Soulcalibur VI brings the series back to the center stage looking better than ever before, however the question remained whether or not Soulcalibur could return as the pinnacle of weapons-based fighting games. Soulcalibur VI does have a few hiccups, but thankfully, stepping onto the Stage of History never felt so great.
Soulcalibur VI is actually the seventh game in the Soul series, (starting with Soul Edge/Soul Blade in the ‘90s), though this iteration of Soulcalibur feels incredibly familiar in more ways than one. Back to the series are the different iconic characters such as the Samurai Mitsurugi, the Ninja Taki, the Soul Edge weidling Nightmare, though it also introduces new characters such as Grøh, who wields double-sabers reminding me of Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace, and Azwel, who materializes swords, an axe and spear-and-shield combo at a moment’s notice. Familiar elements creep in further as one of the two major story modes recounts the events of the original Soulcalibur.
Presentation-wise, the two story modes: the Libra of Souls and Soul Chronicle give you the chance to experience the story in different ways. The Libra of Souls follows the story from the perspective of a created character, while the Soul Chronicle follows the same story from the established roster. It’s definitely an interesting approach and one I liked at first. Unfortunately, the presentation itself gets in the way of the story.
Instead of fully animating cutscenes and dialogue, it’s presented as a story book, which on face value isn’t that terrible. However, these bits of exposition can drag on, and the lack of action in front of you can start to get boring after a while. It’s especially made worse when the parts that are fully rendered and animated are so well done that it made me yearn for the same treatment the whole way through. However, there is something to be said that a full-triple A fighting game launched with not one but two full campaigns, especially when the FGC kingpin, Street Fighter V, couldn’t be bothered to include even one at launch.
Visually speaking, Soulcalibur VI is a treat. Each stage is beautifully rendered and each character model is outrageously detailed. The backgrounds of Sophitia’s stage, for instance, are particularly stunning, with fountains and fires sparkling in the distance as the scene unfolds in front of you. The lighting changes between each round give the impression that time is truly passing, not just for each round but for the characters as well. It’s a subtle touch, but a great one.
As much as I love other fighting games such as Street Fighter or King of Fighters, I truly missed the 8-way run feature in Soulcalibur so much. Each movement isn’t just about creating the correct spacing or taking advantage of an opponent’s misstep to punish them, it also helps create an awareness of where you are on the stage and use that to your advantage. For instance, being knocked down near the edge, instead of getting right back up and risking a ring out, you can roll completely around your enemy and turn their advantage against them. Specific characters are all about mastering subtle movements, such as the dips and sidesteps of Xianghua and Raphael, or the spacing required to really use Ivy’s whip sword to its fullest.
Each character feels wholly distinct as well, which adds to the overall mastery you’ll need to be great at Soulcalibur. Understanding the styles, stances, strengths and weaknesses of not only your character but your opponent’s is paramount to surviving the match. Knowing when to attack, when to feign and eventually punish a mistake is key to standing up against the best combatants. There is a training mode, but it’s really here where I feel Soulcalibur VI falls flat on its face.
Training modes typically are meant to help you master a character, and fighting games nowadays typically include that mastery into a sort of challenge system. However, Soulcalibur VI doesn’t do this, instead gives you written guides to go by, but it doesn’t really give you the ability to test these theories out in a way that you can clearly see your mistakes. The guides are well written, but the actual training is lackluster at best, completely unusable at its worst. For a FGC veteran, they will have no problem reading those guides and implementing the strategies, however for the newer player it’s not so simple. I hope a patch comes down the line that adds in challenge functionality to truly train the players who yearn for it most.
Soulcalibur VI also brings back its character creator, which plays a key role in the Libra of Souls mode. Players can create characters from a myriad of races and genders, and customize them in any way possible, from height, skin color or even the accent colors on the wings of some races. Additionally, it gives you the chance to create a character with any of the fighting styles of the established roster, letting you play your favorite style with your own customizable avatar. It does feel robust enough, but in the arcade and versus modes I find myself just choosing the regular character. Though this does add a feeling of belonging in the story mode when it’s your character and not someone else taking in the story.
During my review period, I really wasn’t able to connect to too many online matches. I suspect this is due more as a result of the lack of players on PC instead of the netcode. When I could connect, I didn’t notice any issues with lag or delays in inputs, which was refreshing. I’ll be updating this review if that changes come launch, but for now the online experience, when another reviewer was available to play, was sufficient.