Review: Soul Calibur IV

With the advent of Soul Blade on the PlayStation, fighting game enthusiasts everywhere knew they were in for something spectacular. From the way it moved so fluidly to the career-like mode where fighters were in pursuit of the legendary Soul Edge, it was a force to be reckoned with. Over the years, Soul Blade evolved into the highly-acclaimed Soul Calibur. This metamorphosis continually reached new heights with its innovative take on the fighting genre. The latest addition to the Soul Calibur series, Soul Calibur IV, takes all the best of the franchise and mixes it with aspects that have transformed the Soul series into the premiere fighting experience that it is today.

Fighters are all about how fluid your movements are, how easy you can pull off a combo, and how great it feels to slice through your competition. Luckily, Soul Calibur IV doesn’t skimp on any of those departments. Movements flow smoothly into the next, and moves are registered as easily as you can input them into the controller. The shoulder button executes grapple moves that are different for each character. This was a great idea to implement, seeing as traditional grappling could take ages to pull off if you weren’t a seasoned fighter veteran already. The change in controls adds a level of simplicity that even the newest fighter fans can understand quite easily. Blocks are fairly simple to execute, and even simple punches and kicks are performed with such elegance that it’s tough to remember what any of the other fighting games you’ve played lately really feel like.

Even though fighting feels the same, albeit more polished, there are a few changes. Now any equipment that you choose to put on can break. A few well-timed hits from an opponent can shatter chest plates or armor that may be on other parts of your character. When the armor is broken, whatever’s on underneath is completely exposed. Any exposed areas will then take extra damage. A new addition to the fighting system is the Soul Gauge, an orb next to your health bar that will change color depending on how you play. Blocking every move will cause the gauge to turn red. Blocking causes your character to lose his or her footing, meaning that they are in danger of being soul crushed. A soul crush consists of a miniature cut scene in which the attacker completely obliterates the opponent. This is called a Critical Finish, and a deadly maneuver to look out for. Critical Finishes do take some skill to pull off, though, so it’s not something everyone can do every single time unless they are seasoned players.

Soul Calibur IV isn’t just your traditional fighter, though. Sure, most of what you’ll be doing is beating your opponent to a bloody pulp, but there are different modes in which to accomplish this. First off, we have the always anticipated Story mode that, well, kind of disappoints. While you can play through any playable character’s story mode, what is presented during the adventure resembles a sort of tacked-on, loosely-woven sentence. It barely retains cohesiveness, let alone tells a story, as the title of the mode would have you believe. What you get are cut scenes thinly threaded throughout fight sequences in which you are pitted against two or more competitors. I’m not quite sure what they were trying to accomplish with this mode, because it sure as heck doesn’t tell a story. It’s more like the guys at Namco were about 90% finished with the game, got ready to finalize the project, and then very quickly turned to each other–“We didn’t create a story mode!”–and threw it together hastily. There are achievements here to unlock through playing the story mode, but other than that you’ll only really get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve completed the game in all of those modes while unlocking new characters along the way.

Apart from the haphazard Story mode, as expected there is an Arcade mode. Nothing different about that. All you’ll need to do is fight through a series of eight opponents, just like you’d do in the arcades with crowds of onlookers forming behind you. It’s quick, it’s easy to get into, and it’s instant gratification.

The real meat of the game comes from its Tower of Souls mode, where you will either ascend or descend as many floors as you can possibly muster through the tower. As you battle your way through impossible odds, you will earn items and earn style experience for the fighter you’ve chosen. You earn experience every time you take place in a fight as well. Burning through the Tower of Souls is mandatory if you’re ever going to want to dress your personal character the way that you want to. Luckily you are able to fight through matches with a tag team partner so things don’t seem too bleak.

Soul Calibur has always been the series to turn to if you’re looking for that extra variety in fighters. This iteration boasts over 30, with returning favorites and new ones thrown in.  All of your favorite staple characters have returned to the arena with a shiny new coat of paint. Ivy’s, erm, assets are as bountiful as usual, and Voldo is still Moonwalking in place. Star Wars fans are given a real treat in the form of the Apprentice of  Star Wars: The Force Unleashed fame, as well as Yoda for the 360 edition. Aside from the Star Wars characters  you can choose from a variety of new additions to the Soul Calibur universe from renowned manga artists. My favorite out of the offering has to be the mystical Ashlotte, but out of the new characters there is someone for everyone.

If that’s not enough, never fret. You can edit existing fighters or create your own. With all the parts you can earn from playing through the Tower of Souls, it is possible to create even childhood icons like Captain Planet or Jem. You can change the color of equipment, skin, the facial structure, physique, hairstyle, voice, clothing, and fighting style of your blank canvas. For instance, you could create a pretty blonde cheerleader type who uses the bizarre style of Voldo or wield a heavy sword like Nightmare. The character customization is wholly engrossing, and one of the deepest to ever hit a fighter. If you get bored with the other modes, then this is the reason to continue playing anyway, simply to see what kinds of characters you can come up with.

When you finally decide you might want to take your character on the road and hit the internet, you’ll be faced with a few problems. For instance, choosing to quick match with another player is virtually useless. You can try over and over but rarely will you be accepted into a match. It’s better to start a match up and wait for an opponent, because you can find one in little or no time. Not that it matters, though, because Xbox Live play with Soul Calibur IV is downright laggy. It’s so laggy that by the time you notice your opponent has an opening, they’ve already KOed you. Each time I’ve tried to play online since the release of the game I’ve had this issue, and to be honest it’s quite frustrating. You’d think for a game that is aimed such at multiplayer interaction that the multiplayer would be less awkward. Local multiplayer works just fine though, so if you’re itching to whoop up on some friends near you, it’d just be better to go on over to their house.

Keeping up with the series’ tradition, sweeping orchestral tracks have been included in this entry to the series. However, it’s not often one will pay much attention to the music playing in the background, because all the action is going on in the arena. What you can expect are epic string arrangements, even the Imperial March of Star Wars fame. Each character has a voice, as always, and English dubbing seems to fit each one of them quite well. Ivy’s seductive purrs directly contrast with Talim’s energetic effervescence.

This is a gorgeous game. Character models are lovingly crafted with such an eye for excellence that you’ll forget these are not living, breathing contesters until you get a load of Ivy’s costume that leaves little to the imagination. Rich detail and fluid animations make executing moves a dream. The stages available vary in location from seaside locales to enclosed, dungeon-like locations. Scenic and moody backdrops allow for the feel that you can actually get immersed within. It’s everything you’ve always loved about the franchise with a shiny new coat of next-gen paint. If you’re one for eye candy, then Soul Calibur IV has got you covered.


The fourth entry was charged with the heavy burden of keeping the series’ good name afloat, and for all intents and purposes, it has done that and more. Over thirty characters ensure that  there is a fighting style for almost any player to enjoy, and if that’s not enough, a deep character customization mode provides options for even the pickiest gamer. Story mode, along with the Tower of Souls offers hours of entertainment for even the most hardcore Soul Calibur enthusiasts. Unfortunately, online play is laggy and broken, and admittedly, online play should be an impeccable addition to an otherwise solid fighter. Story modes are embarrassingly lackluster, but gamers won’t be picking it up for the story anyway. Despite its faults, it is quite possibly one of the best fighters currently available across the board. If you’re looking for a skull-crushing good time, Soul Calibur IV delivers.

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