Soul Calibur III Review
The legendary fighting game series returns for a predictable outing that features largely the same excellent gameplay Soul Calibur is known for, as well as prettier graphics and some unimpressive new modes.
- Fun, fast-paced, highly technical fighting action is built on a proven foundation
- Beautiful, silky-smooth visuals during combat
- Good-sized character roster featuring three brand-new fighters
- Fans will appreciate inclusion of English and Japanese language tracks.
- Many of the new modes of play are awkwardly executed
- Fighting action feels a little too familiar, so it's not easy to tell what's different or better
- No online play.
Ten years ago, Namco released an arcade fighting game called Soul Edge, which was kind of like its extremely popular Tekken series, except all the characters fought with various weapons. But only when a visually stunning version of the sequel came home to the Sega Dreamcast in 1999 did Soul Calibur became possibly the best-known name in competitive fighting games. It's been more than a couple of years since the last Soul Calibur sequel, but all this history still hasn't caused the series to take any particularly dramatic turns since its Dreamcast heyday. Expert players will quickly notice all the characters' new moves and other gameplay tweaks in the latest installment, but for the most part, Soul Calibur III still plays very much like Soul Calibur, while a lot of the new modes and stuff outside the core one-on-one fighting isn't all that noteworthy this time around. To be clear, Soul Calibur III is one of the best fighting games around. But it earns this distinction largely by playing it safe while most of the competition simply dropped off.
Soul Calibur III introduces three completely new characters to a returning cast featuring all the familiar faces from past installments, providing a total of nearly 30 different characters. It's a large roster even from the outset, when about half the characters are locked away. Every type of weapon fighting style you can think of is represented, including various traditional Eastern and Western forms, along with some decidedly unconventional techniques. If you've played a Soul Calibur game before, you'll find that the basics of gameplay are the same as ever. There are four different action buttons: horizontal and vertical slashes, kick, and guard. By combining these with fairly simple directional movements, it's possible to perform literally dozens of different moves as each character. Certain types of moves are performed similarly from one character to the next, so it's easy to switch from playing as one fighter to another, even though the high-level strategies for each character are unique. Mixing up high-hitting and low-hitting attacks while maneuvering around each area and strategically defending against or deflecting the opponent's attacks is what the action is all about.
Of course, if you've ever played a Soul Calibur game, none of this exactly comes as a shock. But then again, the gameplay in Soul Calibur represents some of the most well-designed, finely tuned action that fighting games have to offer, so there hasn't been clear-cut room for improvement. As such, the subtle differences this time around seem mostly aimed at hardcore players who got a little too comfortable with certain aspects of Soul Calibur or its sequel. This has rightfully always been an offense-oriented series, where aggressive players who deftly switch up their attacks and constantly remain on high alert tend to dominate passive players who sit back and poke at their opponents. Now this is even more the case, as it's possible to perform extremely damaging combos when opponents are pinned against walls or when opponents fail to actively pick themselves up off the ground after getting knocked down. That's not to say it's pointless to even try to block anymore--far from it, as Soul Calibur's "guard impact" system is there to let dexterous players anticipate and deflect their opponent's attacks, creating an opening for retaliation. Many of the arenas in the game are also lined with low walls that can either be smashed or simply cleared if an unfortunate combatant is smacked high enough. Rounds will still often end with one fighter or the other getting knocked out of the ring, but these outcomes are avoidable enough to where they enrich the gameplay rather than cause undue frustration.
Characters in Soul Calibur III can also vary up the timing of many of their attacks or even cause their attacks to stop short for some fake-out tactics. Powerful unblockable moves and guard-crushing attacks top off everyone's arsenal, letting you quickly punish opponents who hesitate even slightly. Despite all the different-looking characters in the roster, access to this standard suite of fighting techniques mitigates the differences between fighters, including the potential for imbalances. Fortunately, there's a noticeable amount of new or different moves per character in Soul Calibur III, so if you've played a lot of the previous games, it'll be fun to explore how the fighters have changed in this sequel. Moves and tactics that worked well before still tend to be intact and are effective in Soul Calibur III. However, having access to new options certainly helps freshen up the experience a little. Soul Calibur III seems to emphasize multiple fighting stances per character, which not only tend to look cool, but also give the fighters a lot more room for different moves without unnecessarily complicating the controls. Furthermore, pairs of characters who used to be near-cookie-cutter copies of each other in the past, like Siegfried and Nightmare or Astaroth and Rock, feel more like unique fighters this time around.
If Soul Calibur III suffers from a sense of déjà vu all over again, it's because the game recycles so many of the same animations as its predecessors. The fighters are all gorgeously redrawn, boasting a couple of distinctly different outfits and lifelike features, right on down to their facial expressions. However, you'll see them perform the same moves, take the same dives, and show off with the same win poses they've been sporting for years. Some of the unchanged animations remain shared across all fighters in the game, diminishing the sense that this is a truly new entry and that its roster consists of completely distinct characters. What's more, the various attacks in the game just don't seem to pack the same punch they used to. Despite all the menacing-looking weapons on display--many of which look truly deadly--no attacks ever so much as draw blood. This brand of bloodless, mild violence has always been apparent in Soul Calibur, but it's become increasingly odd as the series' graphics have superficially grown more and more believable. While new animations and harder-looking hits wouldn't have automatically made for a better game, it seems reasonable to expect the look, if not the feel, of Soul Calibur to evolve at a faster rate than this.
The new fighters who've joined the cast fit in well with the diversity already on display. Zasalamel is a muscular Egyptian-looking warrior who carries a scythe, and whose slower moves and rather long reach make him a good alternative for fans of Soul Calibur's bigger fighters. Tira is a lithe new female fighter with a wicked look in her eye and a weird leafy outfit that recalls the Batman villainess Poison Ivy. Weirder still is her weapon, essentially a razor-sharp hula hoop that she twirls around like a buzz saw, combining respectable reach with an unpredictably chaotic style. Finally, there's Setsuka, who looks like a Japanese geisha, complete with a lovely parasol...only the parasol does more than block out rain and sun, since it conceals a vicious blade. Setsuka's quick-draw cuts and slashes make her thematically similar to Japanese fighters like Mitsurugi and Taki, and she falls somewhere in between them in terms of her speed and power. Each of these characters has a full complement of moves, but each also doesn't necessarily seem as well developed as the returning cast, which isn't surprising considering the other fighters have effectively been in the works for years. Still, the new members of the cast are more than welcome in Soul Calibur III.