When I think of the Soul Calibur series, two things come to mind: 1) Playing the original Soul Edge on the PS1 for hours on end. 2) Getting around the largest TV my friends and I could find to play Soul Calibur when it was released on the Dreamcast. Really, I have a lot of GREAT memories of this series (I try not to think about the guest appearances made in the past...) and this game had a lot of expectations to meet. So far, it has yet to fully succeed.
Let's start, however, with what I like about the game. It is still the same, responsive fighting game I remember. SCIV, of course, follows a good mantra of "easy to play, hard to master." Considering I was easily handled in my first online match, I think I'm still in the easy to play part (read my blog in regards to my current fighting game touch). Quickness is essential in this game regardless of the actual speed of the character. For example, when playing as Rock (an extremely slow hammer wielder) you need to make sure you won't leave yourself open for a chain of attacks by dialing up the slowest, yet most powerful move in his arsenal. On the other hand, Raphael can move quickly, but his attacks aren't as effective. A great balance that is hard to argue against (unless you look at the guest characters...they have some inconsistencies). In response to the quick controls are the great character animations. Each character has a distinctive animation (unless they are a clone of another character...) which is unique to their fighting style and is actually essential to the fighting itself. It helps to know what openings an opponent will have by the moves they are throwing at you.
This leads me to perhaps what is one of the bigger selling points of the game - the graphics. To date, I haven't seen a fighting game with a better visual flair to it. Character detail is great, most of the stages look amazing, and (with the optional hard drive install) you don't have a wait a whole lot of time to see it. Other graphical extras such as lens flare, the screen quickly dulling out the color on the screen for the slightest of a second at the end of the match, and the Critical Finishing moves are great to see as well. Truly, I most enjoy the ability to see some of my favorite characters in HD over any other part of this game...I guess I'm a graphics whore. :)
So, the fighting works (as expected) and the game looks great. It is after this that I start to have some problems. Going back to my prior engagements with the SC series, I most remember the Quest modes. It was good to have experience the arcade modes in the past (those were the bulk of most prior fighting games), but the SC Quest mode was always engaging, unique, and addictive. That is gone now. Instead, I have a short an easy Story mode (more on that in a second), the great Arcade mode, and the questionable Tower of Souls.
I have no issue with the Arcade mode since it does what it needs to do - quickly sends me from one level to another with no need for exposition. Good. Story mode, however, doesn't even do what it should...tell a story. After picking your character in Story mode, you are given a slowly scrolling exposition of why my chosen fighter is about to fight numerous characters. That's about the only Story you'll see. There is nothing between the levels outside of the assumptions you are supposed to make about what is going on. The ending is even more disappointing. Pretty much every story ends on the top of the Tower and has the character either destroying Soul Edge and Soul Calibur or taking either of the swords or both. Wow. Disappointing. Gone are the days of a story specifically tailored for each character and actually showing what they do away from the Tower AFTER they make their decision. Also, this mode is REALLY easy to get through for some reason. I think I made it through on an average of five to six minutes for each character. Finally, there is the Tower of Souls. I was hoping this mode than would redeem the game for me. If it was even CLOSE to the quest mode of old, I would be extremely happy. Having to quickly get through a fight because I'm poisoned or having an enemy subject to just ONE kind of attack...these are the challenges I need. Instead, I just have a wave of the same type of enemy thrown at me for a couple of floors and just have to survive. If I meet certain conditions (such as not having a Ring Out on either side of the fight), I can gain an accessory for the Character Customization mode. Big whoop.
Don't get me wrong, the Character Customization is deep and can lead to a lot of inspired characters (or simply cloned versions of other popular video game characters.) However, I find no personal incentive to create or edit different versions of my favorite fighters. Instead, I prefer to simply equip the weapons and skill sets that will help me the most. Maybe, just MAYBE, if I had a mode with crazy challenges like an opponent that is only vulnerable to attacks from a character dressed in only their skivvies and their hair in pigtails I would have MUCH more incentive to hop into the Character Customization. Instead, I only have the chance to play virtual dress-up with Ivy and crew.
The final mode worth mentioning is the Online mode. Really nothing to interesting about it. It allows for online play and there is really nothing else to it. I have only played a few matches and the connection has been hit or miss most of the time. The best way to play fighting games is still in the same room as your friends.
In the end, I truly enjoy this game. However, seeing what the game HAS done compared to what it IS doing leaves me disappointed. Hopefully, Namco can focus less on the guest characters and more on the actual gameplay modes next time around.
BOTTOM LINE: Great gameplay, quick and repsonsive controls, gorgeous graphics, disappointing play modes.