Soulcalibur VI Review
Originating with Soul Edge in 1995, Bandai Namco’s Soulcalibur franchise has been riding along for over 20 years, releasing titles along the way. Now the iconic franchise, most famous for its 3D weapon-based fighting system, has released its latest installment on October 19. Soulcalibur VI brings a revisited fighting engine and new content to the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. As with previous titles, the game was sure to include a cameo from outside of the series in the form of Geralt, from the Witcher 3.
So what exactly does Soulcalibur VI bring to the table? Let’s dive in to find out.
Game Content and Story
Getting the fighting game rudiments out of the way, Soulcalibur VI comes completes with all of the modes you would expect in a fighting game. You have a Battle Mode which houses an Arcade Mode, Practice Mode, and local versus. The Arcade Mode throws you into a set of matches where you try to get the best time for winning all of your matches. There is no story tie in, just jump in and play. Outside of Battle Mode, Network Mode is your online PVP mode, housing both ranked and casual play.
An element that has become special to the Soulcalibur franchise over the years returns in the form of Creation Mode. Here you can create a character, choose from a set of base races, alter face and body components, toss on some clothes, and apply a fighting style from one of the game’s canon characters. The character creation continues to get more and more robust with every Soulcalibur release, and that does not change here. You have a wide variety of customization options in Soulcalibur VI’s Creation Mode, which is bound to keep creative types in here for hours.
I mean, I sure as hell did not expect to fight a pistachio in an online ranked match…
Soulcalibur VI’s story acts as a reboot of sorts. The setting is a collection of events occurring around Cervantes’ initial defeat at the hands of Sophitia and Taki. During this time, Cervantes was the current user of Soul Edge, a sentient and corrupted sword that was split into two blades for Cervantes’ use. Corrupted by the blade himself, Cervantes used this Soul Edge pair, endlessly killing for decades to feed the blade’s blood lust. Sophitia was able to destroy one of his blades rendering Soul Edge “incomplete” whilst Taki finished off Cervantes directly. These events however lead to the release of the Evil Seed, which possessed people all over, including the knight, Siegfried. The then-possessed Siegfried would eventually become Nightmare, the new wielder of the incomplete Soul Edge.
Soulcalibur VI covers the happenings of each of the game’s various characters during this time period. However, the main story of this game puts a deeper focus on the staff-wielding Kilik and his soon-to-be close friends, Maxi and Xianghua. The plot takes you through Kilik’s infection from the release of the Evil Seed. He journeys with the friends he makes along the way to confront Soul Edge, all while Kilik struggles with the Evil Seed’s effects, festering inside of him.
Diving into the main story mode, Chronicle of Souls, it was definitely interesting to experiences Soulcalibur’s core plot events from this new Kilik angle. Being familiar with Soulcalibur’s plot, it was a refreshing take on events. This Kilik-based story was even hashed out well enough for new-comers to the series to pick up, given the game’s reboot-like presentation. The story was interesting and you actually cared about the events as you played through the various scenes.
Once you finish this “main” story plot line, the stories for the rest of the character roster open up to you in Chronicle of Souls. You can select the character of your choice and play out that character’s story, with each setting occurring in parallel with the events of the main story. The layout of the character story selection screen displays the timelines of the various events. I thought this was a nice touch, giving the player an idea of when events occurred in relation to others for each character.
When compared to the main story on the top, the majority of the individual story lines were generally interesting. There were a handful of individual stories that left much to be desired, however. These stories suffered either from an uninteresting plot line, simply bad voice acting, or both. Those stories with the uninteresting plot lines were so because they simply did not mesh well with the core events of Soulcalibur, as this game presents it. At times, you play as an important character battling mostly non-canon enemies that you care nothing about. Luckily, this disappointment was only for about 30 to 40 percent of the roster, so I focused more on my enjoyment with the bulk of the characters whose stories were presented well.
Libra of Souls, is a mode I became particularly fond of. Libra of Souls has you create a character of your own for use in an individual story circling around you. The Soulcalibur VI story acts as the backdrop of your story, where you journey around Europe, interacting with canon and non-canon Soulcalibur characters, while struggling against the effects of the Evil Seed, yourself. You battle, make story and course altering decisions, and stock up on weapons and supplies to power you through your story. This mode reminded me much of a similar mode in Soulcalibur III, where you also experience a unique story set around player-created characters.
This game is a fighting game after all. So as you can imagine, this story also progresses based on your abilities to win matches, just like in any other mode. What makes this mode unique, outside of character creation, is the element of gambling and planning involved. Your character and the opponents you face have levels. Therefore, you have to take care not to challenge opponents that are dramatically stronger than you are until you are leveled-up and stocked-up appropriately. Between main story missions, you can explore the surrounding area, tackling alternative missions for rewarded items, weapons, or experience points. The more you fight, the stronger you get and the more loot you land.
Where the risk lies is in your explorations. Explorations cost money. While you travel from point to point, you can be randomly attacked any number of times before reaching your destination. If your main character is knocked out before reaching the destination, you will lose the money you spent for the trip and be moved back to the last main story location you were at. Sure, beating opponents 30 levels higher than you allows you to level up faster, as well as grants you better rewards. However, you need to be sure that you are properly prepared for the buff in difficulty.
On top of the core gameplay of Libra of Souls, I generally enjoyed playing this unique alternative story, where I controlled the direction and interacted with the canon Soulcalibur characters. I became hooked with the character grind and the original story that came with it.
Much of the staple aspects of Soulcalibur’s fighting engine fall in line with how the series has progressed over the years. Characters are aligned on a 3D stage, fighting mostly on a perceived 2D plane. Characters can shift around that plane with 8-directional movement, allowing them to side-step attacks as well as fully explore the 3D stage. Stages vary in appearance and core setup, ranging from stages that are fully surrounded by walls, partial coverage of walls, or no walls at all. Rounds are won by KO, ring-out, or having the most health at the end of round time.
Soulcalibur VI also sticks with their traditional 4-button system of A,B,K, and G. Horizontal Attacks (A) swipe at one height and are intended to catch opponents that are trying to step around you. They can be blocked or dodged by ducking or jumping, depending on the height of the attack. Vertical Attacks (B) swipe from the top-down or vice-versa, intending to catch jumping or crouching opponents. They can be blocked or dodged by side-stepping using the 8-directional movement. Kick attacks (K) are “faster” melee attacks that can have vertical or horizontal aspects, depending on attack styles specific to each character. Then of course you have guard (G), which can be used to block either high or low attacks.
As you would imagine, there is more to this rock-paper-scissors mold here. Characters can use grabs/throws or low attacks to override high blocking opponents. Grabs/Throws can be nullified if reacted upon early enough in the animation. Mid-level attacks override and open up crouched blocking fighters. Guard Impacts are parries that stagger attackers if timed correctly. However, if a Guard Impact gesture misses, it is the attempter of the Guard Impact that is left open. There are also unblockable attacks that glow bright orange, take long to wind up, but deal high damage. Those attacks can either be interrupted by other attacks or simply avoided altogether.
Also returning is the Critical Edge. Critical Edge is Soulcalibur’s very own “super”, where each character performs an exaggerated animation before attempting to land a single it. Should that attack connect with an unblocking opponent, the opponent is automatically punished in a flurry of stylish and brutal attacks, leading to heavy damage. You can also perform Soul Charges, which amps up your character, unlocking new attack possibilities as well as more powerful versions of attacks.
The new element to Soulcalibur VI’s fighting engine comes in the form of the Reversal Edge.
Reversal Edge is a technique used to start a slow motion cinematic event where each fighter has to commit to a move as they try to predict their opponent’s attack. Reversal Edge starts off blocking high attacks, automatically answering with a quick counter. Should the counter connect, a slow motion cinematic event begins where each player can choose to answer with A, B, or K attacks. During the sequence, Vertical (B) beats horizontal (A), Horizontal (A) beats kick (K), and kick (K) beats vertical (B). Think of it as a glorified yet slightly more complicated Rock-Paper-Scissor sequence. Engaged combatants can also opt to cancel out of the sequence by either side-stepping or back-stepping. The initiating Reversal Edge action could also be broken with specific attacks, such as ones that are low or guard breaking, offering more options against fighters that choose to lean on this mechanic.
More on Fighting Engine and Final Thoughts
With all of these mechanics in play, Soulcalibur VI continues to deliver fast-paced, satisfying battles match after match. There are so many avenues for engaging your opponents, with each action having several counters to answer with. Characters, fighting styles and weapons are quite varied, allowing for unique and engaging battles again and again. Soulcalibur VI’s fighting engine continues to be inviting for all levels of players, whether they be button-mashing novices or fighting game technicians.
Interestingly enough, the Reversal Edge was introduced in order to help bridge the natural gap that is bound to form between the differing skill levels. A fighter could try a Reversal Edge when they are under pressure from a multitude of attacks that they are having trouble reading. It helps break up the aggressive opponent’s rhythm, in hopes that the troubled fighter can turn the momentum around during the Reversal Edge sequence. Of course, it is not foolproof as it can be punished the multitude of ways described earlier.
Side-stepping out of the Reversal Edge sequence is also not foolproof. You actually need to have both the necessary distance from your opponent as well as enough room on the stage to get out of dodge. This makes the Reversal Edge more situational and less of a technique that any novice can carelessly spam.
Older staples like Soul Charge, Critical Edge and Guard Impact remain as effective as ever. Guard Impacts reward players who successfully predict their opponents patterns, leading to justifiable punishes. Critical Edges are actually easier to use as the quarter-circle-forward motions originally needed to activate them were taken out of their execution. A simple simultaneous pressing of A+B+K initiates the Critical Edge attack, allowing for easy links with character-juggling attacks.
Despite my long history of playing with Maxi, I found myself sticking mostly with Taki this time around. With her set of moves that quickly launch enemies far into the sky, it was laughably easy to link with a A+B+K-activated Critical Edge.
All in all, Soulcalibur VI uses a deep fighting engine that keeps players of all kinds engaged in every match they played. Reversal Edge merely adds to the pot of options available for players of varying styles and skill levels. Although Reversal Edges are nice for beginners vs intermediate battles, advanced players will easily overcome it, given the multitude of options available for countering the new mechanic. Most importantly, battles are simply fun all around. Fast-paced battles with beautiful character and stage design, backed by an excellent musical score, makes Soulcalibur a very solid and enjoyable game at its core.
Taking the small samples of shallow storytelling and bad voice-acting aside, Soulcalibur VI is presented quite well. I especially enjoyed the accompanying background music during fights, which did a great job at driving home each fight’s tension and pace. Whether or not you are into fighting online against others, Libra of Souls and Creation Mode give you plenty to keep you occupied for hours on end. Not to mention, additional characters will continue to drop as purchasable DLC, adding more depth to an already impressive roster of characters.
Soulcalibur VI is a welcomed addition to the franchise that is bound to sit well with both casual and hardcore fighting game lovers. Do take a look at Soulcalibur VI by Bandai Namco for yourself here…
† Review copy of Soulcalibur VI and non-watermarked content provided by Bandai Namco PR.