Since the series started with the arcade game Soul Edge, the Soul Calibur series has come a long way. A very long way. In fact, they’ll be releasing a fifth game early next year, which a lot of people are excited about. I’m excited. How about you? I mean, it’s only the most innovative and intense 3D plane weapons fighter out there. Seriously, check around. I haven’t found a single game that lets you walk anywhere on the stage while swinging a sword- zweihander, scythe, spear-dagger combo, machete, katana, ring blade, whatever- around violently and kicking people off cliffs. That might be rather vague, and I might not have looked around for similar games, but you should definitely give it a shot. You’ll see what I mean.
Okay, so, here’s the deal. The game has a lot of positive points, such as the wide variety of weapon styles, the easy to learn-tough to master move lists, the expansive character creation system, the lovely stages, so on, so forth. But as it goes with most video games, the negative aspects tend to stand out more prominently than the positive aspects, and with a game as good as Soul Calibur IV, the cons are fairly obvious.
First of all, a guard-crush/critical finish system was implemented, making prolonged blocking a guaranteed loss. The color scales from blue to green to yellow to red, and if you got into the bright, flashing red, one more blocked attack would put you into guard crush. That means red electrical effects around your character, which means your opponent can press R1 (or right bumper for you Xboxers) and enter a cinematic attack that makes you win instantly. Not very wise. It was a good idea to discourage players from hiding behind their defense forever, but the whole instant-win button aspect never turns out well. In my experience, it hasn’t.
Custom character design is next on the naughty list. They don’t have as many outfit choices as they did in the last game, but they sure do look prettier. Problem is, they put in a weapons ability system that receives points (power, impact, gauge, boost, and special) only from certain articles of clothing. With enough points in a stat, you could afford to take an ability that randomly turns a normal attack into an unblockable, or maybe a nifty ability that keeps you from falling off ledges and subsequently instant loss. These abilities are nice, but the downside is that it causes the player to rely on particular pieces of equipment. For example, the secret final outfit for male characters, the Leviathan armor, gives you loads of strength and gauge, which are handy for raising your character’s aggressive potential and allowing them a trick that involves their HP gauge, respectively. This means that even though your ninja outfit looks really fly, you won’t be able to auto-counter attacks unless you swap out your ninja mask for the Leviathan helmet. Staple articles really ruin custom character appeal, I tell ya.
This complaint is more personal, though it is a rather vehement topic of discussion on forums. The guests characters from Star Wars, Vader, Yoda, and that godforsaken Apprentice, really throw a wrench into combat. Yoda is very short, meaning all horizontal attacks miss. You already know what’s wrong with that, so I’ll move on. Apprentice has a wide array of “force attacks” that drain his minimal force gauge and lead to a self-inflicted stagger, but what they do tends to balance that out. He can shoot you with lightning, he can explode the ground and fling you upward, allowing an air juggle combo, he can even fly up into the sky and wait for a bit, then come crashing down onto your health bar like a final boss on steroids. Yes, he’s good, but if you play him, you’ll never have any friends and you’ll live the rest of your life alone. That last bit was the personal opinion part. Vader’s actually okay, he’s probably the most balanced out of the three. His force overload “HADOKEN” may be a bit intimidating at first, but a quick (or slow, he takes forever to wind up) sidestep is all it takes to bake Vader’s taters.
And that’s a wrap. I grill this game so hard because I love it, and because I hope for the best come time for the sequel. One final word of assurance, though. I have heard rumors that number five will be encompassing a more ballistically high speed, air-combo based combat playstyle much akin to Marvel vs Capcom, but I can guarantee that that will not be the case. Soul Calibur’s got a unique gift, I hardly think they would waste it on some petty merchandising copycat tactic.