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“Soulcalibur IV” Xbox 360 Review

Now I’ll admit that the fighting game genre isn’t exactly my favorite, but ever since playing Soulcalibur II on the GameCube, I’ve had a soft spot for the series. When Gamestop had a “trade in two games and get one for $20” deal, I decided to buy Soulcalibur IV for the Xbox 360. As you might know, it’s been out for a month or two, and after playing it regularly for all that time, I can tell you that I’m quite satisfied with it.

The characters can be odd, but they are almost always awesome

Soulcalibur IV may just be the best fighting game I’ve ever played. Granted, you’ll remember how I just said I’m not a huge fan of fighting games (so I haven’t played very many), and yes, Tekken 3 is pretty sweet. But when it comes to incredibly deep and polished weapons-based gameplay, jaw-dropping graphics/art design, and addictive one-on-one multiplayer, few games can challenge SC4.

Even being a noob to the genre, I can tell that most gamers don’t play fighting games for their stories. However, if you are one of the three people that do, Soulcalibur IV provides a serviceable plot. The basic jist of it is that there’s a mythical and powerful weapon called “Soul Edge” that everybody wants. Each character has their own particular backstory about why they personally want the sword, some with good intentions and others with evil, and it appears the only way for anyone to get their hands on it is to beat the crap out of everyone in their way. It goes deeper than that… there’s relationships between some characters and the whole Siegfried/Nightmare alter ego spiel, but all the background stuff is completely optional reading. I haven’t delved into the giant pile of Soulcalibur literature myself, but then again, there’s a good chance you won’t either.

The worst part of the game’s story aspect is how the actual “Story Mode” is virtually identical for each of the game’s 33 characters, save for maybe a different challenger on a couple of levels. Different challengers or not, the structure of the story mode is unchanged. It’s also incredibly short, with only about 5 fights until you’re finished. This is why “Arcade Mode” is the best single-player offline option. Starting easy and ending brutally difficult, this staple mode of the fighting game genre has you play through eight different one-on-one fights in a quest for the highest score possible. You may not be able to watch the cutscenes at the end of the Story Mode, but Arcade is a tougher and more rewarding challenge.

There is no hand-to-hand combat in SC4; every character uses only their unique weapon

I mentioned 33 characters in the paragraph above, and while that is technically true, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, 4 of them are “bonus characters”, which means they are exact duplicates of some of the real fighters except with a different look designed by some random manga artist. Also, some of the developer-made characters have a few moves in common with each other, though they thankfully aren’t full-on clones like the kind you see in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This really isn’t that big of a deal, but I guess the developers could only come up with so many moves you execute with a rapier, or a giant wooden stick, or whatever other similar weapons there are. Most importantly though, is that while there are a few duds, most of the characters provide very fun and unique experiences. The fact that the game is weapon-based really opens the door for creative fighting styles, and the developers took full advantage of that. Balance is a tad questionable at times; for example, someone with a long-reaching weapon is naturally going to be able to easily take down someone with a stumpy little sword. The logical remedy to this problem would be to make the long-reaching character slow or weak, but that isn’t always the case in Soulcalibur IV. There are also some cheap moves that are a bit too easy to pull off. Kilik falls under both of these complaints, and the fact that I see him so often when I play online makes me cringe.

And are the much-hyped Star Wars characters as awesome as we’ve hoped? Well… not exactly. Having played the Xbox 360 version of the game, I can only comment on Yoda, and my comment is that he’s one of the worst characters in the game. His short height means that no one can use grab moves on him – not even when he’s fighting another Yoda. Also, too many attacks go straight over his head, making battles against him tedious. Perhaps the most disappointing of all, though, is how underused the force is in Yoda’s moveset, making him more of an annoying little hairy green mouse than the kick-ass fighter he ought to be. The Apprentice is better, and while he uses the force in much better ways than Yoda, he’s still not the best character in the game. I guess overall it’s fine to have these guest characters in Soulcalibur IV, but I won’t be missing them by the time number five rolls around.

Yoda and the Apprentice – missed opportunities

The computer-controlled players can be tough at times, but the real challenge is online. Soulcalibur IV has a massive enough audience that you can always find someone in matchmaking to fight within a matter of seconds. In other words, if you select the “Create Match” option when playing online, someone will join you almost instantly. Those who choose Quick or Custom Matches will have a harder time hopping into a battle right away, I’ve found out. There is a ranking system in the online mode, and it is handled about as well as it can be. To go to the next level, players must earn experience through victories or other things (first strikes, perfects, etc.) until they max out a bar. Once the bar is maxed out, the player must win one more match to level up, or else they’ll lose some experience points and have to try again the next time they have a full bar. This system keeps matches intense and fun, and my only gripe is that there aren’t enough rewards for reaching high levels except for one achievement.

In a game played as precise as this, online lag can ruin it. It ruined Super Smash Bros. Brawl‘s online fighting, but thanks to the power of Xbox Live, Soulcalibur IV has no serious lag problems at all. Hearing people talk on their headsets is pretty much impossible unless you’re wearing one yourself, or you’re pwning a particularly whiny 12-year-old who can’t except defeat. Most of the time however, you’ll face mature enough players, so in other words, Halo 3 this is not.

One of my favorite parts of the online is seeing the creative and amazing designs some people make in the Character Creation feature. When someone can accurately recreate a character from some other game or show, it’s tough not to appreciate the depth and versatility of the Character Creation. When you throw on a complex stat system that every piece of your custom character’s equipment affects, you realize how much time can be spent working with that mode alone.

Two fighters made in the Character Creation mode

Few fighting games look this crisp and detailed. The Soulcalibur series has always been known for its graphics, and number four (five, if you count Soul Edge) in the series excels in visuals. Each stage presents a new breath-taking look into the game’s universe, and even though each stage plays relatively the same, it’s easy to find favorites just because of their graphics. Likewise, the art design of both the characters and the stages sets the new standard for fighting games.

To sum things up, Soulclaibur IV is an amazing fighting game. It excels in almost everyway and even after you’ve memorized the moves of each and every character, it has enough content to keep you busy for quite some time. Fans of fighting games should pick this up for sure, and those who are not yet fans of the fighting genre will have a hard time finding a better game to enter the genre with.

Pros: Supurbly polished weapons-based gameplay, addicting multiplayer, jaw-dropping graphics, interesting and varied characters, great stages, easy achievements, nearly flawless online play, incredibly deep and robust character creation feature, lots to do

Cons: Story mode is too short and almost exactly the same for every character, Star Wars characters are not the greatest, some characters share a handfull of moves, Kilik

Final Score: 9.2 out of 10

By Josh60502

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  1. October 2, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I really enjoyed SC4 as well. It did not hold my interest after a couple weeks, but it for the time I played it I had fun.

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