Review by Zork86

"Doesn't feel as large as the older games but Soul Calibur IV is still great!"

The Soul series, starting with Soul Blade/Soul Edge back in the mid to late 90s has been regarded as one of the best 3D fighting game series ever, and one of the best fighting game series ever. As time marched on it seemed like the Soul series got more and more popular. Soul Calibur was a smash hit and is a classic on the Dreamcast, Soul Calibur II was the first multiplatform game, it was on PS2, X-Box and Gamecube each featuring it's own unique guest character, everyone got a kick out of that. Then Soul Calibur III rolled around onto the PS2 only for some odd reason with character creation which was pretty awesome but it had some balancing issues because it wasn't Arcade tested first, and it had an annoying RTS/RPG/Fighting game hybrid of an extra mode that the Soul games are known for having. Soul Calibur III in my opinion was the weakest entry into the series thus far but it was still a good game.

Then the promise of Soul Calibur IV came about for next gen consoles. I was excited, not just because I'm a fighting game aficionado or because Soul Calibur is one of my most favorite games to play, but it felt like a chance to make up for the somewhat disappointing Soul Calibur III. Well the game has been out for over a week now and I've spent quite a bit of time with it, I feel I'm ready to give a fair review for the game now. There have been a lot of mixed opinions about the game and certain explanations as to why that is but I'm going to attempt to set the record straight with some of these complaints and nuisances.

Presentation

The game's story mode has been split into two entities. Story Mode and Arcade Mode, Story Mode obviously provides the story in the game, but it feels a bit loose and lazy sometimes but eh, it's a fighting game. What can you do about it? Most stories in fighting games are loose and contrived. Arcade Mode has nothing to do with the story at all, and all you do is fight eight opponents in a row.

The games menus and options are still pretty good but they've taken a lot of options and modes out of the game. For example there is no more official Survival Mode, the only Survival Mode there is now is Descending in Tower of Lost Souls, which I'll get to here in a bit. The options are pretty stripped down too compared to old games which is sort of disappointing but at least they still give you the option to use Japanese voices, which I don't because what's the difference in hearing hokey voices you can understand and hokey voices you can't? Overall the game feels more bare bones than normal, that'll turn some people off but personally I don't really mind it.

Score: 9 – Awesome

Gameplay

The game certainly feels more balanced which is good. Not many people will know what I'm talking about when I'm saying this but Soul Calibur III felt wrong in it's balancing with all the different fighters. It used to possible that huge, slow, powerful guys still always had a good chance of beating faster, more nimble characters, that was all screwed up in SCIII, but now, it seems to back to basics which is great. Basically you'll probably be spending most of your time at first playing Story Mode to unlock The Apprentice one of the guest characters from the Star Wars universe, unlock the bonus characters which were designed by random Anime and Manga artists and have nothing to do with Soul Calibur's story, and earn some money along the way.

The Story Mode is pretty neat but it's quite short, you'll almost always end up just fighting five times. The cut scenes are done well and the voice work is fine but the story mode does have some frustrating elements other than being short. One of these has to do with it's “Tag Battle” element, in certain situations or with certain characters, another character will join up with you to help you in Story Mode, whenever you want you can tag that character in and gain control of it while your other character rests and recovers life. This feature is also frequently used in Tower of Lost Souls, now this is an awesome feature but what's annoying about is that it is only used in these two modes of play. Just when you think the guys from Project Soul finally catch on with the whole Tag Battle feature they muck it up and it's only a Single Player feature.

Wouldn't it have been great if you could have tag battles online, or even offline in multiplayer? Well they missed that boat, maybe someday if they continue to update the game they'll add it in, but I doubt they'll ever do something that drastic with the game. The other annoying thing is certain elements of the story it's self. Fighting games generally aren't known for their amazing narrative, only a few games stand out in the genre for story but for a while it seemed like the Soul Series had a pretty decent thing going with it but then there were a few retcons, that's ok, everything has retcons most of the time they're fine, but then they introduce this new boss character that has absolutely no explanation at all as to who he is or what he represents or why he's even the real final boss. Algol, the character fits the archetype of powerful looking boss guy but there isn't really an explanation for him, he just sort of appears and some people fight him, some people don't.

Take M. Bison from Street Fighter for example, a classic fighting game boss. He looks powerful, you know some stuff about him yet he's still quite mysterious. You know he runs an international crime ring, mostly everyone has some sort of bone to pick with him, and he's powerful, you never find out why he's powerful until the Alpha series that came later but that's fine. Algol however just kind of, appears. He feels tacked on and lazy. Anyway, the Arcade Mode is just a basic Arcade Mode there isn't really anything special about it, just do eight fights and win, then get some gold.

Tower of Lost Souls is where you may end up spending a lot of your time offline when you're playing the game. The gist of Tower is that it's basically a lot like Soul Calibur and Soul Calibur II's extra mode with the random challenges and stuff except they took away the fluff storyline and text that pretty much equated to nothing anyway and took away a map, this is pretty much the old school extra mode with none of the fluff. A lot of people complain about this but personally I like it's straight to the point presentation, no bs, just do challenges, earn money, and unlock stuff. Some people actually miss the lame hybrid of an extra mode from Soul Calibur III, which just got annoying and frustrating after so long. You do two things in Tower Mode, you can either Ascend the Tower doing an array of challenges to unlock items for Character Creation while earning gold or after Ascending over 20 floors you unlock the option to Descend, which is basically Survival Mode but you'll use the Tag element, when you Descend you also earn gold and unlock items. Ascending by far is the more annoying of the two but that's more due to the cheap rubber band (For those who don't know, rubber band AI is an AI that is ridiculously easy at one moment in time and later on will become ridiculously hard to beat, almost impossible. Games most guilty of this would be Mario Kart or Mortal Kombat) AI combined with ridiculous stats and special abilities such as the ability to always resist throws, nullify ring outs, auto guard impact, HP drain and many others make higher floors quite frustrating to get through.

After those main Single Player modes have been waded through all you have left is the seminal Training Mode to hone your skills and learn new moves, offline Versus, and online Versus. Versus is split up into two different kinds, Special and Standard, the difference being in Special Mode, your character's abilities you assign them in Character Creation and Stats will be according to what it is in Character Creation, In Standard mode all that is turned off and everyone has the same amount of HP no matter what. Now, I'm not sure why this is but when you go online to just play against random people it's a job trying to find a room to play in that isn't full. I'm not sure why it's so hard but it's somewhat frustrating, the only sure fire way to able to play with others without taking forever is to do a Player Match with people you already know.

Now with all the gameplay modes out of the way we can talk about the most interesting topic in Soul Calibur IV, the Character Creation mode. In this mode you can modify existing character's stats, and appearances or create your own. One big positive right off the bat is the fact that you have 50 slots to use for custom characters, which should be more than enough unless you really like messing around with modes like this. This is the mode where all your gold will go for the most part to buy more armor, clothes and weapons for your characters to use, each piece of equipment will affect your character's stats somehow so you may have to think carefully about this while making your character because it'll affect his/her HP, Defense, Damage, and the skill sets where you assign skills according to how many points you're assigned from your gear, they consist of Power which mainly focuses on offense, Impact which is more defensive, Gauge which affects stuff like HP or your Soul Gauge (which I'll get to here shortly), Boost which will boost certain stats, and Special which does stuff like nullify ring outs, make you walk faster and all kinds of other things…or you could just not care anyway and make what you want and just play in Standard Mode.

One thing a lot of people have whined about with this iteration's Character Creation is that there are no longer those original styles you could use in Soul Calibur III, now all you can do is assign an existing character's fighting style. First I have to say, nearly all of those original fighting styles in SCIII except for the Lance, Foot Blades, and Tambourines sucked or were incredibly gimped and limited with the amount of moves you could do with him. That's more than half of the original fighting styles sucking for those of you who didn't play SCIII. I like it this way in SCIV because then I can make a character that I like and use someone's fighting style that I don't like simply because I hate the way some characters look. It gives more incentive to learn other characters in a way.

One thing that does suck about Character Creation and this is just a minor thing, is that you can't create Jedi characters, and you can't edit the existing Star Wars characters' appearance.

After all the details with these modes what about the core gameplay it's self. Well the thing is there isn't much to say because not much has changed except for two things, and really they're both combined into one new gameplay element. A new gauge has been added next to the life bar, it's a little gem that changes colors depending on how much you block, it turns from blue, to green, to yellow, to red. If you think red is bad you're correct. When it's red and your life gauge is flashing red you're in danger of being Soul Crushed, which is when you get hit by an attack while still blocking and your character is stunned and possibly loses some armor, when you're Soul Crushed your opponent can do an attack called a Critical Finish which is just a big flashy finishing move that instantly kills you.

Now this may sound like a bad thing but really you're not going to Critical Finish a lot of players because the chances of it happening in a match are slim to none due to the criteria that must be met, and the CPU is certainly not going to do one to you. The developers said initially that they put this in the game to make the pacing more offensively based, it sort of works but most players don't sit around and block all day, even if they're new players, most new players don't block enough. It was a good idea and the intentions were good but it just doesn't affect the game enough to where it's still a legitimate threat because the situation doesn't arise enough to use the move. Overall the gameplay feels more solidly balanced and there are still enough modes to keep people entertained when they aren't trying to play online with friends or random people, character creation will also entertain you for a while but it just feels like they could've done more to make it perfect.

Score: 9 – Awesome

Graphics

The graphics in this game are amazing. Everyone is intricately detailed and the game looks great on a High-Def TV. There are only some minor clipping issues but that's only with created characters. Other wise, the characters themselves are highly detailed, and the backgrounds are flawless.

Score: 10 – Amazing

Sound

The hokey voice acting is fine. Nothing is terrible and some lines may surprise you or make you laugh. One thing I must say about the voice work is that when you create a character you can pick a voice for them and change the pitch of the voice. It offers a few more unique voices but some of the lines will get repetitive. The music again is really good and epic, a trend that has been following the series since Soul Calibur. You can even download some extra music if the current track doesn't suit you and you want some of the older tunes.

Score: 9 – Awesome

Replay

This all sort of depends on how many people you know that will play with you and have internet access. Because if you do know enough people will get this game and they have X-Box Live this game's life will be extended greatly. You'll have a lot of fun doing player matches, commenting while watching your other friends fights, and showing off your created characters. Also all the modes of play will keep you busy for a while too, but the difficulty of getting into ranked matches may slow you down when there are no friends to play with. Also the game's lower number of modes doesn't equal out to as much play time. But since this is a fighting game and generally fighting games do bring more replay value to the table than other games, chances are this game will be one of the games in your library that gets played frequently.

Score: 8 – Great

Overview

In the end, despite certain gripes with the game, whether they be true or false or some just don't matter to you anyway, Soul Calibur IV is an awesome fighting game. It will last you a long time with it's modes, even if there aren't as many, and online play which is incidentally nearly lag free, the second fighting game after Virtua Fighter to really nail online play. If you're an old fan of the Soul Series, you should be able to enjoy this game immensely, if you're a newer fan you may not like certain changes but you'll still like the game quite a bit, fighting game nuts should get a good fix out of this, and new plays should be able to have fun with this as well due to the accessibility and cool guest characters. Overall Soul Calibur IV is a great fighting game, and is one of the best games to be released in 2008.

Overall Score: 9.0 – Awesome

Modified to 9/10 for Gamefaqs.


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

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


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