Review by terragen

"Fighting of a High Caliber"

Somehow the announcement of Soul Calibur took me by surprise; I didn't expect to buy a fighting game any time soon. However, the more I read about its features and the innovation of its predecessors made me want to try it out. I, being a person who doesn't rent anything, went and preordered the game at my local EB a month before its release. I'd already lost a bunch of fives and tens to the arcade, where I really got hooked on the game. Conquest mode was just too darn fun. However, some of these simple pleasures were absent from the home version, and this led to some disappointment.

Graphics: A+ (10)
The graphics in SC2 are the closest to perfection you can get in a Gamecube, save one or two games, but it is not without flaws. The character models alone are something to marvel at; each distinctive feature expresses as much detail as it should. The background environments are drawn out beautifully; they make the arena seem a lot larger than it really is. Whether it be up above in the secluded Money Pit, or in the calm balcony of the Windmill, you will find great variety in the landscapes given to you in the game, each with its own selective mood and characters (if you’re in 1P mode, that is). The only place I have found the landscapes to be dull is in the lower-level dungeons, where each of the twenty rooms are exactly the same. The moves themselves are grandiose; the light dims as you prepare to strike with a flaming unblockable attack. The framerate skips on rare occasions such as during some slide flow inputs and move cancels, but this may have been intentional as those maneuvers are typically used to decieve opponents. Pass-throughs are practically unavoidable in a game such as this where characters follow a center-point between the two fighters, so on occasion you will see swords passing through necks when two characters are running towards each other. Still, these minor faults shouldn't detract from the magnificent visuals that fill the game's every turn. Moves such as Ivy’s Calamity Symphony are some of the game’s better aspects, as they utilize placement of the opponent midair to produce spectacular results.

Gameplay: A+ (10)
Movelists branch out in thousands of different ways to create unique combo strings that allow for both variety and strategy. Each character has their distinctive moves, and some others that are available to several characters at once. Examples of these are Sophie, Cassie, and Lizardman; though they have many moves that are identical, the button execution may be different and their stances have different qualities (Sophie has a Double Angel Step, for example). There are plenty of ways to test your mettle against an opponent, and the myriad game modes prove it. You can start with Arcade mode, moving onto Weapon Master Mode to unlock more modes, which eventually unlock even more modes. If it starts to get too difficult, you can lower the difficulty or certain modes will be unlocked if you lose in your attempt a certain amount of times. The controls are super-responsive, and directional inputs are accurate with the corners on the Control Stick. Buffering a move is a very useful aspect of the game, as it allows a player to input buttons for a move in the midst of another action. Using Ivy’s Calamity Symphony as an example again, this allows for a reduction in vulnerability after an attack and also an increase in the element of surprise. No one will expect you to input 10 buttons right after you’ve done a combo, and these strategic elements are the core of the gameplay. Guard Impacts return to the game, in manual and auto forms. Auto Guard Impacts are usually moves that immediately follow up with an attack or stance, which adds to the game’s complex combat structure. Auto Guard Impacts are only one type of many that can enter into a stance, whether it be the standard button input or 8WR input. This generally makes for three times the amount of combos, an amount that is already severely high. It doesn’t get much better than this. There are plenty of move cancels, counterattacks, evasive moves, and stance-to-stance flows that will keep you hooked for a long time.

Replay Value: B (7.3)
While it's always fun to play against friends after you've beaten the game, there's really nothing to do after you've unlocked all there is to unlock. The single thing I found to be worthwhile in the end was to fight at a 5% health handicap against an infinite-health CPU. Challenging to ring them out, yes, but even that starts to pall after time. Challenge Modes are equally interesting; play them five or ten times and they will begin to get boring, too. The gameplay, while excellently-designed, is more and more of the same thing to seasoned veterans of the game. A console version of Conquest Mode would have done much better in the game, since it includes plenty of variety and a break from the usual AI. Alas, once your journey alone has ended your only choice is to set on foot once again with a companion.

Single Player Mode: C- (4.7)
This is the most disappointing part of Soul Calibur 2. The true player in the single-player part is Weapon Master Mode, which would have had great promise if more effort was put into it. You start off on a quest for Soul Edge, for whatever reason, travelling from place to place fighting people in either normal fights, a series of duels, or dungeons (or the previously-mentioned with certain special conditions like increased air-time or required Guard Impacts to do damage). All of your missions are given to you in text, and don't even remotely depend on the character of your choice. It really is sad, because if there were beautiful FMVs like the Home Opening Version (the only full-length FMV in the entire game, mind you), the game would have been simple breathtaking. This is not the case, as the closest you come to an FMV in the game is in the Boss Battles in Arcade Mode and WMM, when you fight either your Destined Battle or Inferno. These are still only cut-scenes, and are virtually the same for each character. If you are successful you see a slideshow of your character's concept art, and text explaining his/her conclusion. Fun. While WMM is very non-linear and allows you to choose which path to take, the second missions you unlock after completing it the first time are dissapointing, given they are only more challenging and have no storyline (which is surprisingly a relief). Also, the fact that WMM is the same for every character and that you can switch characters in the level select divides the full playable time of the game by 18. After your level reaches 72 (the level needed to unlock Lizardman as a selectable character), playing WMM any further is virtually pointless aside from unlocking everything else and for bragging rights. But why put in 28 more levels if all you can do is show it to your friends? A score submission by means of the Broadband Adapter would have been nice, since it at least allows for fair recognition. Playing to a level beyond 72 is very rewarding in the arcades, but not in the console versions. Namco spent a lot of time on the visuals and technical aspects of the game, and it shows, but the single player game fails in almost every aspect, and VF4:E puts it to shame.

Audio: B (7.3)
I admit, for a while the soundtrack of SC2 was very enjoyable. Every song gave a sense of adventure to the game and fit each area nicely, with well-orchestrated songs and influences from their respective country of origin. However, once you've heard the songs enough you start to wish Namco would have come up with some more... well, fighting music. Even the fight with Inferno seems less intense with the song Hellfire playing in the background. Every song in the soundtrack is beautiful and dramatic, but they don't belong in a fighting game, especially one with barely any single-player plot. The voice acting is on par with most games originally made in English, and for some characters is better and more “comfortable” than the Japanese voices (e.g. Ivy). Audio cues are also present as a strategic element to predict attacks, or for experts to use similarly-sounding attacks to trip up these predictions. However, the sound that occurs when you strike an opponent tends to get on your nerves quite easily, and will sometimes provoke you to switch your TV to its mute setting.

Soul Calibur 2 definitely lives up to its name, and would be an excellent permanent addition to anyone's collection. It's visuals and gameplay are simply amazing, but it'll be up to you to decide if you still like it 80 hours in. The sound effects and soundtrack, along with the single player campaign in WMM, are perhaps the things that Namco took least into consideration when creating this would-be masterpiece. This is no doubt one of the best games I've played, but with the disappointing 1P mode and the less-than-spectacular audio I suggest you rent the game before you decide to buy it. 7.86/10 (By My Rubric)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/28/03

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