Soul Calibur III Review
Since the release of Soul Calibur on the Sega Dreamcast, the series has experienced a steady decline in ratings scores, not necessarily due to a lack of quality, but due to the fact that they haven't been bringing anything new to the table. And, while Soul Calibur III breaks this trend and offers up a host of new features like custom character creation and a strategy role-playing game of sorts. Still, the fighting mechanics have remained unchanged in many areas and some of the tweaks that have been made are unwelcome ones. Of course that'll all be explained later, but for now let's just get on with this.
Quick crash-course in Soul Calibur storyline elements: Soul Edge is bad, Soul Calibur is good, and they're two powerful weapons that have been fighting against one another behind the scenes for generations. Got it? All right. Now, for those who played through Nightmare's story on Soul Calibur II, you'll kind of see a connection with it, as Siegfried Schtauffen was freed from Soul Edge's influence once again, this time fully regaining his sanity. He walks the Earth now in search of fulfillment and redemption, all while dark forces yet again gather in search of the now fragmented demon sword.
Zasalamel, a man hailing from the tribe who created Soul Calibur, has been cursed with immortality due to his meddling in the tribe's secret arts a tad too much, and now he wants to use both Soul Edge and Soul Calibur to break his curse and finally be at rest. To do this, he needs to bring the two weapons together, along with the Azure Knight, Nightmare. Using his sorcery, Zasalamel grants Nightmare a body and allows him to once again wreak havoc across Eurasia. As the forces of good, evil, and neutrality once again come together, a ferocious battle unfolds once again as familiar faces and a few newcomers enter the fray.
As I mentioned before, Namco added some nice extra stuff this time around. Character Creation is a fun new mode that lets you either customize regular fighters' color setups to your liking or create new characters of your own and give them whatever disciplines you like. Sadly, the character customization really isn't as deep as was implied by Namco, and the face/voice customization barely scratches the surface of how well it could have been done. Moreover, the Shops have made a triumphant return now, and you actually have to buy nearly all of the parts for making custom characters, and most of them have to be unlocked through the Chronicles of the Sword story mode. You also have to buy slots to save your customized characters in. One can't play Soul Calibur III without feeling as though the unlockable content is expensive just for the sake of keeping you playing the same modes ad infinitum, until you've grown sick of it entirely-that is, unless you're a die-hard, obsessed with getting that last haircut or silly-looking shirt. All the unlockable weapons and clothing items are great, but the fact that you need to buy them even after you've unlocked them feels a little forced, and quite unnecessary. Even so, once you have it all, there's a lot to love.
One thing that was amiss, in spite of all that was made available in shops, were extra costumes for the main cast of characters. Instead of the varied costumes for all the characters that were in Soul Calibur II, we're now left with two outfits and varying color palette swaps of them. While this wasn't a terrible disappointment for me, it felt like a step in the wrong direction, and it was a shame to see them remove the extra little bits. Another thing that some players may miss is the Team Battle multiplayer mode, which was present in Soul Calibur II. Again, not a huge loss to most, but some will be left wondering why they removed it.
Tales of the Souls, essentially an upgraded Arcade Mode, is at times quite enjoyable, and at others incredibly frustrating. For instance, while the ability to choose where your chosen fighter goes during the story mode, the difficulty starts off at a good level and then sharply ramps up at about midway, with some of the fights becoming almost unbearable, especially if you're trying to complete it with every character. At times, it seems as though the only way to effectively get through a fight is to use an "Anti-AI" move to get through the ridiculous artificial intelligence. Often, this involves using a single attack over and over, catching the enemy fighter in a loop until they're knocked out of the ring or to the ground. Chances are, you'll be left wondering why the AI can handle unpredictable strategies but fail to punish you for using the same move for the entire match. An interesting aspect added to Soul Calibur III, though, is interactive cutscenes-or it was interesting at the time, anyway. You'll occasionally be given button prompts in the between-match cutscenes that will affect a minor detail in the following fight (such as starting with lowered health or facing a different opponent from the one you'd have otherwise met). This will also affect the ending you get for a given character when playing their story, though how this happens is usually a cut-and-dry good ending/bad ending scenario. Nevertheless, a good attempt for what it was.
The additional story mode, Chronicles of the Sword, takes a wholly different approach to telling the story. Long story short, you're a soldier rising through the ranks who eventually uncovers a sinister plot to dominate humanity. Fairly standard, and it doesn't typically do itself justice in terms of storytelling, but the combat aspects are entirely different. In all, there are 20 chapters for you to hack your way through, using various units of your choice. Each chapter takes place on a different map that involves you taking the enemy's fortress while protecting your own. All across the field are ally and enemy outposts and forts to claim and gain or lose ground upon. So, delegation of duties here is important, because if you leave your territory unprotected while enemies run rampant across the battlefield, chances are you're going to slowly lose the battle unless you're very quick on the offensive.
Every chapter, while having the obvious goal of wiping out the enemy and taking their territories, may also have extra goals like saving a certain amount of people from enemy troops so that they might join your ranks later on. Sometimes these goals are here as extras, but by and large they're things you'll want to keep an eye out for while you play, because your success will depend on it. Most people probably won't go back to Chronicles of the Sword a lot, because the gameplay is often very slow, and matches against enemy characters can be extremely uneven, particularly in the fights where a field effect is in place like "First hit wins" and your enemy just won't let you get that attack in. All in all, though, it's an interesting new mode that, if expanded upon in later installments, could become a worthy mode of play.
The combat in and of itself really hasn't changed too drastically. Some characters have been altered greatly, but the majority of them remain the same or similar enough that you'll be able to familiarize yourself with them quickly enough. Still, some characters seem to have been improved drastically (Cervantes and Taki) while others have been toned down to an almost ridiculous extent (Voldo). Unblockable attacks have returned, but some characters now possess ranged unblockable attacks that can be used with essentially the tap of a couple of buttons and are very quick to launch, and sometimes very difficult to react to or dodge. An added combat element in III is the aspect of Stun Attacks, which momentarily paralyze your opponent and open them up for higher-damage combos. These can sometimes be a hassle when you're actually caught in them, but that's really something you'll only have to worry about if you're up against a button masher.
Soul Calibur III is one of the most graphically impressive fighters on the PS2 (you simply must watch the opening movie scene), even in spite of having a lower poly count than that of II. More attention has been put into the surroundings, first of all, and the environments just look outstanding. You can see mist floating through the air from waterfalls, realistic flames on torches casting glows onto their surroundings. Even better, the environments show damage as thee fight wears on, like through breaking down a rail or pillar, or tiles and panels cracking when a character is thrown down. Sometimes the effect of wooden panels or stone tiles breaking looks a little strange, but the effect is overall a nice touch.
The character models look great, despite many of the characters having completely ridiculous outfits, such as those worn by Voldo and Yoshimitsu, or the three newcomers Setsuka, Tira, and Zasalamel. Each character has a subtle difference to they way they carry themselves, and all of them have completely different fighting styles with all sorts of weapons, such as rods, ring blades (a bladed hula hoop), scythes, greatswords, axes, knives, and so on. The characters are all well animated, and even the biggest and clunkiest of them have their own sort of grace in the way that they move while fighting. Still, some of the textures on characters look like they could have had a bit more polish, as shown on Astaroth's throbbing heart and parts of Siegfried's armor.
The sound is somewhat uneven, regrettably, with some sound effects coming out muffled, and the crackling sound effect accompanying Stun Attacks sounds very dated somehow, as if the development team just used an old sound effect for it. Fortunately, the musical scores accompanying fights and scenes are as good as ever, offering various memorable tracks, the most outstanding of which is the end credits music. The battle music all fits well, at least in regards to the stages during which it all plays, though some do seem a bit out of place, like the temple in which will o' wisp fireballs float around the ring. Voices can be uneven in Soul Calibur III.
The acting is generally passable, but some of the voices don't sound at all fitting (mostly in the Chronicles of the Sword characters), and others are just downright awful (the custom-made character voices are nearly all terrible).Like the voices or not, you can always switch audio between English of Japanese, and if you really can't stand either, you can push the music volume up higher than the voices and hear mainly the scores.
Overall, Soul Calibur III is a worthy fighter that, while it misses the mark on a few noticeable occasions, still presents an enjoyable experience. Once you have all the character creation parts, you'll probably find yourself going back to make new custom fighters years later, and the Vs. Battle multiplayer mode is as fun as ever, trash talk and all. Fans of fighters or the series should definitely check this one out.