Review by Timtheassassin
"All I could hope for in a fighting game."
Soulcalibur, the critically acclaimed fighting series comes to the next-gen, this time with Star Wars guest characters in tow, but how well does it come together?
Graphics don't make a game, but they can nearly break one. That doesn't matter in this situation though, because Soulcalibur IV looks amazing. The stage design is some of the best that I've seen in a fighting game, with areas that are fun to play and fun to look at, ranging from a freezing cave to a throne room complete with armored guards lining the walls, to a pirate ship, to a Star Wars docking bay.
The character design is good as usual with the Soulcalibur games. Imaginative characters, weapons, and especially costumes, that also look good. My only gripe is that some of the costumes you can use are just so outlandish or so, well, big. Sometimes it's ridiculous to have a character decked out with armor thats nearly two times bigger than he is. But that doesn't affect much, since if you don't want to use the custom costumes, you don't have to. Most of the default ones are fine like they are.
This game feels like it has improved itself pretty vastly over Soulcalibur III. The combos are fun, the characters and weapons are fun, and the fighting in general is just fun. The attack combos are plentiful, looking at the move list you'll think that you'll never know them all, but there are combos you can do that are effective if you're a beginner and very hard ones if you have mastered a character. Fighting with a character is as complicated as you want to make it.
The fighting is mostly balanced, there isn't a god-like character that no one lets you play as, and there is no inherently weak characters, they can all be played effectively depending on who plays them. The only character that some consider close to god-like is the Xbox 360 exclusive, Yoda. He isn't the strongest on paper, just looking at his moves, he seems above average. His problem is that he is hard to hit, being small, you have to do attacks that will actually go down to hit him, and he is impossible to grab. This is balanced out enough by the fact that nearly all of Yoda's combos make him jump and continue the combo mid-air, leaving him open to be hit by any attack, and his grab moves require him to jump too, leaving him very vulnerable before the attack lands. My verdict? Yoda is slightly more annoying to fight against then the second most annoying character, but he is definitely not unstoppable or a game breaker. He's not even the strongest, offensively.
Playing online, the gameplay is kind of soft on button mashers. If you are a button masher and don't know how to play very deeply, you certainly can rack up the wins. But they are easily countered after you learn a character deeper than the button mashing moves and learn the game in general better than the button masher, and playing smartly beats hitting Y as fast as possible.
The skills system is nice, and is done well with gear giving you skill points to use for skills such as doing damage while opponent is blocking, extra damage at the start of a round, etc. The soul gauge is a nice element, it is a gauge that gets slowly depleted when someone blocks. If you deplete an enemy's soul gauge fully and then break their guard with a powerful move, you can do a critical finish, instantly ending the round in a cool cutscene.
The story modes for each character are short, but fun and challenging, especially on hard. If you want a real challenge though, the new Tower of Lost Souls mode, where you ascend or descend a tower. Ascending makes you pick 1 or more fighters and beat a few rounds of combat without regaining your health. If you do it in a certain way for each level, like not get hit for floor 1, you get a bonus item for customization. Descending makes you fight hordes of enemies without regaining health (unless you switch out for another character, the one switched out slowly regains health).
Customization is where this game shines under the surface. You can customize every character to some extent in the Create A Character mode. Characters like Yoda and Algol (the main boss of most character's story modes) can only have their weapons and one special item changed. Most other characters can be changed fully, and decked out to the teeth in better gear than they have on. You can also make a character from scratch. The gear selection is pretty impressive, especially as you unlock more and more pieces by way of gaining achievements. The gear generally looks cool and you can make your character look pretty much how you want. Pirate, ninja, paladin, gladiator, none of the above but just want a badass looking character? You can do it.
My only complaint is that if you want your character to have the best stats he or she can have, sometimes you have to sacrifice the looks and put on either too much armor or a dumb looking piece or whatever it may be. You can just put on a weaker piece to complete a cool outfit though, because usually it doesn't make you all too much weaker. The other setback is you have to select an existing fighter's style if you made a new character from scratch, limiting a lot of ideas for characters. Overall though, the customization is great.
Soulcalibur IV is one of the most fun games I've played in a long time, and one of my favorites on the 360. It's an almost perfect fighting game with a few minor flaws, but nothing game breaking, none of the flaws are even really noticeably annoying unless you have them in mind before you go to play. The good really outweighs the bad here, and makes this game a fun fighting game with great design, relatively deep gameplay, and lots to do for strong replayability.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/01/08
Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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