Review by MalachiX
"The Best 3D Fighter since...well, Soul Calibur"
It’s been four years since Soul Calibur was released for the Dreamcast and quickly proclaimed the best fighter of all time by just about every publication around. With its easy combo system, 8 way directional movement, and astounding level of polish, Soul Calibur was light years beyond its predecessor and a new benchmark for fighters everywhere. It’s not surprising that Namco took so long to turn out a sequel to such a groundbreaking masterpiece. What is surprising though is that, even with four years of progress and three new, more powerful systems, the original Soul Calibur is still considered the best fighter around by many. It’s for this reason that one can understand why Namco decided not to let the sequel stray too far from it’s predecessor and, considering how good Soul Calibur 2 is, it’s really hard to fault them.
Soul Calibur 2 plays very similarly to its parent. It shares the same weapon based nature with easy 3D movement and a lot of strategic emphasis on position. What makes the game’s fighting system work so wonderfully is that it manages to very deep yet completely accessible to novices. Combos and special attacks are easy to pull off but advance techniques such as guard impacts and air control take time to master and use effectively. Unlike some other fighters which require the player spend hours in training mode memorizing button combinations, the Soul Calibur system allows the player to absorb its considerable depth simply by playing it. SC2 brings walled arenas to the table. Nearly every stage now has walls in certain parts which adds yet another strategic twist the game as being slammed against a wall causes extra damage and leaves one open to more combos. I actually find that the use of walls is better here than in other 3D fighters, largely because SC2’s 8 way directional system makes it war easier to move in 3D and exploit these environmental factors.
Fans will be happy to know that just about all the original characters have returned in one form or another (Cassandra is this SC2’s Sophitia and Yun Sung is equivalent to Hwang though both older characters can be unlocked) along with several new ones such as Talim, Raphael, Necrid, and (of course) Link. Namco has also tweaked the returning characters and the result is a much more balanced cast. In some cases, characters that were partially clones of other fighters (Yoshimitsu, Yun Sung) have been altered enough so that they now are totally unique.
As in the original Soul Calibur, there are tons of extra stages, characters, costumes, and play modes to unlock that should keep players busy for quite some time. Weapon Master Mode makes up the brunt of the single player game. It’s similar to SC’s Mission mode but far deeper. Players go through a variety of pre-set “missions” in order to earn money that can be used to purchase extra costumes, art, and an additional 10 weapons for each character. These new weapons have a variety of uses with some doing extra damage and others slowly healing the player over the course of a battle. The fact that these weapons actually affect the gameplay and can be used in battle with other players provides a major incentive to unlock them all and makes Weapon Master Mode more rewarding that Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution's Quest Mode. Other classic modes from SC such as Battle Theater (where the player watches to warriors fight and controls the camera) and Exhibition Theater (where the player watches the various fighters perform their katas) have also returned.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, SC2 is quite impressive. While it certainly isn’t he huge leap the first one was and even includes some of the same animation, it’s clearly a step up with higher polygon characters, sharper textures, and better effects. What really makes the game impressive though is simply its design. The colors are vibrant; the characters are charming, and the special effects are dramatic. SC2 is the prettiest fighter around in many ways and it’s due more to artistic achievement than technical prowess.
The sound is quite impressive as well. The characters now feature English voice actors and, much to my surprise, they don’t suck! While some are kind of campy and over-the-top (Kilik), many are quite good and how I’d always thought the characters would sound. The music is quite strong as well. Lets face it, music is probably least important in fighting games but SC2, just like the original, has one of the few soundtracks that truly memorable for something in this genre.
Replay Value: 10
Soul Calibur 2 is definitely an evolution rather than a revolution. While it improves on its predecessor in just about every way, these improvements are incremental and not the vast leap we saw with the last game. Still, considering the original Soul Calibur was never topped, that still makes Soul Calibur 2 the best 3D fighter available on any system.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 09/04/03
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