Review by TheGrandFinale

"After falling from grace with SC3, the series returns with it's best installment yet"

Fighting games shouldn't be judged too early. This is why I waited all this time to review SCIV. A game may initially seem to be competitive and replayable but in the end, you are left with a poor game, marred with poor design and broken gameplay. Such was the fate of Soul Calibur 3. The game's release was greatly anticipated, and considering that 2 was a staple of the competitive fighting game scene, you'd expect nothing less than perfection. But alas it was not to be. SC3 died a very quick death. It never appeared in any major tournaments and the only people left playing it, were those misguided souls who think that a fighting game needs single player modes to be good.

Not.

Soul Calibur 3 practically killed the franchise. It had no fanbase, no competition, no one tried to learn it and those who did were confronted with a game with several glaring flaws in it's engine that prevented it from being playable on any level. Including friendly matches. It just didn't work. So when SCIV was announced as a console exclusive like it's predessesor, people paniqued. And rightly so. A fighting game without an arcade release meant that it could be just as poor and unbalanced as SC3. We are now a year later, and guess what...SCIV was a success. Thousand of players, duke it out daily and the ultimate honor was bestowed upon it : A place in this year's EVO tournament. Indeed, SCIV proved itself to be a brilliant fighter as well as being a feast to watch in high-level play. Just like that, the series is back on track.

STORY
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Heh. Stuff happens, blablabla. What did you expect. It's a fighting game. The plot is totally lame and inconsistential. There is nothing good about the story here. The setting is good and the characters are full of personality but otherwise...heh. People fight. The End. Not really all that simple though. The game still revolves around the various characters and their eternal quest for Soul Edge and it's good counterpart Soul Calibur, the series's namesake. Joining the fray is new character Hilde which may be the single best addition to the cast since Soul Blade and Algol, the final boss of the game and unlockable character. He's surprisingly balanced when unlocked unlike SFIV's Seth who becomes mostly useless. Funny, the story is so unimportant, here I am talking about balance again. So yeah, it's servicable. But not much else.

GAMEPLAY
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Finally. A new Soul Calibur with good gameplay. It's been a while heh. Remember the sheer stupidity of SC3? The poor balan...wait, scratch that, the incredibly dumb and pisspoor excuse of a fighting engine? It's gone. The game's guest characters are horribly broken, yes, I will admit that. Sure Hilde's ring out abilities are out of this world. But otherwise. Nothing unbalanced here. It's the single most playable Soul Calibur game, Namco ever put out. Yes, it beats out the DC iteration. Yes, it beats out SC2. It's that good.

The single players mode are exactly what you'd expect. Fluff and fluffy. SC3 had more modes but yeah, they could corrupt your memory card. Such a gem, that one. Anyway, SCIV cuts out the useless and boring and go straight to the point. Arcade mode is your typical '' I beat you then I beat you, etc'' mode featured in every fighting game. Next! Story mode, display two pieces of scrolling text and a cutscene at the end for your effort. It's nothing more than Arcade mode turbo. Tower Of Souls is a bit more interesting. Split in floors, each level is an incremental upgrade on the previous featuring boosted enemies with various skills equipped. I'll get into those later with character creation. There's also a set of objectives from each floor with once completed gives you some free goodies for your troubles. It's more than worth a playthrough.

But screw all that. The fighting itself! It's good. Ahhh, nice to hear isn't it? The guard system works. Of course it does, but remember it follows Soul Calibur 3 which didn't even have a working blocking system and no attack is glitched this time around. It's kind of sad that this is considered a plus but yeah, SC3 was really this poor. You have no idea how. The game presents several new features to the series that completely changes old strategies but add a whole new layer of depth to good old SC. First up is the Soul Gauge. Rather then being a game about turtling, IV takes care of the problem right there. Land an attack, your SG fills up. Block one and it decreases. Simple right? But what's the point here? Soul Crushes. If you block too many strong attacks, your guard will break and will allow your opponent to use a Critical Finish. Just one hit from these super attacks and it's on to a new round with a win for your foe. It may sounds like it's a borked idea on paper (web paper?) but it truly brings a new edge to the fighting and it never comes off as cheapening the fighting. Guard Impacts also influence the Soul Gauge and the game adds a few new variations on them just to spice things up a little. The already great system adds new versions of the technique which can known your opponent down instead of merely stunning them bringing more depth to it and an even bigger arsenal of moves to refill your SG.

Also new is the Armor Break system. Each character is armored in three places, high, med and low. Unblocked attacks to each section damages them and eventually causes the armor to break with brings up the damage to the unprotected section 10%. It may seems small for a game with fast KOs anyway, but it sure adds up. You don't want to get stuck with no armor, trust me. And no don't worry, no characters have outrights advantages with stronger armors than others, so don't worry.

Finally, Soul Calibur 3's best feature, the character creation mode is back. But at least, this time character customization has true bearing on the fights themselves. Each character is treated like an RPG one. They have set skills and levels that go up the more you use them. They also are equipped with various weapons, armors and relics that boost their statistics much like any RPG out there. The idea's main thrust here is that, you can equip skills with various effects from causing more damage to blocking opponents, to negating ring outs all the way to giving your blows a drain-like effect. The better and stronger your equips and items, the more skills you can use. It's great fun to build a strong character with the best equipment and blazing through the game but the mode is mostly just for experimentation since competive play obviously disallow such adventages.

AUDIOVISUAL
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SCIV is the best looking fighting game of this gen. Yeah, SFIV came out and it's gorgeous...SCIV still look better. Tekken 6 is out in arcades and even there it doesn't look as beautiful as SCIV. The artstyle is just out of this world and I think it's what sets it apart. Technically it's simply a beautiful game but the character design and the gorgeous arenas combined together makes for the most aesthetically pleasing fighter I've seen in years. The stages are unbelievably varied featured the best versions of the classic pirate ship level and my favorite, an amazing looking frozen stage. The characters are also brilliantly animated but this isn't unique here since even SC3 had good animations. But consider the Armor Break system and how the characters now show wear and tear from the fighting and yeah...so good.

The music from the SC series was always my favorite out of any fighting series. Instead of fast paced techno or pop rock, the series always feature brillantly atmospheric orchestral pieces and SCIV's got my favorite in the series. It's truly memorable too. The voice acting is still pretty good compared to most fighters out there and the sound is exactly what you'd expect from a good game. Swords clashing sounds like your typical Hollywood, over-the-top sound effect and guess what...that's great!

REPLAY VALUE
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Oh boohoohoo! It doesn't have lots of single players mode. It's not as g...Online multiplayer. Wham. Bam. Done. Replay value is infinite here. The game is one of the most played fighting games on Live and it's got a strong competitive community and several SCIV tournaments or tournaments with SCIV are coming up. So yeah, the game's got legs. Which is more than I can say for the vast majority of beat-em'ups out there.

FINAL WORDS
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For some reason, the game's had a harsh reception at release by some but yeah, it's been a year and the game had proved itself to be a winner. It's got a competitive scene and it's played regularly which is more than the ''precious'' SC3 of some people ever had. The series fell down from grace in a major way with 3. The series went from a classic to a forgotten one in an instant. No more SC in any tournaments and no one in the community even tried to play it seriously. But now, the soul burns stronger than ever. Let's just hope Namco continue down this path of making a good fighting game rather than making lots of useless single players modes. You want the best weapon based 3D fighter? Here it is.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/18/09, Updated 05/19/09

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


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