Some games have sequels so often that it feels hard to keep up with the steady rate of releases, while others feel like they only have one or two releases per console generation. SoulCalibur VI definitely falls closer to the latter camp and fans have been waiting for a chance to return to the stage of history and destiny, to see where the two swords take the cast of weapon-wielding heroes and villains.
SoulCalibur VI is a retcon of the story, a retraction of the story and events of SoulCalibur V, which retired some of the franchise’s best heroes and replaced them with a bunch of kids who fought similarly. However, just like the X-Men franchise making the effort to retcon, the story has faltered in many ways, most likely because there is just so much of it. While some might argue about the point and importance of a story in a fighting game, many games have provided great stories that bring their characters and conflicts to life, while teaching players everything from the basics of combat, through to the finer points of specific characters. SoulCalibur VI does neither of these things and leaves the story in a sorry state with no real training in sight.
SoulCalibur has always had varied layers of strategy and technicalities for those who take the time to master the characters and this game is no different. A new mechanic has been added that is easy to activate, meaning new players can cotton onto them quickly, while masters will learn the various ins and outs to get the most out of them. Reversal Edge takes one button press to activate (R1) and it is basically a great way to punish those that just press the attack. If hit while doing this (barring break attacks) or while holding it in long enough you will strike your opponent and start a fast-paced clash. It is a rock, paper, scissors fight where you try to get a good strike in on your opponent and a few precious seconds to regroup. The addition of a meter allows you to expend charge in two ways, soul charge causes you to do more damage, even through blocks and gives you extra moves for a short while, while Critical Edge is now a single button press meaning anyone can pull off a flashy, powerful move. These moves are cinematic without slowing the game down, getting to the point before the fight continues.
A long, winding road
The game boasts two single-player story modes and feels like proof that quality trumps quantity. The one mode focuses on the retcon of the story, which has returned to the point just after the first game, with Cervantes defeated and Nightmare rising as the new threat. You can play through the main story, or each characters’ story, with each character getting six or seven chapters. All the story plays out like a visual novel with character portraits looking at each other before a battle. Many chapters have no fighting at all, just talking (with questionable writing and voice direction) and too-frequent load screens causing the proceedings to drag out. In both modes, you will spend a lot of time fighting and dealing with nameless, or rather non-main cast characters, who just happen to use the fighting styles of main characters. It was only after playing hours of single-player and then loading up some couch versus that I realised how much I missed the original characters and how bored I was of fighting bland facsimiles of them. Considering the retcon was to bring back fan-favourites, why are we spending so much time with these custom characters?
The second story mode revolves around The Conduit, a custom character that you make that is a prologue to the main story but doesn’t happen before Cervantes’ fall. You were affected by Nightmare unleashing Soul Edge and now you need to absorb the energy of Astral Fissures to grow more powerful and prevent your death. A new threat, Azwel has appeared and he wants to save humanity by forcing them to evolve, or some such malarky. He spends his time on screen saying things that normal, well-adjusted people say, like “I love my beloved humans” while treating everything like some play for his entertainment, before unleashing some of the cheapest attacks you will ever see. He uses gauntlets that allow him to summon various weapons out of thin air, meaning his attacks have no weight and making everything hard to read.
Some of these quests and stories involve the main cast, while many times your bland custom character will fight bland, custom characters.
As the Conduit you will travel around a world map, sucking up Astral Fissures, fighting bandits and doing quests. Some of these quests and stories involve the main cast, while many times your bland custom character will fight bland, custom characters for a few scraps of coin and XP. This RPG offering has you level up for a few more HP and to equip better weapons, which you have to get, mostly, by fighting random encounters or side quests, because the shops sell junk weapons. It sounds good on paper, but the balancing, the various awkward systems, a lack of balance and too many load screens and poor UI make the Libra of Souls mode a complete chore, and there were a few times in my eight hours with it that I nearly threw a controller to the floor in irritation or disgust. Many fights will pit you against an opponent of higher level with a better weapon, while also giving you some handicap that the enemy doesn’t need to worry about. While the odd fight where you have to ring out to win is fine, having to beat someone multiple rounds in a row where only certain attacks or certain power-ups do damage while they wail on you just gets too frustrating with not enough reward.
SoulCalibur VI seems to be unsure who it is for. A retcon and retelling of a story, complete with little asides to explain various factions, people and terminology feels like something for players new to the franchise, but the game does a terrible job of teaching you how to play. The tutorials that are present are buried in the Libra of Souls mode while the moves lists and basics of combat are, for some unknown reason, nestled in the museum, surrounded by walls of text and full of notation and codes that just looks messy and like something from a free walkthrough guide. If the game is for veterans who love the characters and the multiplayer, it is frustrating seeing your characters do essentially what they did in the past, now with a tie to a later character, while the multiplayer only offers VS and no other features.
Grøh and Geralt
On the new and guest characters, get ready to learn how to fight against Azwel and his cheap combos that seem to have no weight at all. Grøh is a fun, fairly fast fighter with an easy stance change that turns his sword staff into two short swords, changing the speed and reach of moves. Guest character Geralt is a fine addition, with some clever interpretation of his signs and combat moves creating a fun to play fighter, who doesn’t appear too out of place compared to some previous guest appearances.
This core is amazing and without a doubt, something spectacular to see in action as two players dance around each other, but the disappointing single-player campaigns and lack of modes detracts from the package.
SoulCalibur VI reminds me a lot of the latest StreetFighter at launch. Deeply technical and satisfying combat, with lacklustre offerings to show off the fighting. If you don’t care about the single-player story or other offerings beyond vs matches, the game really has some serious fighting chops, with layered combat systems all with varying levels of technical prowess. This core is amazing and without a doubt, something spectacular to see in action as two players dance around each other, but the disappointing single-player campaigns and lack of modes detracts from the package. Add in the fact that the first DLC character, Tira, is already in the game fighting it out in Libra of Souls mode and it feels like she was kept in reserve on purpose for sales, a reminder of years past when it was discovered that some DLC characters were already on the game disc and the purchase was just unlocking content already there. (In fact, interviews have shown that she was asked for, considered technical to implement and used as a carrot on a stick “bonus” for the season pass.) That the DLC will unlock her story doesn’t exactly instil any courage either, as the story modes are so short and range between banal and uninspiring to interesting. The game ultimately feels like it was rushed out, and a bit more time to flesh it out, drop load times and have a meaningful story or other modes, this could have been a return to the heights of some previous titles.