SoulCalibur IV Review
Extra Support: Local or Online Multiplayer, Ranking Boards (Leaderboards)
If you were lucky enough to get yourself a Dreamcast back on 9/9/99 then there was one game that you simply had to pick up for this new system. Soul Calibur, sequel to the famed Soul Edge (or Soul Blade on PS1), premiered on the Dreamcast with a much more eye-pleasing graphical setup than its arcade counterpart and the actual fighting was so incredibly smooth for a 3-D fighter around the time that it still holds its own against the competition to this day. Soul Calibur went on to spawn sequels with Soul Calibur II, which improved greatly upon the original with its new characters, graphical enhancements and added bonus character depending on the console it was bought for, and Soul Calibur III, which introduced custom characters as well as a few more new characters. Soul Calibur IV is the latest installment in Namco Bandai's soul series of 3-D fighting games and it combines many of the good aspects of Soul Calibur III while advancing the series even further in terms of new characters and minor tweaks in fighting styles for old characters as well as the introduction of online play to Soul Calibur fans.
A total of 28 characters are showcased as the main cast of characters along with 5 bonus characters. The bonus characters were created by guest Japanese artists and each bonus character has their own unique design, however they do not carry their own exclusive move lists and are restricted to simply mimicking one of the existing characters on the roster. Shura plays like Cervantes, Ashlotte plays like Astaroth, etc. The actual new characters in this installment are Algol, Hilde, The Apprentice and the other exclusive Star Wars character depending on which version of the game you pick up (Yoda [Xbox 360] or Darth Vader [PS3]). Algol is the most unique boss out of the Soul Calibur series thus far since he is completely unique from other characters and has his own exclusive move set, while Hilde combines both a long range and short range move set thanks to her spear and sword weapons. The Apprentice's (or Starkiller's) standing pose exhibits his flare before a match even begins, and he has the option to take battles to the air after knocking his opponent upwards - so fans of the Capcom VS series might find something to like in Darth Vader's secret trainee. Each returning character has received quite a number of enhancements and moves to make them all feel different. Even if you were good with a certain character before then you'll most likely have to rethink your strategies a bit once again instead of diving straight into expert battles from the get-go.
Combat is still just as flashy as it has always been in the series. The game can be played well by both casual and hardcore fighting game fans - it is easy to learn, yet hard to master. Unlike its predecessor, Soul Calibur III, Soul Calibur IV greatly enhances its graphical presentation and looks absolutely gorgeous with the right TV setup. As usual, the sound is moody and epic for each stage, as we have come to expect from past Soul Caliburs. Sound effects are incredibly crisp, especially the sounds of lightsabers or blades clashing against each other or hitting other forms of steel during a battle. Character voices can be chosen in English or Japanese. Both language settings match the game well.
Soul Calibur IV brings in a new technique that punishes players that guard too much (or "turtle"). A soul gauge to the side of a character's life gauge now displays a color that starts out as green and changes color depending on how well your character is performing in battle with attacks, guard impacts or guarding your opponent's attacks. This gauge will slowly turn to red as a character continues to guard attacks. Once the soul gauge has turned red, it will start to flash as the character continues to guard attacks and ultimately a "Guard Crush" will be initiated where the blocking character will be stunned and completely open to attacks as the character's guard is broken. At that exact moment in time, a "Critical Finish" can be performed by the opposing character (through pressing all four buttons) and this move will automatically end the round right then and there with a finisher animation based on the character chosen. Critical finishers are never much of a problem but some characters can easily damage your soul gauge with their guard breaking moves more easily than others. In contrast, a properly timed guard impact will add some energy back to the soul gauge in an effort to keep a guard crush from being initiated.