Retro Respawn – Soul Month Part Four – Soulcalibur III

We finally bring Soul Month to a close with what will likely be my most contentious article of the run as I didn’t like Soulcalibur III that much. To be honest, saying I simply didn’t like it might possibly be too mild a statement. I came close to hating Soulcalibur III on more than one occasion during my recent playthrough for the purposes of this article. I got so angry at one stage that I actually gave myself indigestion, which hasn’t happened with a game for a long time, especially as I have less of a bulbous gut than I once sported, so angerising myself into belching thankfully isn’t too regular an occurrence. However, Soulcalibur III managed it, and I’ll hope to succinctly explain why in the following article.

I feel I should start off with what I liked about Soulcalibur III first though as there was stuff about it that I thought was good, and it will help give this write-up a bit of balance before I start whining like a five-year-old who accidentally let go of a helium-filled balloon whilst walking back from a birthday party. Soulcalibur III looks pretty great, for the most part, with the fighting arenas in particular being superbly detailed and full of atmosphere. Whether you’re doing battle on a ship that is constantly toing and throwing or clashing weaponry on a river of lava, Soulcalibur III has no shortage of interesting fighting stages. Combined with the usual good Namco musical score, Soulcalibur III’s fights are treats not just for the eyes but the ears also, and it’s certainly the game’s strongest area in this humble scribe’s opinion.

Soulcalibur III does also bring some decent longevity to the table as well, with multiple different single-player modes to go along with the expected multiplayer action. The usual arcade ladder mode has been eschewed for a more story-driven single-player campaign called “Tale of Souls”, which actually involves branching paths that see you fight different opponents depending on what choices you make. This adds some variety to what would otherwise be a straightforward “beat a certain number of people in a row” progression system that most fighting games use, with certain cutscenes having quick time events that can in turn affect the upcoming fight. For instance, before doing battle with Raphael, he will try to stick you with the end of his poisoned rapier, and he will succeed if you fail to input the quick time command at the right moment. This will cause your health to slowly drain down during the fight, adding some required urgency if you are to win in time.

You can still just go straight to a standard arcade ladder-styled mode too, if you wish, in “Soul Arena”, and there’s even a mode specifically designed for your own created fighter that has RPG elements called “Chronicles of the Sword”. Oh yes, you can actually create your own fighter now, although I must concede that the creation suite is hardly top of the range. WWF No Mercy this ain’t, but it’s a nice addition for those who feel like getting a tad creative, I guess. I’ve never really been one for “create your own character and then play out the story” modes, if I’m honest, and I usually tend to give them a miss. Ultimately, I don’t want to create my own character because I’m not especially good at it. Last time I checked, it was the developer’s job to design and create the characters, not mine.

That wasn’t my bone of contention with Soulcalibur III though. No, that was instead the frankly ludicrous difficulty spikes in Tales of Souls mode, which at times drove me to near madness, especially as the mode itself doesn’t have an adjustable difficulty mode. Project Soul has never been shy of making the last couple of fights in the arcade ladder mode particularly tricky (I still shudder at the thought of having to fight Cervantes in Soul Blade, for instance), but this time they decided to go with that difficulty level for the majority of Tales of Souls mode, making it a frustrating and aggravating slog.

I did make sure to have a look online just to check if this was me just being rubbish (which often times is a valid answer), but I saw plenty of others had issues with the difficulty too, so it thankfully wasn’t just me. Opponents will block everything you do and will tear your health to bits with a mere handful of attacks, with some fighters in particular being so overpowered sometimes that you have to choose between restarting the mode or losing large chunks of your life trying to get past them. New character Setsuka in particular is an absolute horror, especially if you’re unlucky enough to get stuck with facing her with just a couple of fights to go. I honestly could not hit her, and she could take me apart in about five seconds most of the time; it was absolutely brutal.

What really roasted my raisins though was that there wasn’t an option to amend the difficulty outside of the Soul Arena, meaning that you were stuffed if you were at best a moderate player. I know that some people really like playing difficult games, with some like Dark Souls not even having adjustable difficulty levels, with the default difficulty being all you get. The difference is that a game like Dark Souls is openly marketed as being a really hard game, which means that people can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to play it. There’s no secret or subterfuge going on, Dark Souls is absolute nails, and it’s blatant about it, even proud of it. Soulcalibur III is supposed to be a mainstream fighting game, so you’d expect it to be a tad more forgiving.

To be blunt, if I hadn’t felt compelled to play further due to doing this write up, I probably would have stopped playing Soulcalibur III long before I actually did as it got to the point that I wasn’t gleaning any real enjoyment from it. It became a frustrating slog that only served to make me miserable. I’m sure there are many out there who enjoy this game, but alas, I am not one of them. It’s a shame as I’ve mostly enjoyed this trip through the early history of the Soul fighting games. If I ever bother to buy another Xbox 360 at some stage (this would be the third or fourth one, I think), then I might give Soulcalibur IV another look, but until then, we’ll step away from the series for a while.

I hope you all had fun reading these. Next week I’ll be doing a Fitzgerald Scale article on a more modern game, so if that sounds like fun to you, then feel free to check-in next Tuesday!

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