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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Game Review: Soul Calibur 4

Soul great, soul fun.



The Good:
Skill-based weapon fighting mechanic a boon * Each character is unique * Over 30 characters with guest stars from Star Wars * Great new features like Critical Finish and Armor Destruction * Solid character creation mode * Tower of Lost Souls mode provides a comprehensive single-player experience * Extended replayability with online multiplayer * Lots of unlockables * Strong graphics and music

The Bad:
Star Wars characters are rather imbalanced * Haphazard Story mode * Omission of tag-team battle in online multiplayer

If you have just enough money to pick up one fighting game, it would not be fallacious to say that you’re going to want to choose one that is different from all the others. But given the high rate at which fighting games are coming off the conveyor belt annually, each offering gameplay that is far too similar to each other, selecting your desired fighter may not be that easy afterall. Fortunately, the Soul Calibur franchise has always been one to deliver that distinct gameplay – switching the paradigmatic hand-to-hand combat for a more skill-based weapon fighting mechanic. Soul Calibur 4 doesn’t stray too far from that standard Soul Calibur formula, yet offers enough new features and characters in one competent package that would indubitably entice both veterans and new players alike.

Make no mistake. I have always loved the weapon-based fighting mechanic of the Soul Calibur franchise – Soul Calibur 4 doesn’t change that and that’s a good thing. With the usage of weapons comes a new layer of strategy that goes into each game of Soul Calibur 4. The game truly goes beyond what is typically needed to master a fighting game – a memorization exercise of convoluted move lists – and into the challenge of knowing how and when to parry an incoming attack and counter it with your own. It’s this aspect of Soul Calibur 4 that makes it the game that has one of the deeper, if not the deepest, fighting mechanic.

Depending on which weapon a particular character is equipped with, fighting styles from character to character will also differ, so each character in Soul Calibur 4 is unique – this, is another advantage of having a weapon-based fighting mechanic. When drawn into comparison with the usual hand-to-hand combat, the aforementioned has the ability to offer a better variety of skill sets. Considering that Soul Calibur 4 has a cast of over 30 characters, having each of those characters to be unique isn’t going to be simple – but the weapon-based fighting mechanic has made it possible.

Speaking of characters, there are some returning ones, including Kilik, Taki, Maxi, Ivy, Astraroth and Voodoo, as well as new ones. More noteworthy are special guests Yoda and Darth Vader, which are exclusive to the Xbox 360 version and PS3 version respectively – which means if you only have the Xbox 360 version, you won’t be getting Darth Vader, and if you only have the PS3 version, you won’t be getting Yoda. While I understand that the choice to not include both Star Wars characters in both versions may be due to promotional purposes, it’s odd nonetheless – and one that is a real bummer. The developers attempt to compensate for this by including The Apprentice, star of the forthcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, in both versions, though. Since I only have the Xbox 360 version with me, I will discuss about Yoda and The Apprentice.

To set the record straight, I must say that Yoda and The Apprentice are great additions to the rooster of characters. Instead of shuffling them into the game haphazardly like gimmicks, the developers actually dedicated the same amount of attention that has been given to all the other fighters in the game to these Star Wars characters. Like the other characters, both of them have their personal fighting styles and strengths. However, I find these 2 characters rather unbalanced. Yes, Yoda is short, but he is so short that a good number of attacks go over his head, leaving him unharmed. This makes him the choice character for players who would like to adopt a more defensive approach, but at the same time, it gives players who play as Yoda an unfair advantage. Furthermore, Yoda cannot be grabbed – which means he is immune against some of the moves in the game, including a couple of combos and hurls. The Apprentice, on the other hand, has the ability that no other fighter in Soul Calibur 4 has – the power to shoot projectiles. More often than not, these projectiles are shot when you least expect and can be considerably hard to defend against. He is also one of the more agile characters in the game – couple that with the said and you have a very capable character – but one that unbalances the entire game. A few well-placed tweaks to these 2 characters would be more than welcomed, though.

As far as new features and characters are concerned, the Star Wars dudes aren’t the only ones which made it into Soul Calibur 4. Significant to the fight are the all-new critical finish and armor destruction features. Basically, a critical finish, when executed, overwhelms your opponent in one devastating move – and depletes his or her lifebar instantaneously. However, a critical finish can only be performed when your opponent blocks excessively and completely drains his or her Soul Gauge meter. While it may sound intimidating, this brilliant feature will serve to discourage players from spending a ridiculous amount of time blocking and punishing them if they so choose to; the idea of this feature is to get players to truly engage in the game instead of resorting to cheap blocking and waiting for time-out to attain victory. Armor destruction, as it name suggests, allows you to crack the armor of your opponent if you deal enough damage to a specific spot. For instance, if you continuously swing your sword at the head of your opponent, his or her head armor will shatter and your opponent will become weaker. It’s a great feature that sinks more depth into the already-deep gameplay.

The fantastic list of features Soul Calibur 4 offers doesn’t stop here, though. Also key to this game is the character creation mode. This mode allows you to customize existing characters, as well as create new ones from the ground up. There’s a catch, however, if you want to create entirely new characters: you have to select the any of the fighting styles already possessed by the existing characters for your new character – what this means is that your new character won’t be actually unique, but more of carbon copies of existing characters. Look past that, though, and you will find a very rich character creation mode. There is a monumentally large variety of garments and accessories for you to play dress-up with your characters – much like Barbie Dolls if you will. As you play with each character, they will also level up, unlocking even more garments and accessories for you to toy around with. But it’s one thing to make a gorgeous female fighter and another thing to create a very skilled female fighter. You see, each piece of garment and accessory has statistics attached to it. For example, a piece of garment may provide more defense points than the other, or another garment may net you more speed than the other. What this translates into is that whatever garment and accessory you put on your character will affect his or her abilities and performances in the fight itself. Wherefore, your best fighter may not be the most gorgeous fighter; in fact, she may even look awful. You may also attribute specific skills to your characters such that one may have be immune to ‘Ring Out’, while the other may be more adept at reversing counterattacks. The real good news is that you can port your character to anywhere: you can use him or her in single-player mode – complete with cut-scenes that reflect his or her looks, or you can pit your character in the online arena. All in all, the character creation mode is one hell of a feature and it’s one that you would want to immerse yourself in for a good amount of time.

Now that we have gotten the features of the game expatiated upon, let’s get down to the single-player modes. Soul Calibur 4 sports the usual Arcade mode, Story mode, Versus mode, as well as its very own Tower of Lost Souls, but more on that later. What I want to touch on now is the Story mode, which is surprisingly very disappointing. While each of the characters has his or her personal story mode, the cut scenes for each character are the same. The exception is the final cut scene after your character defeats the sword holder. After playing story mode for quite a while, the cut scenes grow really predictable and stale. Moreover, before actually starting the ‘journey’ with each character, there will be a whole chunk of boring text scrolling up – and I can’t really be bothered to scan through the text – much less read novel-esque unsightly chunk of text. There also seems to be very little thought that went into the production of the Story mode as there are only 5 rounds for each character before the end credits show up. Yes, it’s very short because it only takes 10 minutes before I see the credits. The whole Story mode feels really ersatz, rushed and uncompleted – it doesn’t feel like it’s a real component of this game. The Arcade mode and Versus mode, however, are fine.

The crux of the single-player lies in the Tower of Lost Souls, which replaces the strategy-like Conquest mode from Soul Calibur 2 (that’s the previous Soul Calibur game I played because Soul Calibur 3 was only released on the PS2 and I don’t own a PS2). In a way, this mode is more straight-forward – now, I prefer that. This mode is so elaborate that they could just do away with the story mode and no one would have cared. Before engaging in this mode, you would have to choose whether to ascend of descend the tower. If you select ascend, there are 20 floors to fight through and at the end of which, you will battle the boss. Each set of floors or stage pits you (and sometimes your tag-team partner) against several enemies, say 2 vs. 7. There are also specific conditions to fulfil in each stage and garments and accessories for the solid character creation mode would be unlocked if you accomplish the said. Defeat all the opponents in a stage and you will progress up the tower. Being provided with the option to switch characters before every stage is useful. Descending the tower, however, is more challenging as you will need to choose 2 characters and stick with them throughout 20 floors. When you are not using a character, he or she will gradually regain health – much like in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Otherwise, descending the tower is similar to ascending the tower. Put together, this mode will initiate you to keep the game disc in the DVD tray for quite a while. Unlike Story mode, this mode offers a more comprehensive single-player experience.

Online multiplayer gives this game extra legs even after the single-player experience has been completed. Online multiplayer is a first for the Soul Calibur franchise and there is no better time to have this addition than now – because if a fighting game ships without online multiplayer in this day and age, it’s doomed. As expected, you can participate in either ranked or unranked matches. The omission of tag-team play is a little missed, though. Needless to say, the online multiplayer extends the replayability of Soul Calibur 4 in a big way.

Rounding off the whole game is the long long list of unlockables – and that’s already excluding garments and accessories for the character creation mode. There are concept artworks, images of real-life 3D character models, and videos to unlock – it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Final Comments
You won’t grow tired of the repeated tale about the Soul Swords – because this game’s just soul great and soul fun. Pardon the pun, please. The imbalanced Star Wars characters and haphazard Story mode are the only flaws of this otherwise features-rich and enjoyable game. Before I forget, the graphics and music in this game are equally, if not more, amazing as the other components of the game. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game are identical save for the exclusive Star Wars characters and the ability to install the game onto the HDD on PS3. Whatever console you own, be it the Xbox 360 or the PS3, this game’s a no-brainer purchase.


Blogger ronz said...

its VOLDO !!! V-O-L-D-O... not voodoo la!!!

12:01 PM


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