Review by horror_spooky

"Worthless dog!"

The first Soulcalibur game I had a chance to play was the second one installment in the series, and it was a blast. It was a blast mostly because of the gimmick that the game had. While most games released on all three sixth generation systems (Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube) were basically the same game, Soulcalibur II decided to give each version its own character. The Xbox got Spawn, the PlayStation 2 got some Tekken guy, and the GameCube got the hero of the Legend of Zelda series, Link. This is gimmick was a huge part of the fun that Soulcalibur II provided, and it was a huge disappointment that the third game was exclusive to the PlayStation 2, but the series is back on the right track with Soulcalibur IV, which was released on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, and to make things even better, the PlayStation 3 version gets none other than Darth Vader as their exclusive character while the 360 version gets the true Jedi master, Yoda.

Honestly, it sounds like a nerd's dream come true. You have two of the biggest names in the Star Wars saga battling out with Soulcalibur favorites, but this game could have succeeded even without the multi-platform character gimmick. It's not the most balanced fighter in the world, but the experience is an addicting one and there's so much unlockable content it feels like Super Smash Bros. Brawl all over again—which is a very good thing.

One of the game's low points though is Story Mode which feels tacked on. Basically, you go through five stages as a character of your choice and fight some people in each stage right after another, and if you lose the match you have to start that particular stage over again. Story Mode's main weakness is that it just doesn't seem all that necessary; each play-through provides you with the same basic setup with minor plot elements tweaked here and there. Each character's opening is told through scrolling words, and it's a shame that they didn't take more advantage of the added Star Wars elements in the game.

However, Story Mode isn't all that bad. Since you aren't forced to start back at the very beginning every time you lose, you can play on the harder difficulties as a way to truly hone your fighting skills. This also keeps the game from being frustrating and is another reason why Soulcalibur IV is one of the best fighting games on the market.

The Tower of Souls is another single-player mode available in Soulcalibur IV, and it is much more entertaining than Story Mode. Basically, you start you can ascend a bunch of floors, defeating various fighters, and you can earn special items to use in the character creation mode by completing special stipulations. What this means is that it feels like the game has two sets of achievements: the regular achievements, and these extra achievements that let you unlock items to create your characters. After you complete the ascension of the Tower of Souls, you can then descend, and it is actually quite different than the ascension, but I'm not going to ruin that for you here.

Finally, Arcade mode is the last main single-player mode available to you, and it plays out just like you'd expect. When you defeat your opponent, you win that “round” and whoever wins the most rounds wins, and then you fight the next opponent. Once again, this mode is saved from being frustrating because it lets you retry right at the fighter you were at, giving you the chance to better yourself and actually learn how to play the game more efficiently.

That's right; you can create custom characters in this game. Not only that, but you can customize the already existing fighters if you have the desire to. While your options aren't really limited after you unlock a bunch of armor and weapons and stuff, I really wish the customization process was a little more personal. If there was more freedom involved in the creation of your personal character, then this feature would have worked way better. The best part about all of this is though that you can level up your character and the other fighters simply by playing through the single-player modes, meaning that you can truly create the ultimate fighter to use against your friends offline or against others online.

At first, you will be pretty disappointed with the game's multiplayer offerings. It works just like any other fighter, and it is very basic. Still, after you unlock some more characters and learn some sweet combos, the multiplayer picks up pace. You'll find yourself enjoying it just as much as the rest of the game and the game supports both offline and online multiplayer modes so you'll always have someone to play against.

If you couldn't tell, this game plays a lot like most fighters out there. You mash buttons, stringing together combos, and occasionally block to deflect your opponent's attack, so it really amazes me that Soulcalibur IV is as fun as it is. The combos, while sometimes difficult to string together, aren't nearly as demanding as those found in games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but they are just as rewarding when you pull one off. Players who try to cheat by blocking your attacks the entire match will be punished. How exactly? Well, the more they block, the redder their Soul Gauge becomes, and the bluer yours becomes. Once your Soul Gauge hits flashing blue status, you can pull off some pretty sweet moves; for example, the Apprentice can go invisible while Yoda will do this awesome triple flip in mid-air that really devastates opponents. This makes the game more fair, but losing by ring-out is still as cheap as it is any other fighting titles before it.

But wait, there's more! Yep, Soulcalibur IV has even MORE meat on the bones to make sure you'll be spending plenty of time with this fighter. You can view relationships between the characters, their stats, your achievement records, you can purchase character creation items and art extras using points you gain by playing through the single-player modes.

I mentioned that the story was pretty lame before since it is relatively the same story for each character, when the game would have really benefited from mixing it up here and there, plus its short as hell, but I might as well give my view on it. In most characters' cases, they sense the power of the Soul Edge and Soul Calibur, so they seek it out, find some evil prince guy who has both of the swords, defeat him, and then gain the power of the swords for themselves. That's the basic rundown for MOST of the characters, but there are some surprises if you feel like looking for them.

You'd think that the graphics would be pretty sweet. I mean, even though there's a lot of content packed into this game, it really doesn't do anything that revolutionary. Unfortunately, a lot of the environments are pretty bland and lifeless. The frame rate has problems here and there, but the character models look pretty sweet. Some of the cut-scenes aren't too bad to look at that and the attacks seam together nicely. Some of the environments can be destroyed, and pieces of the ground fly into the air when someone is slammed into it. These little effects somewhat make up for the pretty lackluster presentation, but sometimes they disappear from the battle, which is a little disappointing.

Where Soulcalibur IV shines even brighter is in its audio department. All of the musical scores are great, and it doesn't hurt that the game has some of the best music in film history installed—and obviously I'm talking about the Star Wars theme. However, there are even some of the lesser known scores from the Star Wars films in this game, so true Star Wars buffs will have a ball with this title. The voice acting is top-notch, and there is some star power with some voice-acting done by some actors who have done work in the Dragon Ball anime.

You can beat the game in about ten minutes, but that's not a problem seeing as how its built for many, many play-throughs with multiple fighters. After you've played the Story Mode to death, there are a few other single-player modes for you to master, and then you can delve in the character creation. Plus, there is some pretty awesome multiplayer to keep you busy, plenty of characters, stages, and extras to unlock, a trailer for the new Star Wars: The Force Unleashed game, secrets to discover, and on top of ALL that, the Xbox 360 will give you even more to strive for with, of course, achievements. Simply put, Soulcalibur IV will have control of your 360 for a very long time.

Fighting games are almost always a blast, and this generation has seen some of the best fighters the video game world has experienced yet. With Super Smash Bros. Brawl dominating on the Wii and games like Soulcalibur IV impressing with their addicting gameplay, bevy of unlockable content, and a brilliant audio presentation. When the sequel comes out, it would be nice if the Story Mode was given more thought and the graphics were upgraded to be as good as they very easily could have, and should have, been. Until then, gamers will find plenty to love with Soulcalibur IV.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/10/08

Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)

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