Soul Calibur IV: Turn It Up To Eleven
Soul Calibur IV: Turn It Up To Eleven
Well, I've spent two days with Soul Calibur IV on my PS3 now, and I must say, the nostalgia is invigorating. But simultaneously, I've found that it's got enough new and improved features (not to mention the absolutely gorgeous graphics) to keep me from feeling like I'm playing the same game I used to know and love.
I always found Soul Calibur to be a game that rewards focus on learning a character inside and out, and SC4 is no exception. This isn't a game where you can pick up Seung Mi-na after learning how to play as Ivy and expect to be able to accomplish much of anything. (Also, what's with Seung Mi-na's name? Just pick and stick, Namco!) And that's a good thing, from my perspective. While I like that some fighting games make it pretty easy to pick up a controller and go at it while choosing a character practically at random (Super Smash Brothers Brawl and all the Street Fighter games I've played come to mind), to be honest, I get bored of them quickly and find that I get annoyed with how the ability to press the block button is the difference between a "pro" and a "newb".
In contrast, SC4 makes that delineation into a spectrum, ranging from "button mashing" to "I know all thousand of this character's moves and precisely when to use them". And I appreciate that level of complexity. Moreover, it's not just knowing the moves and when to use them, but understanding the strengths and weaknesses of all the characters that comes into play, to a far greater extant than you'll find in most fighting games of the recent era. Yes, other fighting games reward one for knowing all the characters, but not to the level that SC4 does. I'm especially thinking of SSBB here, and I recognize that they're very, very different games, but they are in the same genre and have similar levels of popularity.
As for the rest of the game's offerings, I'm impressed all the way around. First I'd mention complaints I've read about Story Mode being "too short" for people, and a lot of people talking trash about how they've "beaten it on hard with every character in one day." First of all: Bullshit. Second of all: Story Mode is one of the smallest parts of the whole game. Get over it. Be thankful it doesn't take forever because you need to finish it with every character to get their full weapon complement. End of story. Same goes for Arcade Mode. It's not as "short" as Story Mode, but since there's no "reward" for winning it generally, there are complaints about it. It is what it is, though. It's basically your 1-player practice mode for future 2-player versus endeavors.
That said, Practice Mode is as good as ever, and I've spent my fair share of time in there with a couple of characters. And the Tower of Lost Souls offers some pretty cool challenges in order to obtain a lot of gear that we'd otherwise not have access to, giving incentive to try to accomplsih them all.
But the feature that's adding a lot of depth not previously available in Soul Calibur (or other franchise fighting games that I can think of) is the character customization. After accomplshing enough in the other modes and "levelling up" a given character enough, it's worth going into the character customization tool and improving that character for use in the Tower of Lost Souls. The other thing I'm really enjoying about it is that one can create a completely novel character using one of the built-in characters as a base and keep the level that's been obtained with that character. For example, I've levelled up Taki to Style Level 6, and when I make a new male character based on Taki's fighting style/weapon combination, he has access to everything up to Style Level 6 as well. Throw in a variety of weapons that emphasize different stats, and you can make a more brawny or faster version of a character, give him or her moves (like invisibility or hyper mode) that he or she didn't have before, and so forth. It really adds a lot of depth. And, at your own ego's risk, you can take that buffed, customized character and head online to face him or her off against the custom characters of other players.
Of course, for a real battle of "skill", two vanilla characters facing off in a versus match is going to be preferable, but it's definitely fun to see what other people have thrown together as a custom mode character. You'll have bag-lady Ivy, bikini-clad Tira, and body-hair-covered Mitsurugi, not to mention an army of wacky looking custom characters, all make an appearance at some point. And hey, some of them are pretty damn good.
Last thing I want to touch on is the controls. From what I understand, they haven't changed much since SC3 (which I didn't play). Buttons are fully customizable, and the shoulder buttons generally act as button combos that are difficult to pull off on a controller. Some customization is going to be required for certain characters. For example, Taki's jumping moves require htiting A+K simultaneously, and as those default to circle and square on the controller with no shoulder-button being bound to them, so hitting them together is not simple. Best bet is probably to reprogram a shoulder button to that combination for playing as her. And there are better combos for other characters as well. But fortunately it's all fully customizable, and doesn't feel like buying a joystick is required to play the game and play it well. The controller feels very natural to me.
Oh yeah, and as for the one other thing about this game: Darth Vader and The Apprentice. Vader: He's a gimick character, and he's fun. It's fun to play as him. He's not cheap, and he does have some really neat moves like the force choke and force grab/throw. Takes some getting used to for me because I tend to play as fast, close-in characters, but Vader is more of a bruiser. As for Starkiller, The Apprentice: He's cheap. He's fun, yes, but in that overpowered, "this is not fair" way. Making him that powerful makes him less appealing to me in general, and I wouldn't take a versus match as or against him very seriously because, let's face it, he's easy-sauce to be awesome at.
Sufficed to say, I'm very satisfied wtih Soul Calibur IV. I look forward to playing you online!