot comes into contact with a torso. You can hear your opponent scream as they are impaled with your sharp weapon. But it's the music quality that rounds out the impressive sound. The orchestration creates a more epic presentation that draws the gamer closer to the battle. Any Zelda fan will pick up on the remixed Legend of Zelda theme that accompanies Link in his battle. But these dramatic orchestrations add to what is already an excellent gaming experience.

So where does this leave the latest fighting game to bless this generation of game consoles? Soul Calibur II has a remarkable cast of fighters to choose from. It has enough unlockables and extra features to satisfy any gamer's needs. There is plenty of underlying strategy hidden in the gameplay. It's up to you to pick a character, learn their abilities, and master them. This game also has highly detailed character designs, weapons, and arenas. The epic sound effects add to the overall realism of the presentation. Even if you're not really into fighting games, still consider this for at least a rental. For those of you looking for an excellent gaming experience or a game to add to your collection, look no further. Your quest for the Soul Edge is about to begin.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/25/04


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