Despite everything that’s come after it, the original SoulCalibur is still amongst the best fighting games of all time. It had a fantastic array of characters and featured the best rendition of on-on-one sword fighting I’d ever seen, while the cool single player featured a campaign map that made you play the game in different ways while using the full game’s roster. Though guest characters have since come and gone, and creating your own character has become more and more integral, the original game in the series just got everything right. Sadly SoulCalibur VI does not.
After the outcry about SoulCalibur V’s story mode, Bandai Namco have seen fit to neuter not one but two story modes this time out. The main mission structure sees you create your own character who then trundles through a batch of fights in the hope of staving off the evil within him, possibly by choosing, or not choosing the right sword – gasp! What sword could it be?! The major problem here is that as far as I’m concerned the create a fighter mode in SoulCalibur has always been a bit pants. All you’re actually doing is playing using one of the main character’s fighting style with a relatively generic skin stuck on top of it – bald Siegfried right here – and it makes little sense when you’ve got a roster of loved and well rounded characters just sitting about in the wings.
No matter which of the story modes you’re playing – the other one is the most drawn out and boring attempt at re-telling the SoulCalibur storyline from different perspectives – there’s a lot of still imagery and talking heads for you to look at. Some of this still artwork can be quite attractive, but really it does the game, and the series, a huge disservice by being interminably dull, and you’ll be furiously clicking away hoping for the next battle to appear.
The only thing of use here is the battle tutorial which is squirrelled away in Drona’s Dojo. Returning players will find that the fundamentals of SoulCalibur’s sword combat have barely changed, with horizontal and vertical attacks backed up by the odd swift kick to the unspeakables. Layered on top of that are the powerful Critical Edge specials that use up your gauge, as well as Soul Charges that empower you character and open up a bunch of extra moves.
The most unusual addition to SoulCalibur VI’s battle system is the Reversal Edge, which adds a kind of rock-paper-scissors showdown to a bout. When you successfully enter into the Reversal Edge state you then input your chosen attack, with Square beating Circle, Circle beating Triangle and Triangle beating Square. It’s a system that feels disjointed, and far too reliant on luck to have any hope of wooing serious fighting enthusiasts, though its flashy nature may go down well with more casual fans.
Perhaps that’s Bandai’s big play with SoulCalibur VI. It’s extremely watchable, enjoyable to play even when you don’t particularly know what you’re doing, and nearly every move your character does is accompanied by some spark or energy wave that makes you think you might be the best SoulCalibur player of all time. It’s very casual friendly, but thanks to the Reversal Edge can feel unfair at times. Realistically no fighting game should ever feel unfair apart from if you lack the same level of skill and practice as your opponent. Winning a bout because you chose Circle and they chose Triangle isn’t fun, it’s just plain stupid.
There are some positives to be found here though, and at least one of them is the inclusion of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher as a playable character. Of all the guest characters we’ve seen over the years he’s easily the best fit for the SoulCalibur, utilising swift swordwork and Witcher Signs to blast his opponents with magic. Bandai have done a really good job of capturing both his movement and some of his behaviour, and if ever there was a place in need of a Witcher it’s here amongst a bunch of corrupted sword wielders.
The other two new characters are something of a mixed bag. Azwel looks like a corrupted Doctor Strange by way of Doctor Octopus, and his conjured weaponry can literally appear out of middair to swipe at you. He feels a spot overpowered, decimating an opponent’s health bar in short order given any chance to unleash his array of spinning and looping attacks.
Groh meanwhile feels as though they’ve tried hard to create a ‘cool’ character, with a haircut that would suit any of the guys in One Direction, and a pervading air of the much-loathed Patroklos. His double-bladed weapon is also pretty trendy, but the biggest problem is with his movement, with combat often feeling stunted and disjointed. His powered-up Soul Charge state brings some new tactical choices though, opening up those extra moves and turning him into a real force to be reckoned with.
SoulCalibur VI is a fantastic looking entry in the series, but beyond that feels like something of a missed opportunity. The core combat remains as vibrant, weighty and enjoyable as ever, but the Reversal Edge adds in an element of chance that feels at odds with what most fighting games set out to achieve. The two interminably dull story modes don’t help either, with players left to rely on the the straightforward arcade and online modes for their kicks.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available for Xbox One & PC.