Review by YamiRaphael
"The latest and greatest? Certainly the former, maybe the latter."
Soul Calibur IV, the latest in the franchise introduces the usual refinements to the series including a pair of canon characters to add to the cast, new gameplay mechanics, and the inclusion of the star wars universe as a guest but does this add up in the end to rebound for the seemingly stale reception of its last installment? I would say yes, at least given the amount of time I have had to play since its release.
Graphically the game is leagues ahead of its past incarnations as it should being on the next generation of consoles. At least that is with the in-game graphics. The cutscenes, while fairly pretty are not the quality I would expect these days both visually and in direction considering the have progressed little from what we have come to know. The actual character models have improved immeasurably on the other hand with crisp textural details, smooth edges, and creative designs. The scenery of the stages also steps up ranging from places you would expect in the soul caliber universe plus a few more from a galaxy far, far away. All the places are exquisitely detailed, and altogether I count 19 stages including the two Star Wars locals and a few returning locals. Not bad I suppose. Very little is visually distracting in this game, and I would be pretty nitpicking to list them so I will not. Instead just be awestruck at some of the best fighting game visuals out there right now.
The soundtrack I found a little disappointing compared to the graphics. Sure, nothing in the sound track was bad, but nothing worth remembering either. I would have to strain pretty hard to remember any of the new tracks, and of those I would most remember redone version of prior Soul Calibur tunes. The sounds effects are what you would expect, the usually clangs, crashes, and light saber clashes so I have no complaints there. The English voice acting is the usual mixed bag ranging from pretty good to miserably bad. I still cringe every time Yun Seong cries out Who-hoo! while Tira's and Nightmare's voices have reached new extremes that I'm not sure I'm happy with, but again that's just me. I can't really comment on the Japanese voice acting, as I do not use it. All and all it's not a bad audio track for the game, but nothing to get excited about either.
One thing I find personally a little disappointing is the amount of content that has been left out this time. Sure the basic modes that you would expect are there mostly. You have story mode which is similar to what it was in the past, but notably shorter and strictly linear unlike how it was In Soul Calibur 3. Still was satisfying though and included a normal mode which was fairly easy and hard mode being just that, hard. Then there is the Tower of Lost Souls, which is and overly glorified mission mode offering two main options. Ascending the tower is one which sometimes is done a floor at a time, but usually as a group of floors together filled with customized characters geared to make a specific challenge, like being massively damaging or stalling for the match time to run out. You may use 1-3 of you own customized characters to win depending on the mission, and accomplishing certain secret actions can give you extra gear to customize with. Descending of course in the other option and is more straight forward survival mode with a pair of your customized characters. Arcade mode throws back to the roots of the game, but I doubt I will seriously play due to the lack of ability to change its difficulty (forcing you to really on versus mode for either real players or setting the difficulty in the options menu) and the fact that the last 3 of the 8 matches are always against the same characters. And that leaves training mode to round out the single player options. Verses is still there, broken down between standard and special matches, as is the Museum, though unlike the past there is no battle theatre and no way to view the character models or hear their dialogue. There is of course online mode, but to be honest, that's a pretty standard feature now a days and would have been outrageous not to have. I have yet to play online, but I hear a good connection of a 4 or a 5 allows the gameplay to be quite good, though there will always be a little lag. That however is a matter of technology.
Character creation is back and actually really impressive this time around, particularly since you can also add or take away equipment from a main characters 2nd player costume. The options have improved in both quantity and quality and new little perks like changing the tone of your created characters voice have been introduced. The most interesting thing though is the RPG elements added to each item. Every piece of equipment has bonuses or negatives to a characters attack, defense, and health in addition to giving a point spending limit in one of five attributes: Power, Impact, Boost, Gauge, and Special. You can spend these points on character abilities such as gaining life on striking or having a chance to automatically guard impact while blocking. It really makes it much more interesting and allows you to cover a characters weakness or enhance their best attributes as you choose. Different weapons can be purchased here as well and are one of the biggest factors in your characters stats. Overall it is surely one of the best features of this game.
That leaves the most important thing, the gameplay. Of the new features, the most obvious would be the soul gauge and its related features armor breaking and critical finishers. In addition to the character health bars you will notice two things. On is a large gem at the end of each bar, which changes from blue to green to flashing red whenever your character blocks attacks. This is the soul gauge, the new way to punish players who like to sit back and block all day (aka turtling). When forced into a flashing red stat the character has a chance to have there guard broken. When this happens your character flashes red and black signaling to the opponent to use their critical finish which is simply a non-gory fatality (instant kill). Some characters are better at achieving these then others. Also there is the inclusion of armor breaking. Underneath the soul gauge is a small three section bar representing armor. You have a piece for high, mid, and low section attacks. When it is broken, your characters appearance changes to reflect that and you will take more damage to subsequent hits to the same area. Personally, I like both mechanics as it encourages new tactics while still keeping old ones more then viable.
While playing the game, at first it may seem a bit slower, maybe even clunky, but eventually you'll get used to it and realize it's just different. Some other little things have changed, like a bigger emphasis on stunning and juggling being less important then it was (which isn't saying a lot). Movesets have been modified, some more then others, but I feel for most characters the changes were subtle with relatively few new moves being introduced but the properties of existing moves refined. Overall I find most character fun to play as and maybe better balanced, but either way patches will come to fix any problems (as they have already made there first patch, a good sign in my book).
Overall 8.5/10 (not an average)
In the end I think Soul Calibur 4 will prove to be a good if not great game, and far more competitive then 3 was. While a little more lacking in single player options, online will add invaluable game time for many players. I doubt this will be this franchises end.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/01/08
Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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