When I think of fighting games, I don’t tend to think of stories. Sure, I know that there’s a narrative arc that’s led through the Tekken series, that Injustice had to find a way to explain why Superman and Batman were fighting… again, but that’s not what fighting games are about to me. Perhaps the one exception to that particular quirk in my thinking is SoulCalibur, with the fight between light and dark, the battle to hold or stop the corruption of the Soul Edge.
SoulCalibur VI’s main story takes us (almost) right back to the very start, taking place alongside the events of the original SoulCalibur. It’s several minutes of back and forth dialogue between character portraits, little moments of animation and exposition before you get to actually fight someone – you can thankfully skip through this, if you want – picking up with a fateful night that disrupts Kilik’s martial arts training, as the monks and his close friend Kianglian are all turned mad by some corruption or other. Kilik is only protected by the Dvapara-Yuga mirror that Kianglian entrusted in his care.
Kilik’s justified reputation as one of the cheesiest characters in SoulCalibur makes him a good starting point in the Chronicle of Souls, with his long reach and rapid attacks with the Kali-Yuga stick perfect for newcomers to the series. There’s a big portion of tutorials to get through here, as Kilik recuperates and heads off to seek out and confront the Soul Edge, building up through a short series of fights, but it’s buried under the weight of exposition that means I only fought four fights in the space of half an hour and I’ll admit I totally zoned out while capturing.
Whether you want to savour the game’s story or avoid it, there’s plenty of options available to you. You can delve into a wide array of side stories, with a tale to tell for each of the characters, including guest character Geralt, regardless of how heavily they feature in the main path. Alternatively, you can avoid the story almost entirely and just take any of the characters on the roster into the Arcade mode, fixing a common complaint from the fifth game.
Geralt’s a fun inclusion, and fits in really well alongside the rest of the cast. His mixture of heavy sword attacks and magic are great. There’s a real weight to his attacks, especially when leaping into a diagonal swipe or drawing up his leg, pausing for a split second and then kicking out with his heel to shove the opponent. His magics come to the fore with his Critical Edge, bewitching the enemy to stand up, swiping to knock them up into the sky and then washing them in flames.
The game as a whole feels fast and fluid, with some characters just ludicrously nimble. I had a lot of fun as Talim in Arcade, flipping through the air with her elbow blades and wind-based attacks. When you get to roll your own character, you can naturally pick any of the fighting styles from the individual characters. Some are more customisable than others – a mummy comes with its own clothing, for example – but I went with Lizzy the Lizardman, giving them Taki’s twin ninja swords. It’s a straightforward system, with a lot of common ground with SoulCalibur V in letting you change the size of individual body parts, as well as their height, which has an impact on fighting stats, but I didn’t see anywhere to tweak colours of weapons or their effects to start with.
Those customisations, of which there are tons, will come through levelling up in the Libra of Souls story mode and unlocking new equipment. This follows a separate story through the world, with your custom character waking from a haze, clearly with a seed of darkness within their soul and hunting down astral fissures to try and stop its spread. Your early encounters with main characters are coloured by visions and losing control while blacked out, to the point of sleep fighting with Maxi when he tries to recruit your help!
You do get decisions to make at certain points, choosing to tip the scales between good and evil, but they’re not even vaguely disguised when they show up amidst the exposition. It would have been nice to see these made trickier, but simplicity is sure to be appreciated when trying to meet the criteria for unlocking side-battles that are hidden away on the world map.
If you enjoy a little tipple of single player fighting, then SoulCalibur VI has got more than enough options to explore, from the exposition heavy main story to custom characters and a straight up arcade mode. Of course, it’s really the fighting itself that matters, and SoulCalibur doesn’t just look fantastic on modern consoles, it feels as good as ever too.