Trivial Flaws Mar an Excellent Game
Soulcalibur IV could be summarized like this; it's a fighting game, and a great one at that, but it's got some things which might annoy the average player as well as things that'll impress them.
The bulk of the game is extremely well done - it looks and plays smooth, each character is unique in appearance and fighting style, it has a lot of strategic depth, and there's finally online play. As a fighting game, it really succeeds with the basic systems as well as additional techniques to make battles more interesting. There's a tremendous amount of room for skill to be developed - guard impacts, rolls, critical finishes, and a hefty move list for every character definitely impress.
The characters are all customizable, not only in appearance but with equipment that changes statistics as well. You can play without the statistics affecting battle, instead creating characters for appearance sake only, as trying to maximize the statistics you want can end up with some pretty weird looking fighters. But overall, there's little fault in the extremely robust customization feature in the game.
When it comes to the rest of the 'icing' on the cake, however, it kind of fumbles. There's a story mode that quite frankly seems lazy on the part of the developers, as it consists of a couple (maybe six) easy matches and some short, cheesy cutscenes that oftentimes make no sense or just come off goofy. For a game so obsessed with themed characters and the story of it's two swords, it's awfully lame and is probably the worst thing about the game.
Arcade is as it should be, but it's hard to mess that up. The final single player mode, Tower of Lost Souls, is actually quite fun and poses a fair challenge, even to veteran players, because of the unlocked equipment you can earn while fighting your way upwards.
The final thing which may bother some is the art style. It's pretty over the top, even more than ever, and in some cases its almost comical. Crystallized armor, floating torsos, and massive breasts abound. Also, there are Star Wars characters present in the latest entry of the Soulcalibur series. To some these things can add to the inherently fantastical premise of the game, but to others it's just weird or downright creepy. Ultimately, it's a superficial thing and since almost every character can be customized, there's nothing stopping someone from changing anything they don't like about their fighter.
The graphics are great, with the level of detail and fluid animation work being highlights of what you'll see as the fighters do their thing on screen. Soul Calibur IV's voice and music work aren't as good as the visuals, and are pretty average at best... with the voices being annoying at worst. They can be changed to their native Japanese, which is a plus, and the stages themselves are actually pretty impressive visually.
As a fighting game, it's definitely an achievement. It tops every previous Soul Calibur (Soulcalibur?) game in mechanics and polish and is up there at the top with the very best of this generation. The visuals, most importantly the animations, are extremely well done and help immerse you into each fight. However, the rest of the game will be hit-or-miss for a lot of players - a lot of the single player content is antiquated (Arcade) or just plain sucks (Story) and the visual style of the game is a like it or hate it affair. Because it succeeds in the most important ways for a fighting game, with the actual fighting system, it would be an easy game to recommend to anyone who likes the genre, and overall, Soulcalibur IV comes of as a great game.