Review by Sunrie

"Is it fun? Is it good? Short answer is "Yes""

Soul Calibur IV is one of the most highly anticipated fighting games in a very long time. Namco has been expected to put the bar even higher than before. Did Namco achieve what gamers expect? Well, yes and no.

Gameplay
Obviously Soul Calibur IV is a fighting game. The great thing about this addition to the series is the fact that it is easily accessible to just about anyone. There's no need to worry about dedicating countless hours to one character, picking apart each frame of animation, in order to be effective. Hardcore fans of the series, who do such a thing, will find most of the game play is exactly how it was in the past.

The major down side is the story mode consists of five stages. Yes, that's it. You get a brief introduction as to why the character is there, and then you fight through five stages. Sure you'll battle a lot of character, as each fight is done in a type of tag-team match, but it's just lacking. The arcade mode is your typical arcade style fighting, where you have no bonuses attached to your character (unlike in story mode), and you fight eight 2 round matches. Instead of an ending, you get points which can be uploaded to the XBL leader boards for bragging rights...or something.

Characters have three basic attacks (Horizontal Slash, Vertical Slash, and Kick) which can hit in three different areas (High, Mid, Low). No fighter worth it's salt doesn't have special moves, and each character has a myriad of them. None of the moves seem overly cheap and the game is very balanced because of it. Actually, every character is extremely balanced against each other, even with a slight "Rock, Paper, Scissors" priority with some of the attacks.

The main goal is, of course, to take your opponents health bar down to zero. There are many ways of doing this, from repeatedly striking your opponent, to tossing them out of the ring.

A new addition to the game is the Critical Finishers. Each character has a high, middle, and low piece of armor which can break if enough strikes are delivered to the area. Now, if you're one of those players who like to block the entire match, you're going to get punished if this happens. After a piece of armor breaks and your Soul Gauge turns read after blocking too much, your opponent can hit all four buttons (Horizontal, Vertical, Kick, Guard) and take you out in one strike. Don't worry. Critical Finishers are not a major component in the game play, and rarely happen.

So, how does the game respond to your input? Like every fighting game should. You don't have to be exact and you can't really get away with button mashing. While some of the more intricate combos take practice, you'll get the feel of the game after a few matches. Master one character, and it's not too hard to be good with another.

This is the first time online has been available for the Soul Calibur series. Unfortunately, I cannot speak of it at this point because my XB360 is not connected to the Internet. I do not know what downloadable content, if any, is available, nor can I comment on the lag, or lack there of.

Graphics
Not uber, not mushy, just right. Each character model is excellent and clean. The stages are a little bland compared to ones in the past, even if the graphical representation is so nice to look at.

Character clothing floats in the breeze, individual hairs move as the characters jump about, and the lighting seems spot on. Still, this day in age I'm a little surprised some of the issues with clothing layers is still coming around. Many times when you create your fighter, customize a fighter, or use the default models, you will see items clipping through each other and even behave in strange ways.

Case in point...I created a fighter with a cape. Not only do the daggers obviously poke through, the cape sometimes seems to have a difficult time in knowing how to behave with my actions. The cape either jumps about oddly instead of falling straight down or it will stay curled up and twitch before laying flat. Granted, it doesn't always do this (except with the weapons poking through), but it's there a lot. I don't understand why games have the clothing react to other items even in this generation of gaming power.

Still, because I can really only complain about the clothing issue, it's a huge win overall. Some arenas have areas where you can smash objects, or knock them down in order to expand the ring or give you the ability to ring out your opponent. Inside of Ostrheinsburg Castle there is a row containing suits of armor. As the battle progresses, these suits of armor take on a life of their own and march forward a few feet, making the arena smaller! It's really cool to watch.

Sound
The game is available to be played in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and boy does it sound good! Plugging the game into your surround sound system is going to give you audible joy seldom granted in fighting games.

The music itself isn't all that great and may irritate you after a few plays, however. It's not that the music is bad, it's just not as good as some in the past and in some other fighting games. Still, it's difficult for me to knock the soundtrack as it is so good overall.

Every clang of metal on metal or the buzzing of a lightsabre is going to make you smile. I don't think it's ever sounded so good in the series. The sounds of cutting flesh and bashing bone rings out of the speakers in high glory.

Each character has a different voice set this time, including the additional characters, which is welcome. There are three different intro and exist statements for each character. Their screams of pain will send a chill up your spine and their screams of victory will make you beat on your chest with pride.

Bonuses
Well, there's a lot of them! Available to players is the Tower of Souls, fighter creation, and online play.

Tower of Souls is a 60 floor tower in which you take any fighter of your choosing, including customs, and fight your way up one floor at a time. Some areas require you to fight from one to three floors at a time with different amount of fighters at your disposal. The clincher is between matches and enemies, you do not regain health. One trick is if you have two or more fighters, switch to a character with more health and keep fighting. If you last long enough, the characters in reserve will slowly regain health as time passes.

The fighter creation is back and a lot of fun to play with. Downside? Yep... Unlike in Soul Calibur 3, you can only select the main fighter's "souls" for moves. In SC3 a fighter could be created using a Ninja, and after unlocking the ability, the soul of a Dancer could be introduced and weapons from that style could be used. This is a major step back.

Still, the fighter creation allows you to mix and match a lot of items to make the person look how you want them to. You get to chose if the fighter is good, evil, or neutral instead of letting the items decide for you. Everything from clothing to body mass, from hair to voice pitch and tone can be edited. The only thing you cannot change is how tall your character is.

Every time you use a character, or a character with a type of soul, you gain more "honors" to equip. Each honor has a different cost, which is effected by your items and weapons. Want to shave off enemy HP when they block? It'll cost you!

Even with some step backs with the fighter creation, it's as fun as always. The best part is you can use your creation online against other players. Characters made and customized aren't necessarily more powerful then the regular characters, they are just different, which keeps the game balanced.

Overall
At the end of the day, Soul Calibur IV is a great game with a few flaws. Could the game have been better? I believe that is a matter of opinion. The story mode should have been longer and more involved, but really the draw is the fighter creation with online play.

Should you rent or buy? The game is a definite buy if you like the series or fighting games in general. If you are really unsure, then rent it to see if it is your cup of tea.

Soul Calibur IV is one of the games you'll regret if you miss. With new downloadable content confirmed to be on the way, there will be things to keep you busy for quite a while, even after the shine has started to fade.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/08

Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)


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