The Soul Still Burns: Soulcalibur IV PS3 Review

Okay, here it is. I’ve gotten quite a bit of playtime through the latest Soulcalibur game, and I think it’s time I posted the final review. Keep in mind though folks that I’m the LONE GAMER, so I won’t talk much (if at all) about online play- my internet isn’t the fastest, so I really haven’t attempted to join any lagfest. This is purely a review on the game’s single-player experience, or if you have mates in the house. Okay, let’s get into it.

It’s been quite a while since the last installment- back then, Soulcalibur was actually TWO separate words. Man, things change. But actually, this latest chapter in the Tale of Souls and Swords seems to take place very soon after the events depicted in Soul Calibur III’s Story Mode. The supposedly final duel between Siegfried and Nightmare turned out to be anti-climactic, ending in an explosive draw that sent both warriors far away from each other and spoiling for a rematch. Nightmare, basically a suit of old armor animated by Soul Edge’s evil power, came to rest in Ostrheinsburg Castle, where he soon establishes as his base of operations. All manner of warriors soon converge on Ostrheinsburg, seeking various goals- from power to redemption, salvation and duty, honor and love. But even as the two swords of power and their wielders prepare to have at it one final time, something… or someone… with great power has been awakened from the bowels of Ostrheinsburg…

GRAPHICS: 5/5
You’ve seen the screenshots and let me say that they pretty much give it out. Soulcalibur IV is freakin’ gorgeous. The whole visual look of the game retains much of the imagery and style from the previous SCIII, but amped up with tons more polygons, hi-res eye candy and some of the loveliest character models in a fighting game you’ve yet seen. SCIV’s character models are simply beautiful from head to toe, sporting lavish detail and animations, improved facial features and hair, as well as realistic armor and clothing textures. Stages are imaginative and atmospheric, setting the stage wonderfully for some flashy duels. Even outside of gameplay, menus still reflect the Calibur vibe.

The Good: Beautiful character models (whether clothed or unclothed!) and silky-smooth animations, cool stages, awesome hit effects and explosions.
The Bad: Still some occasional clipping and bodies sinking into floors, but basically just little nitpicks.
The Ugly: Certainly NOT the Soulcalibur IV babes!

SOUND AND MUSIC: 4.5/5
The music is still your expected fantasy/epic scores as befits a Soulcalibur game, and the game clashes with sounds of steel with every button press. Voice acting is competent to excellent in both English and Japanese voice tracks. SCIV once again continues the tradition of having an overly-dramatic voiceover mouthing off grandiose intro lines before every fight, which is not a bad or good thing- it’s just the way things are.

The Good: Lots of suitably epic music and tunes to get your soul burning for a fight. Voices are fine, even the english dubs.
The Bad: Some of the more high-pitched female voices GRATE like cat claws on a blackboard.
The Ugly:

GAMEPLAY: 4
As with past Caliburs, Soulcalibur IV once again impresses with solid weapon-based fighting action that is as accessible and playable as it is deep and full of nuances and technique. Anyone can just jump right in and start playing, but it will take practice and knowledge of the many moves and combos in any characters’ arsenals as well as quick reflexes and skill to really get good in this game in serious competition.
The Single-Player game this time around is a bit cut back after the big steps made in SCIII. The Story Mode features some tag-team play as your main player often has an ally you can ‘tag’ in to continue a combo or give your comrade some recovery time. Several of the five stages will have you fight up to four opponents in quick succession with just one life bar. Cutscenes are few, while each character has one real-time ending cinematic to reveal how they end up. It’s short but sweet, and I enjoyed the Story Mode, to be honest. Some of the endings are pretty good and worth seeing, though you also have to deal with some weirdness.
Tower of Lost Souls is the other big single-player mode, and it’s 60 or so floors or stages of fights against multiple opponents (again, in succession with just one life bar). There are secret conditions for unlocking a ‘treasure chest’ which will give you more items for Character Creation. The challenge level of TOLS is pretty hard, and you’ll most probably need to customize character(s) with appropriate skills and weapons to make things a little bit easier. Overall, this mode should have a lot of longevity, if frustration doesn’t set in first.

VS Mode can be played against the CPU if you don’t have friends around, and you can choose any fighter, regular or customized, from easy level to Edge Master Hard. This is cool if you want to see your CAS creations in action.

Soulcalibur IV’s Practice Mode retains much of the stuff from SCIII, which means it’s pretty awesome. Move lists and demos, the ability to record moves for a CPU dummy to do, using CAS or customized characters, replays- this is how practice modes for a fighter should be done.

And of course, there’s Character Creation, which returns from SCIII. This time around, the feature has been greatly improved, though quite a bit of stuff has been removed. The edited-out things include all the character classes, like your stock samurai and barbarian styles, and the ridiculous dancer and saints. Players will have to make do with the fighting styles of the existing Soulcalibur cast. How do you make your character unique? Clothing and armor now gives various bonuses to your fighter’s skills, making them stronger or weaker depending on what you wear. There’s a bit of RPG levelling-up in SCIV, giving the game quite a bit of depth.

A big addition to SCIV is the ability to customize the main cast of fighters- while you could only edit some colors in SCIII, now you can mess with wardrobes- strip down your fave SCIV hunk or babe down to their underwear if you want, or dress them up in clothing they’d never wear otherwise. It’s all up to you. Your control is limited in that you can’t mess too much with the default P1 outfit, nor can you change the character’s face, skin color or other ‘permanent’ features. So if you’ve ever dreamed of staging underwear fights between the girls or a duel between a NAKED Lizardman and Nightmare… go wild.

Overall, while the items and clothing available for creating your character, as well as faces, hair and such, seem to be less than that available in SCIII, but there’s a decent spread of stuff to use, plus the new addition of more control of colors, the ability to change muscle mass and physique of your character models (although this is usually only obvious when your character is near-naked) and voice depth as well as more control over your character’s alignment (now, cotton panties will not make you evil) make it all seem so much more detailed and fun.

This is surely a mode that will give both casual players and hardcore frustrated game designers hours, or even days and days, of fun.

The Good: Lots of fun to be had. Tower of Lost Souls and Character Creation should keep you playing long after you’ve beaten Story Mode to death. Practice mode is still pretty awesome.
The Bad: Omissions of stuff like Exhibition, Battle Theater and a proper Survival and Team Battle mode.
The Ugly: The pregenerated characters you start with whenever you start making a new CAS… can you say, fashion apocalypse?

EXTRAS: 4.5
The whole gaming world took a double-take at Soulcalibur IV when it was revealed that Star Wars characters’ Darth Vader and Yoda would be appearing as ‘guest’ characters. Some will hate it, some will love it, but you certainly can’t ignore it. The SW mainstays appear in the trailers, the intro and in gameplay. To be honest, it’s not that bad, and thankfully Darth Vader isn’t massively overpowered (though his trademark overhead throw is easily abused for sure ring-out victories)- in fact, he’s pretty slow and unimpressive compared to any of the regular SCIV cast. The big add-on is actually Starkiller, AKA The Apprentice, another SW character and hero of the upcoming Force Unleashed game. He’s fast and has tons of combos and flashy force-moves that actually make Vader look like an outdated old man (which he is, actually). He’s almost the most difficult enemy in the game in CPU hands and may take a couple of attempts to take down.

Another addition are the ‘Bonus Characters’- five female fighters created and designed by various manga artists in Japan. Unfortunately, their moves are just copied from existing fighters, which kinda waters down their worth- add to this the fact that their endings are artwork still and not actual cinematics like the other fighters, and I just got the feeling the bonus fighters are just, in anime terms, filler content. On the other hand, I love oni girl Kamikirimusi’s design. Again, like the SW guests, you can just ignore the Bonus girls if you hate ’em.

OVERALL SCORE: 4/5
A worthy addition to the series, Soulcalibur IV is, in some ways, Soulcalibur III without the crappy, boring stuff and shiny, new next-gen graphical punch. It’s more of an evolution from the last game rather than the big leap SCIII was from SCII. On the other hand, there’s tons of fun in the game to be had and it’s simply one of the prettiest fighting games you’ll see, as well as one of the most gorgeous games on the PS3. The fighting is still awesome and the characters cooler than ever (excluding the Star Wars and Bonus fighters). This is a must-have for any PS3 owner, and fighting game fans as well. Certainly the Soul still burns, and I for one hope that this tale will continue to be eternally retold. Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have to get back to playing.

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