Fighting games always seem to be stuck between two worlds as of late. On one hand, fighting games are expected to not deviate from previous iterations to give veteran players a familiarity with the mechanics. On the other, the further narrowing of the fighting game niche leads to more experimentation with gameplay modes and mechanics to attract new players. The learning curve in fighting games is often dense, and titles like SoulCalibur were arguably the steepest to get through.
SoulCalibur as a franchise has been in limbo for some time now. The lukewarm reception of previous installments has led to Bandai Namco and Project Soul retooling the franchise back to its roots, but the pressure of attracting newcomers is still there. This latest installment feels conflicted as a fighting game because of that pressure.
SoulCalibur VI, for the most part, does retain most of its original mechanics. Anyone familiar with the game’s mechanics will be able to pick it up and slash their way to victory. It's still arguably the best 3D fighting game on the market, and easily the best weapon-based game out there. What works in its favor is how Project Soul painstakingly simplifies the mechanics without sacrificing the game's plethora of combos.
A lot of the simplifications are tied mostly to defense and single button mechanics. For example, Critical Edges are now a single button press instead of a complex button combo. Soul Charge is also relegated to an easy button combo, and it's easier to track thanks to the new design of the Soul Meter. Guard Impacts are the only mechanic relatively unchanged, being based on timing your blocks as an opponent strikes. The only tweak is they can now be unlimited over costing the player some of their meter.
The newest mechanic is the Reversal Edge. This combines a Guard Impact with a short, cinematic sequence that adds a rock-paper-scissors element into the mix. Reversal Edges showcase the best and worst of SoulCalibur VI; a bit of complex mechanics bogged down by flashy animations and a degree of randomness. Reversal Edge feels like a gimmick to make the game more cinematic over providing a tactical advantage. Hardcore players may not take kindly to the mechanic as much as casual fans due to this. However, SoulCalibur VI is certainly more exciting to watch and play thanks to additions and simplifications like Reversal Edge.
Much of the game's features cater specifically to the more casual audience, with SoulCalibur VI clinging on to the mid-2000’s fighting game aesthetic. For example, character creation returns, and although it has fewer weapon and costume piece options, it makes up for it with the sheer modular nature of the entire character. Tons of quirky things are possible, from top-hat wearing skeletons to dwarf-like cherubs with oversized wings. Players can even tweak their posing, add stickers and external bits, even give their on-screen photo a cool makeover.
The game rewards outlandish bouts of creativity and even tracks your favorite designs from online, allowing more creative players to collect their favorite designs and duke it out with their own cast of custom characters. Outside of online, character creation is used for the Libra of Souls mode, where your custom warriors will be able to flex their fighting muscles. One of two single-player modes available, Libra of Souls is a quasi-RPG with a plethora of missions, side quests, and even moral choices at times. It's certainly one of the most unique single-player modes since SoulCalibur III, and arguably the best single player mode they have ever created for the series.
That said, Libra of Souls is also incredibly boring. You're basically going through repetitive fights in between traveling and random encounters, all to slowly level up your customized avatar. Buying or obtaining weapons and food add minor stat boosts such as increased health or a faster soul gauge. Otherwise, it's bare-bones and relies heavily on buying into the games convoluted lore. The severe lack of any good voice acting and the long ‘cutscenes’ of talking heads just add to the boredom.
Libra of Souls clearly took a lot of the development time from Project Soul. It also serves as another example of who the developers were appealing to; it does have some value for more casual fans of the franchise, while more hardcore fans will likely see it as a distraction. The rest of the game is surprisingly sparse on features. What is here is either bare-bones or its own brand of nonsense to pad out the playtime.
The second story mode, Soul Chronicle, is the most egregious example. Soul Chronicle is a short, 20 mission re-telling of the first SoulCalibur games story, starring Kilik and a relatively small cast of characters. Much of the Soul Chronicle mode is ultimately padding. Every character on the roster goes through six side-story missions, sometimes without even fighting once. All of them feature well-drawn character art and mediocre to poor voice acting that takes you out of the moment entirely. It says something when guest character Geralt has the best delivery by a country mile. His near emotionless, gravelly charisma shines through every line he delivers.
Outside of the two single-player modes, there is sadly little else to do in SoulCalibur VI save for online play. Most players have already gravitated towards ranked matchups, with casual online being desolate in the first few days of the game's launch. Online mode suffers no issues of lag but there were a few connection timeouts here and there. Otherwise, it pretty much follows the standards of more modern fighting games for online play, albeit lacking extra features like online lobbies. The rest is your typical arcade, training and versus modes for couch co-op. These are staples for the series that are also staples for any fighting game.
The sad fact is that these modes are merely distractions to online ranked play for the hardcore audience. Unlike the refinements found in Street Fighter V or Tekken 7, which cater specifically to fighting fans by providing tons of options for competitive play, SoulCalibur VI leans more on the casual audience with their own special features. It is a flashy, colorful experience for sure, but overall feels less like the hardcore SoulCalibur of old.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Playing SoulCalibur VI is like enjoying a bit of comfort food when the craving strikes. It’s simple and wholly enjoyable in the moment. The problem is after the high wears off, the game becomes ultimately forgettable. There's just something extra that SoulCalibur VI seems to lack, something to really make it feel special. All the additions, from the overstuffed single player to Reversal Edge mechanics, scream style over substance despite retaining the tactical gameplay. If nothing else, SoulCalibur VI is the most accessible game in the series. For longtime fans, they may find that enjoyable but forgettable compared to previous installments.
TechRaptor reviewed SoulCalibur VI on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on the PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.
SoulCalibur VI as a fighting game is all style over substance. While it retains most of its tactical combat it is easily the most user-friendly title in the series and for some longtime fans, that may be more discouraging than a return to form.
- Refinement of Fighting Mechanics...
- Create a Character Mode is Still Fun...
- Solid Artwork and Presentation...
- Great for Casual Fans...
- ...With Gimmicky Additions like Reversal Edge.
- ...Mediocre Single Player Modes.
- ...Terrible Voice Acting.
- ...Too Bare Bones for Hardcore Players.