SoulCalibur VI

Year: 2018
Platform: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Fighting
Review Date: 1/26/19
Rating: ****

"A tale of swords and souls, eternally retold..."

That pretty much sums up the entire "SoulCalibur" series, which hasn't noticeably evolved at all since its inception back in 1999. After the bitter disappointment of "SoulCalibur V," I had given up on the series and had no intention of bothering with "SoulCalibur VI," but one thing made me change my mind. It was the inclusion of 2B from "NieR: Automata" (2017) as a guest character. The "SoulCalibur" series has a long history of bizarre guest characters including Spawn, Heihachi Mishima, Link, Yoda, and Darth Vader, but 2B is the only one I've gotten really excited about. As a sword fighter, she's a perfect fit for the game and she's by far the most attractive character the game has to offer. With her trusty companion pod, she might seem a bit overpowered, but even though her attacks look impressively deadly, they actually deal very little damage. She's more of a quick fighter that relies on a constant barrage of chip damage, which conveniently tends to match my playing style. She also comes with her own fighting stage, which is easily the best one in the game. It features the ruined city from "NieR: Automata" and is populated by all sorts of machine lifeforms in the background. 9S watches from the sidelines and the ghostly spirits of Devola and Popola occasionally appear. It's simply wonderful and makes me want to revisit "NieR: Automata" and try to finish it.

Apart from that, it's all classic "SoulCalibur" and doesn't offer anything significantly new or different. The game features two story modes, which play out as long-winded talking head conversations with an occasional fight thrown in. In the "Libra Of Soul" mode, you create a custom character and travel the world looking for Soul Edge, which gets increasingly difficult and tedious. About halfway through, it becomes impossibly hard and requires you to grind through endless side quests to earn gold and boost your fighting stats. I was never able to make it past the third chapter. The "Soul Chronicle" mode takes you on a journey as Kilik, Maxi, and Xianghua to find and destroy Soul Edge. This unlocks Inferno as a playable character and also unlocks individual stories for each of the core characters. The lack of a story mode for 2B is disappointing and a huge missed opportunity, as the game teases she was sent back in time to destroy the cursed Soul Edge. This would have been the perfect use of her character and an excellent excuse to confront everyone in the game.

Like "SoulCalibur V," the battle modes are overly stripped down and only offer a minimal Arcade mode, a standard Versus mode, and a Training mode. Arcade mode is where most of the fun is at, but its lack of variety is disappointing. It always uses the same eight stages in the same order, with the fourth fight being against Siegfried and the last fight against Nightmare. It would have been nice to mix up the stages and include the bonus stages. Fortunately, Arcade mode includes an easy setting, which makes casual play a lot more pleasant. As a casual player, Time Attack was always my favorite mode, since it was just a series of random and unrepeated matches. I'd like to see that make a comeback, and it wouldn't require hardly any programming effort.

On the plus side, the stages are gorgeous and the presentation is wonderful. However, it's frustrating that the environments are so large and detailed, while the actual playing fields are tiny. The game still features the same wonky ring-out physics as the previous games, and edge behavior is wildly inconsistent and unpredictable. The battle mechanics are unchanged and retain the classic "SoulCalibur" look and feel, so veteran players can dive right in and play like they always have. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, as there's instant familiarity, but also a lack of freshness. The core characters haven't changed much, and their faces are still unattractive. Taki still has enormous boobs and annoyingly prominent nipples, but at least the outrageous jostling physics of the past have been toned down. Likewise, Ivy's generous proportions continue to be laughably ridiculous and enhanced by her taste in bondage gear, while Seong Mina favors a scandalous under-boob look. Ironically, 2B's gothic lolita dress seems to be the most conservative outfit in the game, although she comes with a shocking up-skirt victory pose.

The music is excellent and emotionally resonant, which helps ease the uncomfortably long loading times. "Soul Chronicle" is fully voiced, which is a nice feature, and the Japanese voice acting is very good. The English narration is good, albeit a bit melodramatic, but that's always been the case with the series. The death screams are hilariously overacted and add an extra little punch to the end of every match. The character customizer is fun to play around in, although the interface is a bit frustrating and the options feel limited. It's hard to create an attractive character and most of the clothing options aren't interesting. Fancier outfits can be bought with in-game currency, which can be earned by grinding through the various game modes. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to earn enough money just to buy a shirt or two, and the effort doesn't seem worthwhile. Despite my gripes, "SoulCalibur VI" is still a highly polished and finely tuned top-tier fighting game. Die-hard fans may see it as more of the same, while players who are new to the series will probably get a lot more out of it. For me, the inclusion of 2B wholly justified my purchase, and even though I felt she was underutilized, it was money well spent.