Review by MetroidNut

"The game that proves the GCN can handle the genre after all."

The long-anticipated Soul Calibur II has at long last come home to stay after a lengthy run in arcades where it attracted legions of fans, old and new alike.

Namco brings SC2 home with a bang by building the game from the ground up tailored to each system, and the results are simply amazing. First, for those of you unfamiliar with Soul Calibur and what it represents: Soul Calibur 2 is the latest incarnation of a series of three-dimensional fighting games that started Namco sandblasted arcades with Soul Edge. This was a style of fighting game that was almost alien in its time, and it was ported to the console market as Soul Blade in 1996. Soul Calibur came to the Dreamcast shortly after its arcade release in 1998, and it quickly took a place in gaming legend as one of the best console games out there, bringing more characters, more tactical options, and larger command lists. Finally, we come to present day: Soul Calibur II lurks in arcades for what seems a small eternity to hungry gamers everywhere before it finally hits the console market, and Namco has again created a hit.

Soul Calibur II for the GCN totes 23 characters, although only 15 are available upon purchase -- you'll have to unlock the rest on your own through the brand-new Weapon Master mode, which is one of Namco's bonuses for vets of the arcade game looking for something new. The Weapon Master mode is an extended series of battles laden with a somewhat simplistic story in which you compete for gold and experience points that you use as you travel from location to location in the game's world to purchase a variety of weapons for every one of the game's characters. Additionally, completion of certain stages will unlock hidden features elsewhere in the game, including the ability to use the weapons you acquire in the Weapon Master mode in versus battles, the arcade mode, and more. And of course, there are the game's gorgeous, but few FMV sequences.

This incarnation of Soul Calibur is graphically superior to the PS2 version of the game, with higher average polygon counts, and the overall presentation is smooth as fine diamond: SC2 runs at 60 frames per second or better, and you'll never see a hint of slowdown. The detail level of the game's collection of stages as well as the characters themselves is spectacular. SC2 also totes a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack -- and, even better, the music is the work of an orchestra, not a synthesizer. With stunning graphics, infinite replay value, and fast-paced gameplay, where could this game possibly fall short?

It manages to -- but by no fault of Namco's -- through the controls. The GCN controller's disproportionately sized buttons do not lend themselves to the style of button pressing the average fighting game requires, and SC2 is no exception. While the dedicated gamer can probably adjust to the controller's shortcomings, if you do have trouble, you may need to resort to purchasing a third-party controller that fits your needs. Unfortunately, this control problem is almost universal and is the reason fighting games have not come to the GCN in particularly bountiful supply.

The characters. What about the characters? First off, GCN players get the special treat of a GCN-exclusive Link as a playable fighter. Fear not, die-hard fans of the heroic Hylian: his presence in SC2 of all places is indeed explained in his character profile, which is, oddly enough, only accessible when you clear Arcade Mode using the character. Another bonus arcade veterans receive is the Todd Mcfarlane-designed Necrid, a demon-like beast who was once human, but was tainted by the legendary Soul Edge. Fans of the series' earlier incarnations will be proud to witness the return of old favorites like Ivy and Cervantes, albeit in different forms (new outfits, but, unsurprisingly, Cervantes remains a character unavailable upon initial purchase of the game). With the exception of Cervantes, returning characters have retained their old command lists, albeit with handy additions. Some of Cervantes' combos have been scaled back to make them less absurd.

Still need more reasons to go after the game? Buy it for the Weapon Master mode, if nothing else, and start unlocking. You've got a lot of work to do. Soul Calibur II gives the fighting genre a much-needed vitamin shot and, controls issues aside, does indeed prove that the genre can still be done on the GCN for all the misgivings experienced gamers may have. And for gamers new to the series, you have one of the best fighting games of all time to introduce you. Even gamers who have been playing this series since Soul Edge hit arcades are still finding new strategies and tactical possibilities to discover and debate, and a decent AI means that newbies and veterans alike will find a challenge when they don't have a friend handy for a good ol' test of hack and slash.

The game's story is nothing too shocking, but the fact that you'll have to play through arcade mode with every character to unlock every character profile gives the replay value a healthy boost. For the experienced player, the initial run through Weapon Master mode will take but a matter of days. Nonetheless, obtaining enough gold and experience points to unlock every last feature, weapon, and mission is a hobby unto itself, and inexperienced players may be kept busy for months, addiction driving them as their skills increase. Like any fighting game, SC2 is very intuitive and friendly toward beginners, but the growth potential offered by training and the need to memorize lengthy character command lists means that players always have something more to strive for, and will constantly need to pit themselves against better and better opponents, human and computer-controlled alike. The need for trickery and mind games in the average melee as usual means that AI-driven opponents will be a whole different world compared to human ones. Train hard, learn, and keep playing. That's where SC2's replay value comes from.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/07/03

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