GameCentral plays the long-awaited return of SoulCalibur, and talks to its producer about the chances of a Switch version…
SoulCalibur reaching its 20th anniversary somehow seems more shocking than any other recent milestone. We think that’s because, unlike something like Final Fantasy or Street Fighter, the first SoulCalibur was a modern-looking 3D game. At the time it was a revolution in both graphics and gameplay, with a unique weapons-based combat system and a single-player mode that, almost uniquely amongst fighting games, was actually worth your time.
The series really began in 1995 with spiritual predecessor Soul Edge (released as Soul Blade on Western consoles), and then continued in 2002 with the excellent SoulCalibur II. But since then the series has seemed to lose it way. Making the third game a PlayStation exclusive was clearly a mistake, and while all of the sequels were of a good quality the fourth and fifth ones began to rely too much on their guest characters, while inexplicably failing to take advantage of the originals’ innovative single-player options.
If you’re not familiar with the franchise it shares a lot of DNA with stablemate Tekken, with its most obvious departure being that everyone is armed with various 16th century weapons. In the demo these were limited to swords, but past games have included characters armed with staffs, nunchaku, sai, metal claws, and more. Which immediately makes it very different to any other 3D fighter.
SoulCalibur VI was announced earlier in the month, and on Friday we were amongst the first in the world to get a chance to play the game. This was at a Bandai Namco event in Paris, which showcased a number of their upcoming games, including Dragon Ball FighterZ and Code Vein – which we’ll have separate reports on later.
Bandai Namco also had a wide range of other games on display, including Ni No Kun II (which looked great but wasn’t showing anything new), One Piece: World Seeker (an open world adventure that was surprisingly reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, and will likely have a much wider appeal than usual in the West), One Piece: Grand Cruise (a newly announced VR game), and Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 for Switch (complete with a fun new co-op mode).
On top of this was a variety of anime-based role-players including Black Clover: Quartet Knights, Little Witch Academia: Chamber Of Time, My Hero Academia: One’s Justice, and Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet (although this was primarily a third person shooter).
But while many of these games were interesting, SoulCalibur VI was easily our favourite. The demo was very simple: just the two characters from the reveal trailer, plus the same Roman temple arena and another one based outside an icy cave. It was all clearly meant to be reminiscent of the Dreamcast original, except with modern Unreal Engine 4-powered graphics.
Although nothing was said about the story mode the time frame has been rewound back to that of the original game, further implying that this is a soft reboot of sorts. Part of that involves dialling back some of the inevitable complications that have been introduced over the last two decades, and at the basic level the game is very straightforward, with just three attack buttons (horizontal, vertical, and kick) and a guard.
Although combos are very easy to pull off they’re not at all necessary to ensure tactical depth, as more than any 3D fighter SoulCalibur emphasises movement and position. Although by default you’re locked onto your opponent and just circle round them, the series’ signature ’eight-way run’ system allows you much more freedom of movement than usual. You can end up facing completely the wrong way if you mistime a move or, most famously of all, end up falling off the side of the arena with a ring out.
The eight-way run is for more experienced players though, and so the game puts a heavy emphasis on something called Reversal Edge. This is activated by one of the trigger buttons and is similar to systems in other recent fighters, like Injustice 2, where you can trigger a mini-cut scene and have to quickly input an attack at the same time as your opponent – in what is essentially a high-tech game of rock, paper scissors.
Along with the Critical Edge attack, which is different for each character, this works on a power meter. So the idea is that even a novice player can reverse their fortunes by activating it at the right moment. Or end up digging their hole even deeper. We found it all worked extremely well, with a very streamlined, old school feel that’s both very accessible and yet seems to avoid any accusations of being dumbed down.
Even with just two characters their abilities are very different, with samurai Mitsurugi being a powerful distance fighter but Sophitia specialising in close attacks and defence. SoulCalibur VI currently has no release date more specific than next year, but as producer Motohiro Okubo implied in our interview there are many more revelations about the game yet to be made…
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Project Soul
Release Date: 2018