Fighting Game Retro-View: Soul Calibur III

Last night I dusted off my copy of Soul Calibur III and got to playing again, as a way of warming up for Soulcalibur IV later this July. I played the game on my PS3 and HDTV, and so I got to thinking… why not do a retro-view? Of course, it’s not fair to judge the game against the new Next-Gen sequel, but this isn’t a bashing of the installment, but more of a way to look back at where we were, and hopefully a bit of insight into where we’re going with the next Calibur.

Soul Calibur III, for starters, still looks pretty slick, even after several years and on a HDTV and PS3. It still is one of the best-looking PS2 games, although on an HDTV you can easily see the PS2 level of graphics. The presentation though is top notch, and the game certainly still lends itself to hours and hours of play. As a Lone Gamer, I totally appreciate the game’s huge emphasis on the single-player experience.
The Story of Soul Calibur III takes up on a relative high note- the evil sword Soul Edge was sealed by the knight Siegfried, who had regained his own mind and sanity. However, Soul Edge’s evil was not easily contained, and a new, but temporary host for it’s power, Nightmare, had been reborn. Siegfried and Nightmare were seeking each other out, ready to face off once again. Meanwhile, new players entered the field, including a dark-skinned, scythe-wielding mystery man named Zasalamel, who moved to manipulate the events around the two swords of power for his own purposes. The maniacal Tira, a servant of Soul Edge, is also introduced, along with her deadly bladed hoop. Finally, the beautiful, kimono-clad Setsuka makes her debut, with a lethal blade hidden within a decorative parasol.

Tales of Souls, the expanded Story Mode which contains a choose-your-own-adventure type of interface with branching paths and the occasional interactive cutscene, is one of the cooler additions that debuted in SCIII. It encourages repeat plays, and there are stuff you need to really work at, such as making your way to the game’s hidden True End Boss. I myself haven’t found the bastard, but maybe in the weeks heading into SCIV I’ll give it a shot again.

Chronicles of the Sword is easily the game’s most controversial mode, and a lot of flack was thrown at SCIII for it. COTS was an unwieldy melding of an RTS, complete with large, zoomed-out maps/battlefields to navigate around in, and the usual Soul Calibur one-on-one matches. The mode put you in the boots of a young cadet fighting in a vicious war between empires, with your protagonist eventually working his/her way from taking on training missions to fighting for the fate of a country. If that sounds epic, it’s actually not. For one thing, your ‘army’ consists usually of three to four fighters (that you either create or recruit) and you’ll spend most of your time staring at the map as your tiny fighters’ icons run slowly from garrisoned fortress or town to the next, bashing down doors to get at the enemy holed up inside.
In fact, an enemy outpost doesn’t even need to have anyone inside- you’ll still have to bash down a door or gate to get through. This is, to say the least, pretty boring and tedious. Generally though, this is a much-expanded (or perhaps bloated is more like it) Mission Mode, with the basic goal of defeating all enemies being the norm the whole time, in about 20 or so levels. Well, at least the story is kinda interesting…

Speaking of CAS, the Create-a-Soul or Character Creation Feature is certainly a mode that most players liked from SCIII. While the Character Edit was pretty bare-bones (you could tweak the colors of three parts of each of the established fighters… whoopie), the Character Creation was solid. After choosing the gender of your warrior, you select from various occupations, which range from the speedy and agile Assassin or Thief to the flamboyant Dancer or Pirate, to the formidable Samurai or Barbarian (other classes are unlocked after a while, as are the movesets of the main cast). Once you decide, you then go about fashioning your character’s look, outfitting them with clothing or armor, hairstyles, faces and voice-type, and colors.

The whole thing was, as mentioned, solid and pretty robust, but it had lots of limitations. The variety of clothing and parts of outfits wasn’t as exhaustive as I would have liked, and you couldn’t change the physique of your character- every man and woman had the same body, whether they were young or old. I also found the selection of faces and hairstyles pretty limited (All my CAS girls in SCIII used one face, the best-looking one). Still, it was great and I had hours and hours of fun creating various samurai and ninja babes. You could only store about seven or so characters on a memory card though, with some slots bought from the in-game store.

The Soul Arena took the place of the previous games’ Mission Modes, giving the player access to a variety of mini-games that range from simple battles on moving platforms, sudden-death duels, a fight with a giant statue and more. It was fun, and you unlocked more games, and higher difficulty levels, as you played.

The Museum was the game’s repository of stuff and swag, from artwork and movies to a Battle Theater where you could pit characters against one another under your chosen conditions, including your CAS warriors.

Along with the regular bunch of usual options and VS modes, Soul Calibur III was, in my opinion, one of the best and most complete game packages on the PS2. It was that which made it my favorite of the series (well, until SCIV comes along), despite the eventual issues of character balance that haunted the installment afterwards. SCIII was a grade-A, top-notch example of how console ports of fighters should be, and it set the bar for the series yet again.

Soulcalibur IV, which seems to take off a lot from SCIII, has a firm foundation of quality. Certainly from all that we’ve read, seen and heard about the game, it’s at least SCIII with next-gen polish, and that alone is reason to jump for joy. But of course, we can expect that Project Soul will be taking their latest game deeper, better and beyond the borders they broke in the previous game. The graphics are easily ten times better. The gameplay is gonna be faster, smoother and more flashy and exciting. The Character Creation and Customization is tons deeper and more detailed, with gobs more options. There’s gonna be loads of secrets, stuff to unlock and find.

For now, I’m going to be playing through SCIII to re-train myself with my favorite fighters, in preparation for the action in SCIV. Hopefully it’ll also make time move a little faster since I just can’t wait for July to be over. Soulcalibur IV is gonna ROCK.

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