Soulcalibur is an odd thing. I spent an hour or so in the 90s being mesmerised playing it in a Dreamcast display cabinet somewhere and I’d not heard anything about it since. That is until one of our team mentioned that this version of the game has a whopping 98/100 Metacritic score. Now, I’ve never been one to listen to Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes etc. but come on, that is ridiculous. So I had to revisit the game and see it with my own eyes.
Unsurprisingly, it was a popular game back in the 90s so a copy is easily gotten. I picked mine up for around £8 in almost mint condition bar the infuriating case (SEGA Japan 1, Rest of the World 0). The sequel to the immensely popular Soul Edge/Soul Blade, Soulcalibur is a fighting game with weapons. It’s a bit like Bushido Blade crossed with Virtua Fighter, it really couldn’t fail. It definitely didn’t fail and despite being one of the DC’s launch titles is easily one of the best games on the console.
I counted a whopping seven modes (seven! – Ed) including the favourite Arcade mode. Except, Arcade mode isn’t the best thing about Soulcalibur, which I’ll come to a bit later on. An immense amount of thought has been put into making this a console game, worthy of your wonga (£50 at the time of release). The Arcade mode is easily clocked on the medium difficulty setting (yes, it has difficulty settings) so crank it up to Hard or Very Hard and you’ve got a fight on. There is an ultra hard setting but you’d really need to be some kind of masochist to try it out.
Everything graphically about the game is polished. The menus look solid and you sense something special is going to happen, especially when you hear (I’m assuming) the master’s voice say “SOULCALIBUR!”. There is a wide array of characters to choose from, including Soul Blade favourites Hwang, Li Long and Voldo. A lot of the older characters need to be unlocked (Hwang being one of the first) but I think there are around twenty in total, might be wrong, but that’s a lot of character(s)… They all look great, fantastic even, better looking than the arcade which I thought a bit odd. Until I started doing a bit of digging. We’ve had digs at coin-op conversions before but never have I seen a game that looks better than the arcade (bar the HD versions of SF2, but even that’s debatable – we love scanlines). The way the action flows, the now 3D backdrops, it all looks gorgeous.
Being the Dreamcast, the game sounds great too. Every moan, every groan, every clash of the sword/foot/rod/whatever you’re using, sounds amazing. Got a surround system? Give this a whirl and I’ll see you next Christmas. I’m not usually a fan of fighting game music (again, barring SF2 and Mortal Kombat) but there’s something grand about the music score here. The lead composer was Junichi Nakatsuru, known for his work on Time Crisis II and the Ace Combat series, Soulcalibur was in safe hands.
The action is deeply satisfying. Each character has approx 1,000,000 moves. I jest, it’s more like fifty, but they’re all so easy to pull off the whole thing feels like a dream. The Virtua Fighter shuffle has been replaced by a system where you can move all around the arenas (extremely useful in Ultra Hard mode). Blocking is still a key element of the game, charge up a counter by pressing X, Y and B and you’re laughing. You can knock your opponent out of the arena if you time your combos right. Timing combos is also a lot easier as moves finish quicker and you can input the next one whilst the current one is finishing. This leads to all sorts of loveliness.
Stick with one character and they’ll be putty in your hands within the day. My current Soulcalibur crush is Kilik, thrusting rod an all. Standard melee moves aside, the special moves will take time to master but it’s the only way you can get to the unblockable moves, vital for completing the game in the harder settings. The throw moves (press X&A or Y&A at the same time) are a godsend for newbies and look damn good. Except for when you throw your opponent and then yourself out of the ring, which as hilarious as it looks must be held to be some kind of bug. That’s the only bad thing I can think of.
Never one to finish a review on a high but I think I’ll start here. Soulcalibur’s game modes. Arcade, Practice, VS, Team Battle, Time Attack, Survival (beat the CPU opponent as many times as possible), are all great. The cherry on top is the Mission Battle mode. Views on this across the web are divided but I loved it. Complete missions to gain points, to spend on art. Hmmm. Once you’ve smashed the Arcade mode a few times, this is a welcome distraction. You’ll be asked to string together certain moves (usually with the Edge Master), fight a certain number of opponents, and even do certain things in an arena like move around a lot to stop sand slowing you down. Buy certain pieces of art and it unlocks other areas on the map for different missions. There’s a whole lot of things to unlock in Soulcalibur and it’s all a joy to do.
In an age where “achievements” and unlockables are drawn out to increase a game’s longevity, you really need to go back to this to see how it’s meant to be done. It won’t surprise you that our scores wouldn’t harm Soulcalibur’s Metacritic score any. If you have a Dreamcast you really should have this.