Review by Geistosan
"Selling the soul to George Lucas."
When it comes to fighting games, I can respect the conundrum they're in. Most genres can quickly evolve as the technology gets better and better whereas fighting games become stagnant with every year. I can't blame the developers that much since, really, just how many new characters and ways to punch somebody in the face can they come up with before it gets old? With each sequel it gets harder to attract new players and you have to make sure everything one-hundred percent perfect before the veterans of the series get cranky.
Which brings us to Soul Calibur IV, coming in with a proven and successful formula on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. At its core is mostly the same fighting game you played if you picked up any of the previous games and that's not necessarily a good thing. Using pretty much the same system since Soul Calibur came out in '98, if you can pick the basics of the game up pretty quickly. You've got your block, kick, horizontal attack, and vertical attack buttons and all of the combinations between them to pummel your sword-wielding opponent into ground beef or knock them out of the ring. Adding a bit more depth is the guard break, a powerful attack that does what it says, and the parry which if timed correctly knocks them off-guard.
Sounds really good, right? It is, but it's been a long decade since all these ideas were considered innovative. The question here is has time been good to the formula and I'd have to say no. Characters that have a long reach and a decent speed of attack will most likely have an advantage like Kilik or Seung-Mina, you can mash on the horizontal attack button as that's infinitely more effective than the vertical, the guard break attacks are fun to watch but they're much slower than regular attacks and if your opponent has an ounce of brains they'll step out of the way long before you make contact. Also once you're knocked on the ground get ready to get pounded a dozen times over before you can stand back up ala Tekken not to mention the parry system can turn into boring rounds of somebody blocking and parrying all day long.
Soul Calibur IV doesn't do much to truly mix up the core mechanics of the game, but rather tries to add more dressings to the whole thing. The main modes of play consist of Story, Arcade, and Tower of Lost Souls. Story mode is easily the weakest of the bunch and not to mention the easiest. You get a blurb of text serving as exposition, go through five stages, and sit back and watch an incoherent ending where your character acts like they're about to waste the ridiculously easy final boss and then chicken out. It's all very unsatisfying. To try and change things a little you can get a tag match going in Story or Tower mode, but for some reason you can't do it in Versus. The enemies you face in Story go beyond the scope of easy, even on hard mode. You literally have to throw the fight in order to lose.
Tower of Lost Souls mode is essentially the mission type of mode from previous Soul Caliburs with a slight aesthetic change and the mentioned tag mode. Basically you fight under certain conditions in order to gain money and unlockables, which is fine when the condition is easy, but when it's hard it can be extraordinarily frustrating. Not only that, the game won't even tell you most times as the only descriptions you get are fortune cookie-esque sayings that make little to no sense. So you spend most of the fight trying to fulfill the requirement only to get decked or you make it to the boss of the level only to find that they're only vulnerable to guard breaks or something lame like that.
What you'll be tinkering around with during most of your time is the Character Creation mode. This is easily the biggest plus to the game as it's much more revamped than the one in Soul Calibur III. It's not as deep as you might like, but you can tamper with your character's voice, musculature, face, and hair. The primary reason to play any of the single player modes is to unlock articles of clothing for the creation mode. You can also change the clothing of the main Soul Calibur fighters if you want to give your Voldo that personal touch.
Another change is that the developers added role-playing elements as what clothes your character wears can affect they're stats, essentially killing the fun in tinkering with your custom-made character. You can't just deck your guy out in evil, cool-looking armor but have to be mindful if it lowers your stats next to nothing. Their ensemble doesn't have to match even, you can just select random pieces of clothing and if it helps their stats then who cares if Talim looks like she dressed herself out of a used clothes bin?
Special skills such as regenerating health or invisibility can be equipped to your characters but at that point you have to ask why you bothered to learn every move when the enemy can just press a button, turn invisible, and throw you around like a ragdoll. One more questionable change is the Critical Finisher which is difficult to execute and will end the match. Supposedly it's in the game to deter players from blocking excessively but simply walking up and throwing them renders this addition pointless. Damage to your armor and clothes ties into the Critical Finisher feature, but all it does is let you admire the graphics.
Which are ridiculously good-looking. Levels are designed with stunning vistas, lifelike characters, and small details like hair and muscle all gorgeously-rendered on your TV. Polished armor glistens in the sun realistically and you'd have a hard time telling the custom characters from the actual fighters. I'd have to nominate Soul Calibur IV as one of the best looking games ever, and the sound is no slouch either.
Rounding out the last of the new features are the new and guest characters. Let's get this straight right away: Yoda is incredibly unbalanced, not much fun to use, and has absolutely no business being in this game outside of shamelessly promoting an upcoming game along with The Apprentice, the other much advertised guest character. The Apprentice, who has no given name so we're just going to call him Marvin for the time being, further breaks any kind of balance the game sought to have by being quick, powerful, and able to keep you in the air for a long time with his attacks. If you play against Marvin expect to be on the receiving end of a knockout.
Online play is included, but since Dead or Alive, Mortal Kombat, and Virtua Fighter have all done the same thing before, is it even worth mentioning?
While this might read as a harsh review, don't get me wrong. It's by no means a terrible game, just simply unremarkable with a formula that needs to be either severely tweaked or retired completely. There's a small spark of good gameplay in there but it's buried under aging mechanics and a mountain of superfluous extras. You'll quickly tire of stripping Voldo bare or dressing up Ivy like a Vegas showgirl and nothing about the gameplay motivates you to dig deeper into the engine to find depth and become a better player.
It's a decent fighter, it has to be because of its predecessors, but you can get the same gameplay with Soul Calibur II and III that costs you about the same as a McDonald's value menu at your local bargain bin or even download the original Soul Calibur through Xbox Live versus shelling out sixty dollars for this lackluster installment.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 08/04/08
Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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