Review by Jack Tripper

"Soul Calibur 2 review"

Namco’s finely tuned fighting series has finally arrived (well in Japan anyway), and we’re here to get a good look at Soul Calibur 2 for the Nintendo Gamecube.

Now before we get started, I should tell you that I am a big, nay, HUGE Soul Calibur mark. In fact, I’ve been a big fan of the entire series ever since Namco released Soul Blade for the original Playstation way back in February of 1997. Quite simply, it was Tekken…with Swords, Knives, and Nunchucks!! I played countless hours of Edge Master mode, and unlocked all of the weapons and characters (quite a feat, those who tried…know what I’m talking about). I played even more Vs. mode games against my friends until one day…I just had had enough! Honestly, I didn’t take much notice to the sequel, Soul Calibur, when it came to arcades years later. At the time, it just didn’t seem to compare to Tekken (which was up to number 3, arguably the pinnacle of the series). It wasn’t until the Dreamcast version debuted in September of 1999 that I really understood what the game was about. For those of you living in a cave for the past 5 years, Soul Calibur for the Sega Dreamcast was probably one of (if not the) best weapons based fighting games ever made, and one of the best overall fighting games…bar none. On top of being a really great (albeit undiscovered) arcade fighting game with innovations such as the 8-way run, parrying system, etc…. the Dreamcast version was a completely redone, graphically overhauled powerhouse of a game that really pulled me in. Character/Weapon design, Stage Layout, speed, style…everything was there. It wasn’t dial-a-combo like Tekken, it wasn’t as technical as Virtua Fighter, it wasn’t another damn Street Fighter…it was perfect. I could ramble on all day about how damn good this game was…but I shant :)! If you haven’t played the DC version of Soul Calibur…go get it…. now…right now. Go buy a used DC and Soul Calibur…it’ll be worth every penny!

Present day: And I’m back where I was in ’99. I didn’t get much face time with Soul Calibur 2 in arcades. Partially because of my waning interest in Arcades in general, and partially because the only fringing’ arcade that has SCII anywhere near me is a 2 hour drive, and when I get there…I get to play .75 a game…no thanks. My limited exposure to the arcade version gave me a distinct impression of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and for the most part…I have to say it works! Not much has been done to the fighting system itself, it still rely’s on the 8-way run, rock/paper/scissors block/parry system…and still features largely the same structure throughout…and once again…that’s a good thing! I hadn’t gotten around to getting all psyched about the console versions, mostly because of the great big delay factory that has been the gaming industry lately. I remember seeing this game advertised as possibly coming out in May of 2001…It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I found out that Soul Calibur was set to be released in late March (YAY)…. in Japan…(BOO)!

It was with great haste that I began looking into my import options. From Mod Chips, to disc swapping tricks, I searched them all…for ALL systems (SCII is a multi-console release after all). It was after I discovered the wondrous Freeloader that I decided on the Gamecube version. I joined the many who would import this version based on the ease (and cost effectiveness) of getting this particular version to work. Now, on to the game…

The fighters are a returning lot from the original Soul Calibur with a couple of additions thrown in. Interestingly enough, in the arcade version…some substitutions were made; Cassandra for Sophitia (who is pretty much a clone of the original), Hong Youngsung for Hwang (same thing)…I really didn’t understand why this was done, but apparently most of the cast from the original Soul Calibur is available in SCII in some form or another (Hwang, Rock, and Lizardman…who were originally thought absent from SCII…make appearances in Weapon Master Mode-more on that later). Other returning favorites include Mitsirugi, Taki, Voldo (gotta have the freak), and Cervantes…among others. New to the series are Talim (who fights with Tong fa), Raphael…the requisite (sexual preference questionable) fencing artist, and Link (GC exclusive) of Legend of Zelda fame. There are others… Charade, for example, seems to resemble Edge Master from SC! Overall a very balanced cast! Let me go ahead and put your mind at ease…Link is cool, he is not overpowered and he fits in nicely with the other SC’ers.

The fist thing that struck me about Soul Calibur 2 for the GC was just how much it looked like the arcade version. I had a hard time picking out differences between screen-shots between the two…and to see the GC version in motion is just like being in the arcade…better…because I’m at home on my couch. It wasn’t that I was expecting any less than an arcade perfect from Namco, but I guess I just wasn’t expecting it. I mean, while Tekken Tag, and Soul Calibur (DC) were better than the arcade version, and Tekken 4 was on par with it’s arcade counterpart…Soul Calibur 2 was dead on (admittedly based on my limited experience of it…which made me make the two hour trek back to the costly arcade to make a real comparison)…even after making my pilgrimage back and forth…I still say it’s a dead ringer. The animation is fluid, the textures are big and beautiful, all the pretty lighting and all of those nifty particle effects are ALL in there. I think it mimics its arcade brethren almost to a fault, as even some of the slowdown that occurs in the arcade under certain circumstances is reproduced in the home version. Make no bones about it, this is perfect, and while other consoles support 16:9, and 720p (which look fantastic by the way)…this game is arcade perfect!

The control with the standard GC controller scared me a little. I mean...come on, look at it…it’s weird. But with the advice/encouragement from some of my fellow gamers…I decided to give it a try. When I say that, I mean really give it a try…not play it for 5 minutes and say…”this isn’t an arcade stick,” or my personal favorite, “this isn’t a PS2 pad.” I played for a good three hours straight…and after re-mapping the Horizontal and Vertical slashes…I found that the standard GC controller handles Soul Calibur like a dream. That’s not to say that I don’t love my Hori SCII joystick, but I can tell you with full certainty that the GC controller works just fine…go have fun with it!

The sound is nice too. It offers a pretty standard sound solution (Dolby Pro logic 2 support only), but it does a really good job of getting all the screams, sword clanks, and bone snaps - out and audible. One thing that I have to admit is that my Japanese is terrible, so while the characters sound good blurting out stuff…I really have no idea what they’re saying. The only gripe (if you could call it that), that I have is that a lot of the sound clips (especially for returning characters) are just rehashes from SC (DC)…again…it sounded good 3 years ago, and it is nice to have that continuity between games (mostly the same voice talent), but I would have like to hear more of the newly recorded stuff than old rehash stuff. The music is as good as the rest of the series, with big orchestral sweeping melodies and big epic sounding pieces…overall…a complete package.

Like all other home conversions of arcade greats, Namco has beefed up the replay-ability for SCII immensely! Adding extra modes (VS, Survival, Practice, Extra Practice, and Extra arcade-where the former two allow you to use weapons unlocked in Weapon Master mode…more in a min- just to name a few) really helps keep this little wonder in your Gamecube. Probably the most impressive is Weapon Master, which is not unlike Edge Master mode in the original SC, but surprisingly like Edge Master mode found in Soul Blade…you acquire new weapons with different attributes that can be used in Extra Arcade mode and Practice. Each of the weapons has it’s own look…so in a way…it’s like being able to customize your fighters a little…nice. On top of all of this, you can buy extra characters, art, kata’s for the fighters, profiles, and art for the galleries…I’ll be playing this for quite some time.

It should be noted that this game if VERY importer friendly. 80% of the menus are in English…so you won’t feel overwhelmed by endless Japanese menus. The Edge Master mode text (stories, descriptions of what you’re supposed to do), as well as the endings, are in Japanese though just to give you fair warning. I’ve played through about 20 of the missions, and so far, there was nothing that I couldn’t figure out, and I have no doubt that the internet will soon be flooded with translations and FAQ’s about what the hell it is I’m supposed to be doing! As I said, all of the speech is in Japanese, and so far I have not found a subtitle option (though even if I did I imagine they would be Japanese subtitles…so I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.)

And something else I felt the need to touch on...the ''Extra characters'', and by this...I mean Berserker (Rock), Assassin (Hwang), and Lizardman (duh). For those of you who don't know...all three of these characters appear in both Weapon Master mode, and as opponents in the various CPU fights, and even a couple of Weapon Master back up buddies (playable!) …but not as un-lockable characters (yet??). Strange considering that each of these characters has alternate outfits, weapons, intro’s, and a full set of moves for at least 2 out of the 3…but still no one has managed to get them on a player-select screen. IGN has recently stated that Namco will be unlocking them for the US version of the game and that they will not be released for the Japanese version. This statement is suspect as number one…it comes from IGN, two…for the amount of work put into these characters (and I mean, seriously…they’re done), it seems asinine for Namco not to have made them un-lockable. The only reason I can even comprehend that being done, is that Namco US wants something new to offer to get US importers to pick up the game (and probably a re-release of the game in Japan with everything plus more extras following the original US release). This seems possible but not plausible, as far as I know…Namco has not done this in the past…I don’t see why they’d start now (for reference: Tecmo is the worst about doing this type of thing).

Just fair warning, it should also be stated that in order to save Japanese games, one has to format one’s memory card (as the NTSC format does not work), this effectively limits you to only saving Japanese games on that memory card…at least using the Freeloader. You also need to make sure that you don’t use your North American save game memory card, as when you go to make a SCII file, it’ll just overwrite everything on that card (so goodbye to all those hours and saves worth of SMB:Sunshine and LOZ: Wind Waker).

Overall, I think what we have here is a very well rounded package. Good look, nice sounds, infinite replay-ability, and a brawler that you can show off to your friends, SCII is where it’s at. The import version is very appealing as we still have almost five months before the North American release, and this gamer just wasn’t that patient. That’s not to say that I’m going to go all silly and import all three versions, quite the contrary…I’ll probably just keep this one and end up re-buying it with the other two versions when it’s released here in August! I look forward to playing with Spawn and Heihachi in the other two versions, and getting to mess around with the 720p high res X-box version (can’t wait to see that on my 22” flat panel display J), but for now this will tide me over. For those of you willing to cough up the bread I highly recommend it, I think when all was said and done I spent about $80 between the Freeloader and the game itself…best $80 I’ve spent in a long time.

Graphics 10/10
Sound 9/10
Game play 10/10
Replay value 10/10
Import Friendly HELL YEAH!!!
Overall 10/10 GO get it NOW!

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 04/02/03, Updated 04/02/03

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