Soul Calibur 4 Review (Xbox 360 and PS3). Does the soul still burn as bright as before?

Soul Calibur 4 wallpaper includes character artwork!

Soul Calbur 4 is the latest installment in the Namco-developed Soul Calibur series which has risen to prominence and popularity over Namco’s OTHER fighting game franchise, Tekken. Soul Calibur earned it’s rightful place due to high marks by both gamers and critics alike thanks to it’s realistic weapons-based fighting that set it apart from the pack.

Pre-order Soulcalibur IV for PS3 (includes Darth Vader)Pre-order Soulcalibur IV for PS3 (includes Yoda)Given that this is the fourth entry, we are now well into an established and popular fighting game franchise. So let’s start off by looking at the meat of this game: the mechanics. Soul Cailbur 4 is on a 3D platform (meaning you have 360 degrees of movement in any direction while fighting) and focuses on weapons combat in a technical way that few fighting games have matched over the years.

Soul Calibur 4 logo

System: Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: USA July 29, 2008 – EUR July 31st, 2008 – AUS July 31st, 2008 – JAP July 31st, 2008
Genre: 3D Fighting Game
Players: 1-2 local or online
Save: 1 MB (Xbox 360), 2048 KB at least (PS3)
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Origin: Japan

Soul Calibur 4 seems less technically tight than previous versions and is missing the weapon demo mode (a side feature in previous games that truly accentuated the weapons skill and styles that went into each character). The game sports a careful balance in its play style in several ways. The first thing to notice are the balance speed, range and power which differs depending on the move you perform. The balance of these is pretty straight forward. Strength in one means weakness in another. There are powerful unblockable attacks as well which require a short charge time, making them easy to dodge or interrupt.

In death, Sun Tzu saw Soul Calibur 4 from afar. He then wrote a sequel to The Art of WarThe true beauty of the game lies within the move types. The moves are broken into horizontal and vertical. Vertical attacks are stronger than horizontal attacks but can be sidestepped, while horizontal attacks cannot. Attacks are also broken down into high, mid and low range. Blocking requires gauging where an attack will land, time it carefully to cause a guard impact (making the attacker recoil and adding even more strategy to the fighting).

Characters moves are easy to learn and understand. Mastery of blocking and evasion (not button mashing) is the first key to winning difficult fights. The next is a matter of out-thinking and out-playing the opponent. Fast thumbs will only get you so far. The balance of all of this is beautifully executed and would inspire Sun Tzu to write a sequel.

There are a few new features in Soul Calibur 4, thankfully. Armor can be broken to visual and practical effect making characters more vulnerable to attack (and possibly more embarrassed). If you hear a “shattering” sound when fighting, that means something has been broken. Some times it’s less obvious what it was, other times it’s quite obvious, as fights will often end up with two characters battling each other in their underwear. While this looks quite ridiculous (especially for the men . . .), it is an outrageously funny new feature, and suffice it to say that if you have a room full of people watching (especially if they include non-gamers, particularly of the female variety) then lots of laughs will ensue. Making Soul Calibur 4 an excellent party game. Just be careful about playing this game around your parents. They won’t understand why all the girls have huge boobs and are battling in their underwear, trust me.

Soul Calibur 4 large breasted eye-candy

In my opinion the developers took the whole “well-endowed female figure”-thing to an entirely new level. Obviously any sense of realism was shattered over eye-candy for the male-dominated fighting game masses. But I must say that it not only looks ridiculous, it also seems quite stupid given the more realistic bent of this franchise. You expect overly huge boobs from Dead or Alive, not from Soul Calibur. If you are adverse to super huge breasts, stay far, far away from this game (and as mentioned above, you will often see the female characters bouncing in nothing but their bra and panties).

A video showing specific destruction of clothing. Note how they look in the end, you’ll see it often in real fights.

Continuing on with new features in the game, Soul Calibur 4 also adds “Critical Finishes”. If a character plays too defensively (spends most of their time blocking. This is known as “turtling” in fighting game circles) their Soul Gauge will be depleted and will leave the character momentarily open to a spectacularly lethal, one-hit-kill, match-ending attack. While this would make Soul Calibur 4 seem cheap, the hoops players have to jump through to obtain a one hit kill are sufficient that this won’t happen too often. The developers took great care to make sure this wasn’t a prevalent aspect of the game so pulling one off feels very cool and not annoying.

However the one part of the game that didn’t seem to maintain that philosophy with the developers is the Ring Out. They seem to happen far too easily and often in this edition and have the same effect as a Critical Finish without the flashy cut scene. Which is definitely a disappointment even if Ring Outs have always been a main hallmark of the Soul Calibur series.

Several modes are missing from previous versions of Soul Calibur and even the story mode is truncated (5 battles per character) so quite a few fans will be disappointed. There is no RTS (real-time strategy) feature in this one and the weapon demos are noticeably missing to the fans who loved those (as previously mentioned). The game’s difficulty for story mode and arcade mode also seem to be quite a bit easier as well. But the Tower of Souls mode more than makes up for this. It features an endless series of fights with increasing difficulty so players of any skill level will find an impressive challenge. The Create a Character aspect of the game has also become a little easier to use.

The most noticeable feature of the game is online play. This is a feature every fighting game should have. The downside of online play is that players are guaranteed to run into every cheap trick the game is capable of (consider yourself warned).

The Soul Calibur 4 characters list contains many long-time favorites from the series, as well as a few new faces. Tira seems noticeably easier to control this time. Others have had moves strengthened, weakened or simply altered; presumably in the name of game balance. Fans will, no doubt, be discussing the merits of these changes until the next volume in the series is released. A few bonus characters show up from various character designers as well, which is similar to the Todd McFarlane designed Necrid (and Spawn) from Soul Calibur 2. (Make sure to check out how to unlock all 18 Soul Calibur 4 secret characters and treasure chest items guide for info on how to get all the game’s secrets)

Disappointingly though, each of the bonus characters uses an existing fighting style shared by one of the main characters. The series also boasts guest appearances by three Star Wars Characters: Darth Vader (Only in the PS3 edition at the moment), Yoda (Only in the Xbox 360 edition at the moment) and The Apprentice (In both versions) from the upcoming game, Star Wars: the Force Unleashed.

Darth Vader as he appears in Soul Calibur 4 (artwork of 3D model)

Reactions to the power level of these characters have been quite heated. Yoda is small, difficult to hit and about impossible to perform grabs on (reminds me of Gon the dinosaur from Tekken 3, another special character in a Namco developed fighter). Vader is slow but powerful, however he lacks the range of characters such as Rock making it difficult to use him well. The Apprentice is often accused of being overpowered.

It is definitely a plus though that Soul Calibur 4 includes such a huge cast of characters. There are 33 in all (34 if you include both Yoda and Vader, but as of now you can’t get them both in the same game. Though Namco has alluded to offering the other as downloadable in a future update) with 23 returning characters and 9 new ones (10 if you include both Yoda and Vader).

On a side note, each of the Star Wars characters has a Force Bar which is depleted by using Force Moves, but is slowly replenished. If the Force bar is completely drained, the character will be temporarily stunned. Which is a pretty cool addition (not to mention the corresponding Force moves which are a sight to behold).

Character creation in the game is a little less flexible as the previous games, with the lack of generic fighting styles. Only the weapons and styles of the main characters can be selected for custom characters (i.e. no modifying the appearance of guest and bonus characters). Players can choose to alter the equipment of the main characters (or modify the skills and stats of the other characters in special mode) or start a character from scratch. Using a fighting style will also increase the level of that style, giving access to stronger skills in creation mode (such as Avoid Ring Out or Auto Counter).

Although character creation is still hugely expansive and allows for all kinds of cool creations. It’s also highly customizable, particularly in the color arena as almost any part of your characters body can be 100% edited to the exact color you want from any color in the entire spectrum. Character creation is also pretty easy to grasp, and you are sure to have friends creating characters in no time.

As a disappointing aside though, it should be noted that you cannot do a versus match against another player using characters from player 2’s own profile. You can only access created characters on the profile you are using. The only other option to get created characters onto your profile is to re-create them once again. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future update, as it doesn’t make any sense. But for now, it’s best to have all your friends create their own custom characters using your profile, if you wish to battle against them.

There is also an Item Shop that is accessed from the Character Creation Menu, allowing players to try on armor and weapons before purchasing. This makes the customization process a bit cheaper and easier. The game also holds a Museum Mode featuring Character Bios, Character Endings which have been unlocked, and purchasable Art Galleries.

As always, fans of the series will have varied reactions to Soul Calibur 4. Beloved aspects have been changed and new ones added. The game play is a little different with the new features and old players will need to adapt. How does the game stack up over all?

Soul Calibur 4 big boobed . . . err, well-endowed babes

Any fan of fighting games owes it to themselves to at least give the game a try. The game is beautiful and well made. Did I mention beautiful? Soul Calibur has become such a well known franchise for good reason. Soul Calibur 4 also seems a bit more accessible to the button mashing community (and lets be frank, most of us are button mashers at heart). The technical side of the game is quite intact, but a little different. Entrenched fans will need to approach it with an open mind. The new additions to the mechanics as well as customization seem to enhance the game play nicely. While there will always be areas to nit pick at (curse you Ring Out, CURSE YOU!!!) the game will be enjoyed by a majority of players at any skill level.

Graphics: 10
This is quite possibly the most visually impressive game to date.

Music and Sound: 10
Music is great and well suited to the game. The voice acting is good and also available in Japanese for players who like that kind of thing. If players expect more from a fighting game, they will likely need to wait for the next console. Note: A downloadable content update has been released that offers the entire Soul Calibur 1 soundtrack for download. It can then be implemented into your Soul Calibur 4 in-game track list!

Story: 8
The story of any fighting game is little more than an excuse for characters to beat the tar out of each other. This one is fairly thin but gives a bit of insight into each character. All in all, it’s just fine and does what it sets out to do. Whether players follow the story or not, it remains where it should in a fighting game: a beautiful side piece.

* Thanks to Brit the Mighty for the awesome Soul Calibur 4 wallpaper!