It’s been a while since I’ve returned to the fighting games genre. My last foray into fighters was with Mortal Kombat X, Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and Injustice 2. I didn’t jump into the most recent Dragon Ball Z games, and Tekken didn’t really grab me enough to warrant my purchase. So, I was a little wary in revisiting something like Soulcalibur VI, a franchise that celebrates its 20 year anniversary in 2018 (that’s of course excluding Soul Edge from its history).
In recent years, Soulcalibur has skipped PC as a designated platform for release. The previous two entries released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, skipping Steam and any other digital distributor. It’s a little telling of the times, considering PC gaming has seen a massive resurgence in the last few years.
First And Foremost, Graphics
The one thing that I’d like to get out of the way first is the discussion surrounding graphics and visuals. As mentioned in our technical review of the game, there are a number of different software applications that can manage your in-game optimization. These come in the form of Nvidia Game Ready Drivers and suites like the Razer Cortex. Both of these are fine, as long as the title in question is supported. I currently use an AMD GPU, so neither was applicable to my setup. However, the game does provide a brief adjustment for graphics, having the game auto-adjust when it’s first booted up.
Sorting through the options menus will still allow you to make visual adjustments as necessary. I found that, for the most part, Soulcalibur VI was polished in both character models and animations. Super attacks or a character’s Critical Edge are probably the most tantalizing of these spectacles. These provide blasts of color and over-the-top animations when enacted. Even in these times, it’s very possible to hit 60 FPS and max settings. The only thing that seemed to put a hamper on this was turning the resolution scaling beyond 150. Equipment, costumes, and characters have smoother edges when doing so.
There are a variety of different levels in Soulcalibur VI. If you are new to the franchise, one of the features is the ability to knock your opponent out of the ring. Most fights occur in areas where this is possible, having an elevated platform where the battle is taking place.
I will say this, though — much of the level design never really had me in awe. The camera traditionally focuses on both of the characters duking it out, readjusting as you can run a full 360 degrees around your opponent. However, most scenes have things like a quaint waterfall animation in the back or rock formations off in the distance. I just never really felt transported to these places.
The Fight Is On
The fighting system in Soulcalibur VI doesn’t overly complicate things, but it isn’t easy, either. For the face buttons, the X serves as your medium hit, the Y as a strong hit, and B as your kick. The A button acts as a guard. Pressing down while holding this allows you to crouch and block. The LB will attempt to throw your opponent, with the RB enacting your Clash Phase or reversal. Once this is done, things are somewhat left up to chance.
When the Clash Phase happens, you can choose either the X, Y, or B buttons to what you will throw. I say that because the game describes it as a “rock, paper, scissors” duel where X>B, B>Y, and Y>X. These can definitely be spammed online, which was apparent in just my second round of online play. If you manage to parry an attack and then move in to enact this, it does somewhat take away from the rest of the combat within the match. I found this offputting at times simply due to things coming down to chance in a competitive circumstance, leaving everything up to fate when health bars are running low.
There is a visible focus on critiquing your previous online matches. Your prior battles are stored in the Battlelog, even keeping replays of your fight. When viewing a replay, you can also select options for your own button presses along with your opponent’s. Other options here include damage indicators to further dissect how you are playing the game to determine offensive and defensive tactics. This is an obvious effort to extend Soulcalibur‘s reach into the esports limelight. Match options come standard with ranked and casual fisticuffs. There is a global leaderboard to also track your battle points. The system ranks by fighting style as well as region. Much like other fighters, there is an option to wait in a queue while playing through the arcade battle.
My Chest’s On… Fire!
The character customizations options for Soulcalibur VI are pretty impressive, albeit a bit clunky to navigate. Many of the options here use the keyboard or controller in order to move about the menus. Easy mouse clicks could alleviate many of the button mishaps here, something that the devs could very well implement with a simple patch. Aside from that, there are tons of options for character clothing, weapons, and even voice phrases. Fighting styles are reflective of characters’ that are on the roster, forming an atmosphere for creation yet ease when it comes to introducing your fighter to online combat. Collecting Soul Points in the game’s Libra of Soul allows you to unlock additional vanity items here.
You might find the header of this section odd. However, “My chest’s on… fire!” was one of the selectable phrases to assign your character in the options menus. So, of course, I did just that. Now go get’em, FluffBuster!
Let’s Go Explorin’
Fighting games usually give you two options when embarking on your journey. There’s often an arcade mode that pits you against a number of different fighters, unlocking new ones as you beat the game with all or select characters. Sometimes, there is a story mode that gives background via cinematics or still graphic images. In the case of Soulcalibur VI, there are a number of different avenues to further flesh out what’s been happing in the game’s world as they near the turn of the 16th century.
There are two story-type modes aside from the arcade battle and online portions of Soulcalibur VI. Those modes are known as the Libra of Soul and the Soul Chronicle sections. At first, I wasn’t exactly drawn to either of these portions of the game. Both start out very slow and take some time to gain your bearings. However, after doing so, they open up some engaging gameplay outside of the standard fighting game rinse-and-repeat battles.
This Ain’t Narnia
The Soul Chronicles portion to the game is essentially the story mode. In this area, the game draws up the story over the course of a timeline that leads you through the events surrounding Soulcalibur VI. The stories told here are from the perspective of each character and expressed in the form of visual graphics and battles. The closest comparison would be something like an interactive visual novel.
During this mode, you can always back out of one story and choose a different character’s viewpoint. These events occur throughout the timeline to give you some better context of the what and, most importantly, when.
What’s Your Sign?
The Libra of Soul calls upon you to take a fairly deep plunge into the lore of the Soulcalibur franchise. This journey consists of role-playing game (RPG) elements, mixed with the occasional battle, and is very text-heavy. Here you can discover even more about each of the main characters of the game but also partake in a light RPG journey. You’ll earn two specific currencies here: Gold and Soul Points.
You can redeem Soul Points for in-game items, like in the character customization screen, and also in your Libra of Soul journey. Gold currency is only redeemable in the Libra of Soul portion. There are a number of different main and side quests to complete here. When it really starts to open up and find its footing, you’ll discover character buffs and a number of different weapons to unlock. You can even increase the size of towns where storefronts are located, thus increasing the quality of products that they yield. Much like other RPGs, certain equipment requires you to level up in order to use them.
I was really surprised at how well both of these play out. I initially thought both were acting as stand-ins in lieu of a standard game story mode with cutscene animations. But delving deeper into both reveals them as both meaty and fulfilling additions to the game.
There is a visible increase in speed when you compare the combat of Soulcalibur VI to its predecessors. There are also two newly added exploration portions to the game, providing much deeper background and context to what’s been happening in its own universe.
I wasn’t how sure I was going to like these portions of the game, considering how long it took them to really open themselves up. When they did, however, I couldn’t help but appreciate the effort from Bandai Namco in deepening and expanding the content of its flagship fighter.
A Tale Of Souls And Swords, Eternally Retold
Soulcalibur VI features quite a bit of great content. The two story modes offer up engaging, RPG-esque expierences that add some variety to the game. Meanwhile, the online realm has standard options for those looking to casually make their way through the ranks. The Battlelog hosts a slew of features for anyone wanting to dissect and further assess their combat performance. And the fighting itself is simple in concept, but with plenty of depth and challenge to be found.
In short, there’s a lot of familiarity with Soulcalibur VI. Even for newcomers, the game provides enough context and content outside of the arcade battle mode. The franchise continues as a well-rounded fighter, and its latest installment serves as an excellent return to form.