Another one? Another classic fighting game series back with a new installment and SoulCalibur 6 continues the trend of all of them being pretty bloody good. For a series so beloved, SoulCalibur (and Soul Edge) has as many rough games as it does great games, with 3, 4 and 5 all representing a few missteps be it due to mechanical bugs, an over-reliance on guest and user-created characters or just some straight-up baffling design choices. This game is a return to form for the series, and then some.
SoulCalibur is, at its core, a simple game. You have three attack buttons – horizontal and vertical attacks and a kick – as well as a button to block. There’s a much greater emphasis on 3D movement in SoulCalibur – spacing is key, but also position, as some moves will hit dodging opponents and Ring Outs are a lot more frequent in SC than any other fighting game and a crucial part of victory. You need to think about where you are at all times and try to take the best course of action.
Guard Impacts – performed by pressing towards your opponent and block at the same time – have been the central mechanic of the combat since the original SoulCalibur and are what make it so interesting. A successful Guard Impact will basically break an opponent’s pressure and allow you to start some of your own, but of course, they can try to Guard Impact you back! It’s a total mind-game, because if you’re baited into throwing out a Guard Impact, they’re extremely punishable.
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There are two new main systems in SoulCalibur 6. Reversal Edge seems aimed at new players, a one-button activation which can be held down and will parry all incoming shots before delivering one and starting a cinematic ‘rock paper scissors’ guessing game. This will, no doubt, cause a bit of controversy within the fighting game community while its nuances are figured out.
A beats K, K beats B, B beats A, and the winner is treated to a little cinematic depending on what button they won with. Controversially, if both players guess the same thing twice, the player who instigated the Reversal Edge wins the exchange. Fighting games are all mind-games, conditioning someone so you can make a hard read on what they’re going to do next and punishing them for it, but by boiling it down to a literal guessing game that can be activated at a button push might be a bit too far.
However, there’s a little bit more to it than meets the eye. You can also hit Block and it basically negates the Reversal Edge. However, depending on what button the player had blocked puts them into a different situation. This furthers the paranoia that comes with each encounter. If you know your opponent is going to block then you can potentially put yourself in a favourable position, like at a considerable frame advantage – but then they might know you’re trying to do that…
It’s impossible to truly understand how the Reversal Edge system is going to affect the game when you’re dealing with a small pool of other critics before release, but it certainly requires some exploration and in the weeks and months after release, as we may see tactics around this feature evolve quite a bit.
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The other mechanic is a bit more complicated, but potentially a lot more interesting. Some moves have ‘Lethal Hit’ properties that can be activated if you hit your opponent when they are doing a specific thing. For instance, Mitsurugi has a move called ‘Mask’, which if he hits on an opponent who is taking a backstep, causes a Lethal Hit, which allows for a much bigger, damaging combo than if you landed a normal hit or counter hit.
This means that, if you’re looking to inflict big damage, you’re going to be looking to set up these Lethal Hit situations. Using attacks and movement to trick your opponent into doing exactly what you want them to, then hitting them with the correct move. It’s yet another layer to the feinting and bluffing SoulCalibur 6 asks of you, and one that is a really powerful tool when mastered and the key to high-level play. It’s going to be fascinating to see top players working out sneaky ways to get these Lethal Hits in once it’s been out for a while.
The SoulCalibur games have always had a strong single-player element and 6 is no exception. As well as the usual Arcade, training and online elements (we only managed to test a handful of matches pre-release, but the games we had were, for the most part, lag-free and pretty damn playable.) there are two fully-featured story modes.
First up is the Chronicle of Souls, which is the more ‘traditional’ story mode of the game, and has you playing through a timeline of the story events. Each character fits into a certain part of the story, eventually telling the entire tale of swords and souls as you finish off each section, but you can tackle them in whatever order you please, piecing together the full picture.
The real meat is the other story, called ‘the Libra of Soul’. Here you create a custom character from a fairly robust suite, allowing you to create everything from a typical knight in shining armour to some really daft stuff, like a skeleton, lizardman or a living statue, before dressing them up and making them neon pink, or whatever.
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You pick a fighting style, pilfered from the pre-existing characters, before taking on a world map full of missions that have you battling against other custom-style characters, as well as the roster, in matches with specific objectives – like beating three in a row with one health bar, for instance.
As you complete quests for the towns you come across, they begin to stock cooler, better weapons and items in the store. There’s a bit of an RPG-lite feel to all of this – you get food and weapons from winning fights and can consume/equip them to give you buffs and specific bonuses, and there’s a few parts where you have dialogue options and are able to choose whether you’re a good guy or a bit of an evil arse, which can unlock new quests depending on your alignment. It feels like a nice, logical improvement from the Edge Master mode in SoulCalibur 2, which is one of fighting games’ all-time top single player modes, and this too is a whole load of fun.
The roster of characters is absolutely brilliant. A proper ‘Best Of’ SoulCalibur. 22 (including unlockable final boss, Inferno, who can’t be used online) famous faces from the series, and pretty much all of the classic characters are present and correct. Voldo is still a slinky, hissing pervert, Yoshimitsu still a wild swordsman, Nightmare is still a raging, possessed swordsman, all with a little twist to keep them fresh for this new game. Even the two newcomers, Groh and Azwel, look great and are really fun to use, slotting into the series like they’ve always been a part of it.
And then there’s Geralt. A lot has been made of the Witcher himself showing up in SoulCalibur 6 and he’s actually a pretty good fit. Certainly more like Link from Legend of Zelda than the Apprentice from the bloody Force Unleashed. He’s a fairly straightforward character, clearly designed to be easy to use and as a starting point for a lot of newcomers to the series thanks to his inclusion, with some interesting ways to utilise his ‘Signs’ for buffs and damage. They’re going to have to think of something really cool to top him if they go back to the guest character well for the DLC.
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Fighting games can be quite intimidating, but regardless of whether you’re planning on taking SoulCalibur 6 super seriously or just fancy something to play with your mates, the core combat not only feels great but is fun to play whether you’re learning complex setups or simply hitting buttons and trying to beat your pal. It’s a real joy to play.
A special mention needs to go to a little thing hidden away in the menus. In the pause screen, under the move list, there’s a section called ‘Combat Lessons’. In here, you’ll find a really good primer for playing SoulCalibur, with explanations of all of the games’ mechanics as well as character specific guides, so you can get an idea of what you should be trying to do with your chosen main.
It’s a slight missed opportunity – these are text-only guides, and it would’ve been awesome to have some videos explaining this stuff – but there’s some extremely useful stuff in there, all split up into segments for Beginner, Intermediate and Expert level players. Well worth taking a look.
SoulCalibur 6 is a damn good fighting game, and right now the only question mark is the Reversal Edge system – something that is clearly very interesting, but only time and analysis will really tell whether it brings something new to the table, or has over-simplified things to the point where they’re pure luck rather than skill. Everything else Bandai Namco has added feel like quality upgrades to the SoulCalibur formula, putting this game up with the series’ best.
We’re spoiled for choice with fighting games these days but SoulCalibur 6 might just be the best of the lot. Despite the series’ patchy history, this is a game that builds upon the strengths of the best games and, frankly, bins off the stuff from the bad.
It feels like a real sequel to SoulCalibur 2, in a way that none of the others managed. It’s an immediately fun fighting game that has clear depth but never seems intimidating. It has one of the better rosters of any current fighting game, some beefy single player content and solid netcode. An essential fighting game.