Retro Respawn – Soul Month Part Two – Soulcalibur

Hello, dear reader, and welcome to Part Two of “Soul Month”, where we look at the only game in the Soul fighting series that hit the famed SEGA Dreamcast console in the form of Soulcalibur. The Dreamcast has always been one of those consoles that people seem to love, even though I’ve just never really been able to get on board with it. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of the big hitters from its game library, such as Crazy Taxi and Shenmue II, and it also has some really fun releases, like ChuChu Rocket! and Samba de Amigo, that bring something really interesting to the table that other consoles might not. Despite that, when it comes to the sixth gen of consoles, I’m sorry to say that the Dreamcast slots into a comfortable fourth place in my personal list when matched up against the other three consoles from that period.

It’s more the little things that niggle, such as the general lack of third-party support and the fact the wire for the controller comes out of the bottom for some reason (seriously, who thought that would be a comfortable design choice?). That all being said, Soulcalibur is almost certainly a “killer app” for the console, with it not only being one of the most beloved fighting games of all time but straight up one of the most popular video games in general. It was certainly a fantastic choice as a launch game for the fledgling Dreamcast as it not only plays really well but also looks superb for the timeframe, with nicely animated fighters duking it out in sumptuous battle stages. It even comes with the option to play in 60hz, which was not de-rigueur over here in Europe at the time, and it was really nice to have the chance of playing it that way.

The localisation feels like it was a tad rushed when it comes to the character voices as they haven’t bothered to bring in any English voice actors this time, which is a shame as some of the hilariously bad English voice acting back in Soul Blade brought some campy charm to the proceedings. Despite that though, everything is at least subtitled, and the Japanese voice actors do a good job getting across the characters’ personalities. All but one of the original cast from Soul Blade (Li Long) make their return in Soulcalibur, with the story still centring around them all trying to get their grubby mitts on cursed evil sword Soul Edge for their own personal reasons. The sword is now held by Nightmare, who is the creature poor Siegfried turned into at the end of the first game, and he’s been a busy boy since then, slicing and dicing his way through the world to feed the sword with the souls of his victims.

Amongst the newbies to the series are big axe-wielding monster heel Astaroth, nunchaku master Maxi and Yoshimitsu from the Tekken series of games, in the first instance of it being made clear that the two games share the same universe. It should be pointed out that this version of Mitsi is not the same one from the Tekken games but rather an ancestor who set the ball rolling for what would become the Manji Clan in Namco’s other fighting series. Playing as Mitsi is a lot of fun as Project Soul have made sure to include a lot of the character’s notable Tekken moves, and he plugs in pretty well to the Soul button set-up, which once again uses two buttons for weapon attacks, another for kicks and a fourth one for blocking.

Yes, you once again need to use a specific button for blocking, but I must say that I was getting far more used to it after sinking some time into both Soulcalibur and Soul Blade over the past couple of weeks. I still personally prefer the “free block” you get from just walking backwards in the Tekken and Street Fighter games, but this way works too, I guess. A big change to the gameplay itself comes in the form of the “eight-way run”, which sees you being able to move around the fighting arena in any direction you please just by holding down the joystick. This does mean that those who got used to the jumping mechanics in Soul Blade might find Soulcalibur a bit of a shock at first, but I must admit to really digging the freedom of movement the new layout presented, and I had lots of fun using it in fights.

Soulcalibur reviewed very well at the time of its release, and it still holds a mightily impressive score of 98 over on Metacritic, with a user score of 8.5 being nothing to sneeze at either. I can certainly understand why it is such a beloved game as it not only has really enjoyable gameplay but also great presentation to go along with it. There is still the odd annoyance from the CPU-controlled fighters sometimes, such as Seung Mina not only being lethal from range but also seemingly blocking EVERY one of your attacks sometimes if you get set up against her in the latter stages of an arcade run.

I can also see a character like Maxi getting a similar bad rep to the one Eddy Gordo gets in the Tekken games due to him coming across as a real button masher’s dream. These are minor quibbles though, and overall, Soulcalibur is a perfect example of what you should be aiming for with a launch game for a new console. Soulcalibur is not only eminently playable, but it also works fantastically as a showcase for what the Dreamcast was capable of. It’s one of those games that really gives the player a metaphorical slap in the face to wake them up to the potential of the new next-gen console, which is what the Dreamcast needed when it first hit the shelves.

As mentioned at the start of this article, Soulcalibur was the only game in the Soul series to get a run out on the Dreamcast as the console had sadly bitten the dust by the time Soulcalibur II was getting prepped to hit the home console market. It has aged very well though, and still stands the test of time, in my opinion. Yes, better games have come since from a graphical perspective, but the game still manages to be a treat for your retinas, and the gameplay is so polished and well executed that I think any lover of fighting games would struggle not to get a kick out of it. Hopefully, you can all join me next week when I take a look at Soulcalibur II as there’s no shortage of interesting novelties about it!

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