Soul Calibur VI – Slicing and Dicing Through Time
Reviewing SoulCalibur VI was quite the challenge, considering I generally have a distaste for fighting games. Not that I can’t appreciate the fighting genre’s mechanical intricacies and deep strategies – especially from the world’s top esports players – I’ve just never been any good at them, nor had much interest in rectifying the fact. To me, the various button inputs for devastating combos requires contortion of a higher degree of difficulty than the maneuvers in the Kama Sutra. So I’ve been told. However, despite my natural aversion to fighting games, SoulCalibur VI is an enjoyable time, featuring plenty of mostly good single-player content for those who are most likely to have their arses kicked online (me).
For new players, or anyone else seeking the best starting point in SoulCalibur VI, the Libra of Souls (LoS) mode is the way to go. This single-player adventure sees you create your own character to explore the events of the first SoulCalibur game set in late 16th century Europe.
Creating a character is a surprisingly deep venture. No, that’s not a crude reference to that well-endowed lizardman we’ve all seen on the internet – I can’t believe you think I would erect such flaccid innuendo in my review! Getting back to the point, SoulCalibur VI’s character creation offers many different options, ranging from race, physical attributes, clothing, and fighting style. I created a fabulous fighter who looks like he just walked off stage from his 80s hair metal tribute act – ain’t he great?
Once you’ve created your fighter extraordinaire, LoS sees your character wake from a searingly painful nightmare to discover they have been affected by the Evil Seed – a great evil that suddenly burst out of Western Europe. Thankfully, they avoided being consumed by this evil presence and becoming a possessed demonic entity known as the “Malfested”, but the situation remains dire. By sealing and absorbing cosmic rips called “Astral Fissures”, your fighter is able to fight off the evil simmering within. What follows is an adventure of fighting alongside and against classic SoulCalibur characters in pursuit of the powerful sword, Soul Edge.
Taking place on an overworld map, the story of LoS is told predominantly through static cutscenes, with text and voice acting producing the passable exposition. It’s all very silly melodramatic stuff, but the lore is entertaining enough to carry things along. On this map, you begin at a training dojo where the battle tutorial takes place. The basics are easy enough to follow, but more complex moves are a bit of a jump to remember. This learning load for new players would be lessened if each training segment was woven into the story, with a handful of fights in between, requiring the preceding techniques to be used for victory. Additionally, the tutorial provides no feedback based on your button inputs and timing – I was trying to perform an Ukemi for recovering after being forced to the ground, but I fumbled around for ages not knowing the exact timing of such a precise maneuver. Was it supposed to be the moment I hit the ground? What specific moment of the animation is considered to be “hitting the ground”? I had no idea. Not to mention that some techniques are told via text boxes; after completing one tutorial, I was greeted by a text box which boiled down to “Great job! Here’s another complicated technique, but there’s no need to practise that, haha!” Fortunately, the combat otherwise feels great, with plenty of basic moves giving enough depth to counter most of what opponents will throw at you.
Featuring a levelling system, LoS incorporates some basic RPG elements, where your character receives experience after battles, and you can purchase weapons and items for extra combat bonuses. This feels like an arbitrary method of difficulty management, where instead of enemies using more advanced techniques, they deal more damage while you dish out less. Frustratingly, some battles force you to grind for levels and better items due to their unreasonably high-level demands for you to be competitive, which is not helped by the uninteresting side quests, of which there are many. Granted, there are plenty of battles with imposed conditions which do make things more interesting, such as throws dealing more damage, or certain abilities are disabled. This is a nice way of encouraging experimentation with techniques you may have previously ignored.
Of greater consistency is the main, albeit more linear, story, titled Soul Chronicle. Cutting out much of the bloat seen in LoS, Soul Chronicle takes place on a timeline view, where you can jump between the main story or individual character vignettes at any time. The main story component sees you play predominantly as Kilik and Xianghua, as the duo encounter various SoulCalibur cast members en route to destroying the evil sword. Soul Chronicle moves with nice pacing, providing enough background to get invested in the stakes and characters, and avoids plodding along like LoS. However, it does mean that dramatic beats, twists and conflicts tend to land a bit softly because of this briskness. SoulCalibur VI’s star cameo, Geralt of Rivea from The Witcher, also gets his own vignette, with some thin veneer of plot resulting in the silver-haired hunter getting sucked into the game’s universe. It doesn’t really matter how he ended up here, it’s just cool to crack some skulls using moves fans of The Witcher will be familiar with.
SoulCalibur VI’s overall presentation is impressive, ranging from beautifully drawn artwork, stunning arena vistas, and a stirring soundtrack. Although the cutscenes featured in the story modes offer little in the way of variation, the characters and background feature a gorgeous hand-drawn quality, which extends to the artwork seen in menus and SoulCalibur VI’s interface in general. In fights, each arena takes place during different times of the day each time you play them, including different weather effects – some of which have tangible effects on the battle, such as rain causing slippery surfaces. The lighting effects caused by different times of day are a visual feast; my favourite being the classic golden-hour of sunset, which casts a beautiful warm glow on the battlefield and the sharp character models. Never before has Voldo’s spiked codpiece looked so… good? And, of course, the visual effects for the various special moves are *dazzling*. Capping things off, the intense symphonic music punctuates fights brilliantly, such as the Pirates of the Carribean-esque motif that plays during the docks arena.
Although of limited appeal to me, SoulCalibur VI’s online mode is a functional-but-barebones affair. Aside from the typical online leaderboards, there doesn’t appear to be a heap of variety or customisation in online encounters. I actually won a battle, which mentioning here serves no functional purpose to the review other than to go on record as having beaten someone online in a fighting game. How many attempts this feat took is utterly irrelevant.
One problematic aspect of SoulCalibur VI which will have varying degrees of annoyance depending on your perspective and expectations is the propensity to fall into the “lingerie as armour” trope. SoulCalibur VI’s dudes are partial to showing a bit of flesh, but some of the women don’t appear to be all that combat ready by comparison. Particularly for some of the women characters, their special moves’ camera angles leer and linger a bit too long to avoid being objectifying. Ivy especially; she has huge… gauntlets, but little else covering her equally massive mammaries. Game characters can wear whatever they dang well please, but there’s a noticeable disconnect between showing confident and strong characters while also being designed with titillation in mind. I suppose the audience has come to expect “anime tiddies” from this kind of game, but it may be a turn-off for those who are sick of seeing women dressed more for the bedroom than the battlefield.
Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed my time with SoulCalibur VI. Coming in as a fighting noob, I found its fighting system to be surprisingly approachable but layered with many techniques to learn. However, the Libra of Souls single-player mode feels bloated with an arbitrary levelling system and uninteresting encounters compared to the more interesting lore-building timelines in Soul Chronicle. In the end, SoulCalibur VI’s accessible yet deep fighting mechanics, combined with plenty of mostly-good single-player content, makes for a decent combat experience, irrespective of whether you know what a Soul Calibur or a Soul Edge is.