Review by Unbridled9
"The Soul doesn't burn as brightly as it should with this one."
Every soul burns brightly, even the soul of a Sith Lord! Soul Calibur IV was, easily, the most looked forward too of all the Soul Calibur games. When Soul Calibur II hit the scene back in the GC/PS2/Xbox era it outright swept everyone off their feet with its amazing fighting styles and the sheer amount of content it held for both single and multiple players. Then Soul Calibur III came out and, while it focused heavily on the single-player aspect and introduced the ability for players to make their own characters it suffered from a stiffer form of fighting, slowed down story-telling, and being PS2 exclusive (where as the prior title had been available for three consoles with Link being easily the best-received of the guest characters). Then the trailer for IV came out and, not only was it going to be on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but we were going to be able to play as not one, not two, but THREE Star Wars characters! The Sith Lord Darth Vader, Yoda, and Starkiller from the Force Unleashed games. People were estatic.
So did the game hold up to the hype? Not Really It didn't fail either, but while the game offered much of the quality people had come to expect from the Soul Calibur games, it did so at the expense of other facets of the game which had come to define it, and it showed through glaringly so in this game.
Let's start with the basics. Soul Calibur is one of the best fighting games on the market undisputed. Starting several game generations ago the Soul Calibur series has managed to thrive on both its weapon-based combat system which allows for a multitude of unique weapon, and thusly fighting, styles to be used in combat, as well as its unique 3D method of fighting which has not been successfully emulated by any other mainstream series. Being able to move in three dimensions generates a wide variety of possibilities, especially in regards to defensive tactics. Instead of being forced to block or interrupt as with plenty of 2-D fighting games, it is entirely possible to avoid an attack simply by moving to the side. This turns a Soul Calibur match from a simple combo-fest into a battle of placement and awareness. Being able to keep on ones toes and a constant eye upon your opponent is very key as it can easily result in powerful attacks missing simply by having an opponent move two steps to the right.
This remains the strong-point of the Soul Calibur series and it has improved immensely from the prior entry in the series which featured a far more liner style of combat more in tune with a Tekken or Mortal Kombat game and is a vast improvement. Character fluidity has vastly improved, allowing for much better combat. Striking with horizontal and vertical buttons moves and feels very natural and is easily controlled. Most of the characters also handle very well with only a select few having any sort of real problem. Additionally, each characters move-list is quite extensive with many different moves that can be utilized in a multitude of ways making this one of the few titles where there is a true gap' between players of various skill levels while still allowing for some competition. In most other titles pitting a rookie against an experienced player is asking for a quick victory as the rookies only hope is to spam cheap moves that the experienced player can counter easily. In Soul Calibur that is not the case as even a rookie player can at least play defensively and manage to ruin a masters combo simply by being able to keep up with the various blocks and dodges, even if they are unlikely to actually win. Soul Calibur is not about scoring massive combos. It is about being able to read and control your opponent as well as understanding your own character well enough to know what to do.
To further compliment the game is the character creation mode. Introduced in III, character creation allows for players to create their own, unique, characters with their own designs. While some people will see this as a way to express themselves creatively, this also means that things like making Sailor Moon fight Darth Vader are entirely possible. The sheer amount of detail and customization is worth looking into and is further accented by the ability to generate tones of interesting matchups. However, there is a distinct problem, one that will be mentioned later (you'll understand why).
Lastly, this is the first game in the Soul Calibur series to feature online combat. This is as good, and horrible, as you'd imagine it to be. First off, the good, it allows players to finally have a free and infinite range of multiplayer fights. A person is, in no way, required to fight against computer-controlled characters when they want to simply play and can, instead, test themselves against the world. While this can lead to some hilariously lopsided matches, it can also lead to people playing with friends on a whim or plenty of engaging and fun fights between various other players, especially since custom-characters can be used as well (at least in matches between friends).
So What is the bad then? Several things, actually, the most glaring being the stunted single-player mode. With the release of IV, Soul Calibur took a turn towards lessening the importance of the single-player mode, a trend which, unfortunately, continued into V. The story in this mode is particularly lacking as, not only does it only focus on a tiny aspect of the Soul Calibur world, but a LOT of it is simply ambiguous and poorly handled. While it was fairly easy in the prior games to at least get a general idea of what was going on no such thing exists here. Who wins and loses not only can't be (unsatisfying) resolved until V, but a major event happens in this game which should have held a much larger impact in the Soul Calibur universe as a whole that is almost entirely glanced over. There is little lead-up, only minor justification, and a lack of proper attention is given to an event which, for all intents and purposes, should have utterly shaken both the Soul Calibur world and fanbase to its core.
Secondly are the Star Wars characters. First off, it would not have been impossible to introduce the Star Wars characters to the Soul Calibur universe and had it make sense, and two of them at least function. Yoda, however, does not. His sheer shortness makes any battle against him, even with Yoda standing perfectly still, annoying. At best he is very difficult to both fight with and against if only due to his sheer size. Additionally, all the characters are forced to fight with a Force Meter' which limits their ability to use the Force. This can become very annoying and tedious, especially for low-level players, as moves end up failing. Thankfully, the Star Wars levels themselves are outright amazing with the only real disappointment being their lack of ability to flow and function. Additionally, it was simply a huge disappointment to only get three characters (one of which not well known outside of his game series) when the Star Wars universe has TONS more to offer. Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade, Jaina/Jacen Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Bastilla Shan, Darth Maul. All valid and viable, and not used at all. Any one of these, even someone as simple as Aalya Secura (The Twi'lek jedi who used two sabers in the movies) would have been more interesting and relevant, as well as allowing for possibilities, than Starkiller.
Thirdly is the Guard Break system. In an attempt to lessen the amount of defensive play, a new Soul' system was introduced. It works fairly simple. Every time you block an attack a hidden gauge decreases a bit (the status hinted at via a glowing gem next to your characters name) until, eventually bottoming out. When it does you're guard is automatically broken and your opponent has the chance for a critical finish' which will automatically win the match for him if he uses it before you recover. You regain soul via attacking. The problem with this is that it both severely hampers a players ability to play defensively as well as rewarding people for attacking relentlessly. Players spamming simple combos that can deal a large amount of damage to ones Soul Gauge can quickly deplete it while keeping their own gauge high, meaning they can defend much easier in the event you do manage to break free. While this may be balanced at the higher end of gameplay, on the lower, more casual, end all this does is reward spamming of cheap moves which weaker players have little knowledge to counter as well as overpowering simple combos and punishing players for learning a key aspect of the game (defense).
Its final flaw is the reduction in styles. In III there were more styles than there were characters. Not only did each character have a largely-unique fighting style, but there were a multitude which could only be used by created characters, many of them with interesting mechanics (like the bombs of the dagger style) or weapons (like the tambourines). These weren't mere reskins, but fully fleshed out styles. However, instead of making new characters to use these, these styles were simply dropped from existence. A serious downgrade indeed. Especially since this limits the creativity one can manage with custom-made characters. Where as in III, while the options were limited, making a character who opted for daggers over something kind-of-dagger-like' was possible, it is not in IV. At best you'd have to find a weapon that kind of looks like one as opposed to actually having one which is a VERY stupid limitation to have on character creativity.
Ultimately Soul Calibur IV simply isn't what it should be, but that isn't to say it failed. Many of the mechanics are solid and plenty of the things they tried were vast improvements, but came at the cost of a fleshed out single player and much of the depth of the prior entries in the series.
Recommended price: $10. It is a solid game and you can have plenty of fun with it, even if you don't have friends to play with due to the online mode. However, it's much easier to see IV as more of a stepping-stone and test-run of various mechanics than as a full-on entry in the Soul Calibur series.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/21/13
Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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