Friday, March 06, 2009

Welcome Back...To The Stage Of History

I so desperately wanted to like Soul Calibur IV. I mean really wanted to like it. Loved Soul Calibur. Loved Soul Calibur II, Loved Soul Calibur III (never played Soul Calibur Legends, but then again, no one did. ZING!).

It was a winning formula before. What happened?

First the good. Major next gen graphics upgrade. A bit obvious, considering it’s a next gen game, but it looks fantastic. The character creation system got a major upgrade from III. Adding sliders for almost everything made a world of difference (and also allowed the adolescent to put F cups on characters). The weapon enhancement system is pretty nice too, adding some depth. The actual gameplay is pretty solid too with a few exceptions to get to later.

So what’s not to like about it? For all of the actual upgrades they added, there’s a lot of steps away from things that made the game great in the first place.

1. Story Mode: Only 5 missions, making it the shortest in the series. III’s labyrinthine story (and multiple endings depending on what buttons you press) stands as an immediate contrast.

2. Survival Mode: A standard of the series, right? Well, now its only accessible through the Tower of Lost Souls mode and you have to pick two character to go through it. This in itself isn’t bad, but what if you want just a standard survival mode with one character and no weapon effects/costume effects? No dice.

3. Multi-character fights: A lot of fights involve fighting a string of enemies one by one. When one is defeated, the next one charges in swinging. The problem here is that when you ring out a character (you know, one of the most reliable ways to end a fight), you’re still staring at the splash they make and can’t turn around to prepare yourself for the next guy that you KNOW is coming. So you wait there, shuffling from side to side leaving your back completely exposed.

4. The Weapon/Costume Enhancement System: It’s a double edged sword. The depth is nice, but not when you want to maximize your survivability. Some costume items may look cool but actually end up hurting your defense/offense/hit points. Min-maxing can result if you want an edge in survival mode.

5. Shallow Single Player: I realize it’s the first in the series to have online multiplayer (I don’t know if the Dreamcast version did…) but what if I don’t have or want an X Box Gold account? I’m stuck with Story Mode, standard Arcade Mode, and story-less Tower of Lost Souls.

6. Character Variety: Naturally, all games in fighting franchise add new characters to the storyline . 2 Added Cassandra, Raphael, Necrid, Yunsung, Talim, 3 proxies for Lizardman, Rock & Hwang, and a guest character depending on the console (Heihachi, Spawn or Link). That’s 5 new characters with fully fleshed out storylines in the game world (not counting the random imitator guys like Charade & Olcadan). 3 Brought back Rock and added Tira, Zasalamel and Setsuka as fully fleshed out characters, then threw in a ton of bonus weapon styles that were either incomplete or broken, but out of these, Arthur, Li Long, Hwang, Amy and a couple others had a place in the game world. Some of the other characters were unique to the campaign mode, but they weren’t too out of place among the normal characters (in appearance). 4 has only two new characters that aren’t a guest or a bonus, Hilde & Algol (Amy already existed in 3). Now, admittedly, she’s pretty cool with the sword & spear style, and Algol’s the boss of the game (and a big cup of crazy moves voiced by the guy who did Lu Bu in the Warriors Orochi, which, by the way, I finally unlocked the last character of, okay, random tangent over) but the bonus characters? They’re all clones of somebody else in the game. Shura’s a Cervantes clone for example. Some of them don’t even make sense in the aesthetic of the game: Angol Fear & her attack nipples, for example. Oh, and this really burns me. Using a character gains levels for the character (in terms of how many enhancement slots they have), but the clones have their own levels, separate from their clone daddies. One doesn’t carry over to the other (which it does for the Create-A-Soul characters you make). If Shura has the same exact moves as Cervantes, she shouldn’t have her own fighting style for leveling purposes.

And then there’s the guest characters. They’re from Star Wars. Now, I know what you’re thinking. 2 had guest characters, isn’t that the same thing? Yes and no. Spawn was kind of a weird one, but they gave him an axe. Heihachi was from Namco’s other big fighting franchise Tekken, so he made sense. Link, despite looking completely different, came with a sword and shield, making a perfect fit. 4’s bonus characters all have lightsabers, weapons that can cut through just about anything unless there’s a plot infused macguffin to prevent that. Maxi’s nunchaku shouldn’t be able to block Darth Vader’s lightsaber. Still, the last fighting game featuring Star Wars characters was Masters of Teras Kasi, and the less said about that the better.

So the Star Wars characters are Darth Vader, Yoda & the Apprentice from The Force Unleashed. Now, Vader & the Apprentice both have pretty cool move sets and without the force powers could fit in pretty well in Soul Calibur. Yoda on the other hand is pretty broken. He’s a tiny target that can’t be thrown. Not even Yoda can throw Yoda in a mirror match. He’s just…annoying. Personally, I’d rather they fleshed out & balanced the bonus weapons from 3, because I’d rather have a wave sword or grieve edge in a SOUL CALIBUR game than Jedi.

Its…its…Basically it comes down to feeling like there’s less game for the buck. The new, innovative stuff that’s actually there is pretty nice, but it feels like less game than the last gen games in the franchise. I don’t hate it, but I…don’t like it.

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