Colorwind Reviews SoulCalibur II–Does The Soul Still Burn?

Fighting games rejuvenated the arcade market in the early 90s. Street Fighter II was a sensation and many imitators soon followed. One of the essential reasons for the success of fighting games is the competitive nature of the genre. I remember people gathered around Super Street Fighter II, Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat II cabinets and watching the players fight against each others while aspiring combatants placed their token or quarter on the edge of the plastic surrounding the screen, a sign of dibs on the next game. Tournaments such as EVO pit gamers against each other in various fighting titles with the promise of a cash award and props for the year. Fighting games are a genre that has the potential to display video games as a competitive sport.

However, one of the unfortunate similarities between fighting games and video games based on professional sports is that once a new installment is released, the previous title is now inferior and is to be cast aside. Also, in terms of the Street Fighter series, the newer installment is usually a slight upgrade and not a significant one. Sometimes, the previous game is superior to the new game. Nonetheless, the newer title will become the new norm.

SoulCalibur II was released by Namco in August of 2003 as a follow-up to the first SoulCalibur. The first game was released on the Dreamcast as a launch title and was a critical darling. IGN, EGM, GamePro, Famitsu, and Gamespot all gave it a perfect score and it averages a 98 on Metacritic. SoulCalibur is easily one of the greatest fighting games ever released and is one of the greatest games period ever released. Such a high bar is next to impossible to reach, let alone surpass it. However, how does this entry into the Soul series rate on its own merit?

SoulCalibur II has impressive visuals and art design. The stages are very well designed and the character models have a great animation style that makes them really pop off the screen. Before anyone says anything, yes, the women in this game are all well endowed; special care was given to the breast physics (or what guys would like the physics to be) and Taki and Ivy might as well be naked. The character designs, specifically the women, are questionable but the fighters are all given depth in both their backstory and fighting mechanics, all things considered. The Xbox version of the game looks particularly good as it’s possible to play it in 720p High Definition. The sound design is solid as well. The announcer is cheesier than a Double-Double at In-N-Out Burger but it fits the atmosphere of the game well. The songs are epic compositions and help make every round an epic battle every match is designed to be.

Pretty in HD, isn't it?

The story continues the previous game’s storyline and follows the character Nightmare. After being defeated, he is resurrected four years later and now continues to steals souls for the demonic blade he’s possessed by, Soul Edge. Fighters from around the world search for the wielder of Soul Edge, some to destroy it and some for their own gain. 23 characters are selectable, including an exclusive character different depending on which version of the game you purchased. PlayStation 2 owners will get Heihachi Mishima from the Tekken series, Xbox owners will have Spawn from comic book fame, and GameCube owners can control Link from the Legend of Zelda series.

There are many modes in the game to keep you busy. The typical Arcade, Versus, Team Battle, Survival, and Practice are all included but there’s also a Weapon Master mode where you complete various challenges and earn gold in order to purchase new weapons and costumes, as well as unlock other features. This is the meat of the game and where you’ll spend most of your time. Although not perfect, it’s an improvement over the Mission mode in the first game. While the mode gives you a lot to do, there are some unbalanced difficulty issues and the dungeons are tedious.

The graphics, sound, and modes are all improved over the original game. While the gameplay has its faults, it is one of the best aspects of overall experience. Although not a particularly complex fighting game as matches can boil down to button mashing, skill is required and completing combos will take practice. Controls are also solid but PlayStation 2 owners have the advantage of the PS2’s controller, with its superior d-pad and button layout. However, the GameCube controller is surprisingly playable and the Xbox controller works well also. Of course, an arcade stick will solve all of this no matter what version you get.

However, there are three problems with the combat. The first one is actually one shared with the previous game. The power up mode activated by pressing A+B+K is still relatively worthless. The second problem is the guard impact system. The first game gave you the option to parry by pushing your opponent forward or throwing their footing off to the side for both high and low attacks. Now you can only push forward opponents with high attacks and throw their footing off with low attacks. This was done to balance the game but instead it just ends up being a downgrade. Finally, the biggest problem with the game is its fluidity. The game is not smooth, glitches are abound. Moments where you’ll wonder WTF happened occur more than they should and sometimes when you lose, you’ll know it wasn’t your fault. The combat is just not as polished as it used to be.

SoulCalibur II is an extremely fun game that everyone should have in their collection. It’s biggest fault is having to follow the superior SoulCalibur. I have many memories of the Dreamcast game but I have even more of 2 because my friends and I played it more. Now, we play 4 (we skipped 3 because of the saving glitch). SoulCalibur II is not a perfect game and there are noticeable issues, such as the inability to play as the previously playable boss character Inferno and the strange decision to make extra modes just so you can use the weapons you unlock when it could’ve been a setting before a match.

Still, the game is still fun today, even if there are newer releases in this series. If you are torn between the three versions, I personally recommend the Xbox version due to the faster loading times, superior graphics and surprisingly well designed Spawn character, as well as the more traditional controller. However, if you love the Legend of Zelda series, I’m sure you already have your heart set on the GameCube version. I do have to commend Namco for giving the game an extremely accurate tag line: “A Tale of Souls and Swords, Eternally Retold.”

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5

Want more reviews? Check out Gaming Precision for more!

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