SoulCalibur II

Year: 2003
Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Publisher: Namco
Genre: 3D fighter
Review Date: 8/30/03
Rating: **

What happened? What made Namco decide to take one of the most sophisticated and well respected fighting games on the market and turn it into a breast fetish franchise? Anyone who thought the breasts and breast physics in the "Dead Or Alive" series were offensive is in for an extremely nasty shock when they start up this game, which features enormously misshapen breasts and nipples that move around like giant water balloons. And as if that weren't bad enough, the art directors for the game decided to make all of the characters unattractive as well. My three favorite characters (Taki, Xianghua, and Seung Mina) have suffered greatly from this "image enhancement," and now they're all hideous to behold. How ironic that it was Xianghua (one of the cutest fighters in the industry) who made me pick up the original "SoulCalibur" (1999), and how I can't even stomach to look at her in "BoobCalibur II." But it's not just the female characters who got shafted - all of the male characters look pretty terrible too. Astaroth's player 2 incarnation is beyond silly, and the once creepy and enigmatic Voldo just looks stupid this time around. The game also plays to perverts and pedophiles in other ways, with giggling teenage girls, lots of jiggling exposed flesh (Ivy's ass even sloshes around like a Jell-o dessert), gratuitous panty shots, cheesecake butt poses, and several sexually suggestive attacks (Cassandra attacks with her butt and Sophitia performs a muff-dive throw). The whole package is rather tasteless and shameful.

Having learned their lesson from the first game which was a Dreamcast exclusive, Namco decided to release "SoulCalibur II" on every next generation platform, and give each version a special character. The Xbox got Todd MacFarlane's Spawn character, PlayStation 2 got "Tekken's" Heihachi Mishima, and GameCube got Link from the "Zelda" series. As cool as Spawn may have once been, he's painfully inappropriate and out of place in the Xbox version of the game, both stylistically and chronologically. As laughable as Heihachi is, he certainly fits in with the rest of the cast in the game, making the PS2 version seem the least discontinuous. And then there's Link, who falls somewhere in the middle. Common to all three versions is MacFarlane's Necrid character, who is also stylistically out of place in an otherwise very Asian looking game.

Well, now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let's get down to the actual game, shall we? Picking up where "SoulCalibur" left off, the shattered pieces of Soul Edge are being collected by those who want to resurrect Soul Edge for their own nefarious purposes. Most of the original cast returns, minus Rock, Siegfried, and Hwang Sung Kyung, and several new characters have been added, including Talim, Raphael, Cassandra, Yunsung, Necrid, Charade, Assassin, and Berzerker. The gameplay mechanics are nearly identical to the original game, so it's fairly easy to just pick up and play. However (at least on the Xbox), the controls seem rather sluggish and sloppy, and you often times don't know what moves you're going to end up with, which can turn a match into an uninteresting exercise of simple strikes and random button mashing. The game also seems a bit more difficult than the original, trying to focus on the top tier of fighting game afficionados instead of the casual gamer such as myself. Whereas Mission Mode in "SoulCalibur" was fairly accessible to everyone, Weapon Master Mode in "SoulCalibur II" is impossible to complete by mere mortals, meaning that I'll forever be deprived of playing Lizardman, who is one of the hardest characters to unlock. The game also dives into even more minutia than the original, with overly longwinded dialogs, dozens of different (but essentially identical) play modes that you'll never even bother looking at, and the ability to upgrade your character's weapons. While using different weapons seems like a cool idea, in practice it doesn't appear to make much of a difference, and seems to be a handicap more often than not.

The game does excel in and surpass its predecessor in two different areas: arenas and music. The arenas offer much more graphical detail, although they're still small and not very interesting. The musical score for the game is superb and very catchy. It doesn't seem as repetitive as the original score, and sounds much crisper and cleaner (the original score suffered from too much reverb). Overall, if you can look past all of its flaws, the game is essentially the same as "SoulCalibur", but if that's the case, then why not just stick with the original?