Soul Edge was a much underappreciated game when it was released on the PlayStation back in the late 90s. It was far deeper than the competition and had some great 3D swordplay action to boot. Yet the nation was still enthralled with Sega’s Virtua Fighter
series and Namco’s masterpiece was forced to take a back seat. A few years later a sequel was released on Sega’s now-defunct Dreamcast platform. Again the game was underappreciated because it was released to a fairly small audience. This time the game added more fighters, tightened up the gameplay even more and polished up the graphics until they were like nothing that the gaming world had ever witnessed. Strangely enough, all of the hardcore DC fans who were kind enough to support the game (all fifteen of them) were inspiration enough for Namco to produce a sequel. Sure the company took a huge chance but hey, you can’t make money without spending money.
Forget everything you thought you knew about 3D fighting because Soul Calibur 2 has rewritten the book on what we should come to expect from the genre. It comes complete with the Sword Master mode that was present in Soul Edge but was mysteriously missing in the DC Soul Calibur. In this mode players get the opportunity to travel the land, beating foes and acquiring new weapons for their characters to use in combat. In order to do so players are placed into a battle with specific objectives. For instance maybe you’ll have to beat a character using just throws or moves that are Soul Charged. There’s plenty of depth to be had here and being able to acquire new weapons is a nice way of rewarding gamers for pouring hours and hours into the game.
Players will also be able to use the newly acquired weapons in the Arcade mode. Upon completing the game for the first time you’ll unlock Arcade Extra, which allows you to use weapons against the AI and your friends. This is a nice way of balancing out gameplay in addition to the health meter handicapping system. By letting newer players use the stronger weapons they’ll be better equipped to win the battle against veteran players from time-to-time. There are fifteen characters available from the start and eight extra characters that can be unlocked. Most of the characters make a return appearance from SC including Maxi, the nunchaku wielding pirate(?), Mitsurugi, who does Haohmaru impersonations on the side, and Xianghau, the stereotypical Chinese babe who’s one tough momma. Sadly some of the unlockable characters really aren’t all that new and are just rehashes of some oldies like Rock from the first SC.
What makes the fighting so compelling is that all of the fighters are amazingly balanced. Big Lumbering guys like Astaroth are more than capable of keeping up with fast guys like Maxi while people with short weapons like Xianghua can still fight against the stick-wielding Kilik. Sure you’ll have to be more tactful in order to move in close enough to take our your opponent but you’ll be well-equipped for the task. Like before you’ll have two weapon-based attacks at your disposal (vertical and horizontal slash), a kick move that can be used to quickly counter attacks, throws, blocks, parry maneuvers and the soul charge tactic. Players will always be able to move in eight directions as they please, for quick players going against slower players this is a must-have tactic. When you sense a juggernaut going for a vertical slash you may want to sidestep it, leaving him vulnerable and open to your combos. He’s coming with a horizontal slash? Then maybe you’ll want to duck underneath it or counter it with a quick kick or vertical slash. Parry maneuvers, which require you to press back and block in cadence with an enemy attack, are particularly useful for counteracting the tactics of a predictable foe.
While there is definitely some strategy to be had in the midst of combat Soul Calibur 2
still boils down to being a simple button masher. This works out as both a blessing and a detriment for the game. Experienced gamers who want to play with skill and precision may find themselves having a great time against other precise players. However, playing against a button-mashing newbie can prove to be an aggravating experience, especially after they lose to a five-year-old playing as Maxi for the fifth straight time. The simple fact is that SC2 has far too much button mashing in it whereas other similar competitors such as Virtua Fighter 4 Evo
on the PS2 require much more expertise and preciseness. In fact, hardware boy John boasts that he can ring out an opponent standing in the middle of a ring with the use of one large continuous combo. Now that’s no fun, getting hit once and knowing that you’re practically dead meat.This game is beautiful. A person who is watching from afar may not notice the copious amounts of detail that populate the environments but veteran players will tell you that this is one of the most beautiful games ever made. There’s an enchanting beauty in the way that the characters flow and animate. This is some of the smoothest animation to ever appear in a game and best of all, it’s so well-done that even the more absurd moves look realistic and convincing. With all of the fluidness it never seems like any moves would be out of place in real life, even the more far-fetched ones. All of the characters look pretty excellent as well. While there are some pretty poor character designs, the Todd McFarlane designed Necrid in particular, the models are all quite a sight to behold. You’ll see hair that flows in the wind, cloth that flaps as characters animate and shiny surfaces that shine and shimmer in the sunlight. The neat little weapon effects really tie a neat ribbon around this complete package.
Each of the levels look spectacular as well, from billowing smokestacks in the distance to little rays of sunlight that filter in through an open window, the environments are just a sight to behold. The beauty comes in the attention to detail paid to each of the levels. Even the grass of blades that are kicked up are animated. They don’t just come up and then disappear, they float around realistically and then discreetly flutter out into the scenery. Someone who’s really wrapped up in the action probably won’t notice such fine details but it’s there for people who are really anal retentive about the details. All of the backgrounds are well done as well and feature beautifully rendered buildings and structures that are far off in the distance. I’d say that some of the levels lack inspiration and variety. Although there are some pretty varied locales they all feel very similar to each other, especially the tiny ones that take place on a church-like setting.
In terms of framerate the Xbox and GameCube versions hold up really well and show only mild hints of slowdown. The PS2 version is a big bogged down as the action slows down heavily in the middle of a fight. The load times on the PS2 are atrocious as well as it takes a good five seconds just for the player models to load on the character select screen. If you want to change the costume of your character you'll have to wait another good five seconds and then wait for the game to load at the next screen. It's a pretty frustrating experience that really hinders the gameplay at times.
While all three of the games sound relatively similar it’s obvious that the Xbox has the superior audio. The Dolby Digital allows for clearer samples to filter through the speakers and the ambient noises come in much cleaner through the rear speakers. The native support just blows away the second-rate Dolby Pro Logic II that the PS2 and GameCube versions offer. It seems like the PS2 and GC versions have problems with siphoning the audio to the rear speakers. Periodically I’d hear a sword clash or the sound of a weapon contacting with an opponent, but it was rather sparse and not quite up to the level of what I’d expect. Not that they’re that bad, it’s just that the sound is much clearer and better sampled on the Xbox version.
It’s a good thing too because the music and combat effects are some of the best that we’ve ever heard in a fighting game. Each character has about 80 recorded lines of audio that are utilized in combat. It’s pretty astounding considering that most games record about 20 or so samples tops for each of their fighters. All of the combat sounds are authentic as well. From the clank of the swords to the sound of wood on flesh, it’s all that I have come to expect from watching years and years of Bruce Lee movies. The fights are accompanied by a mixed bag of music, depending on whether or not you like to pummel your opponents to the tune of operatic music. It’s epic, that’s for damn sure, but I don’t know how serious I can take the battle, especially if I’m battling against what looks like the giant lizard from Brute Force
. Oh well, it’s much better than fighting to some generic techno tunes, that’s for damn sure.
As you probably know the major difference between the three versions comes in which platform specific character you receive. Without a doubt the most popular of the three is Zelda’s Link and apparently this is backed up by the fact that the GameCube version is outselling the competition by 30%. The Xbox version has Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn as the little freebie but he’s not really my cup of tea. He’s the slow hulking type that has a fighting style very similar to Nightmare. Then there’s the PS2’s Heihachi, the Tekken vet is a little out of place in this weapons-based combat game but veteran players will be more than capable of holding their own with him. As a nice little bit of continuity all of his combos still work. In terms of control I’d say I feel most comfortable with the PS2 version, mainly because I’m a big fan of using the d-pad. The Xbox S’s d-pad is still a bit sluggish and won't let me pull off some of the more precise moves when I want to. Don't even think about playing with the standard Xbox controller as that's just hell to deal with. Speaking of unplayable, the GameCube controller is about as bad as it gets for this time of gaming. The small GBA-sized d-pad is too difficult to use precisely, especially when you're near a precarious ledge. While I enjoy the GameCube version of the game, if you’re planning on it I’d say you should plan on getting one of those PS2 to GC adaptors that allow you to use a PS2 controller with your GameCube.
Then there’s that issue with button-mashing again. It’s just simply far too easy to win a match by pushing buttons at random. Not that I can’t beat the AI or my friends with precise shots, but why should I bother when I can just continuously mash the horizontal slash button until they fall out of the ring? I know a whole onslaught of people who refuse to play the game simply because they feel it's cheap, and while that's far from the truth, cheap players can still win by going back to the well over and over again.
There’s much to like about Soul Calibur 2 but just don’t leap in to expecting to see another revolution. The first SC for the DC completely blew away the fighting game crowd with its intense visuals and ground-breaking gameplay. A few years later and it’s really starting to show signs of aging. It’s just not quite the revolutionary leap forward that the original SC was. Don’t get me wrong, SC2 is an excellent fighter that is a worthy pickup for anyone who is even mildly interested in 3D fighters. Does your soul still burn? Want your wallet to burn too? Then why not pick up BradyGames' excellent Soul Calibur 2 strategy guide? It features movesets, combinations, strategies and features for all of the game's fighters. Real fighting fans shouldn't be without it, you don't want to be labeled as a "wannabe," do you?