SoulCalibur 6 review: The soul burns bright

It's been a long time since Bandai Namco has released a SoulCalibur game. Does it hold up well against the rest of this storied franchise? Our review.

7

SoulCalibur is a series that has stood out to me over the years as one of the easiest fighting games to pick up and play. Can you hold a direction and hit a button? You can play SoulCalibur! Each of the games had its ups and downs, but the series' core principles remained largely the same. It's a 3D fighting arena, with the idea to use a variety of strikes and weapons to overcome your opponent.

SoulCalibur VI maintains the key elements of the series, keeping the fighting principles that make it so great. But some new mechanics and a full emphasis on the series' lore makes SC6 one of the best SoulCalibur games to date.

Draw Your Sword

SoulCalibur's main draw is that it manages to exude pure simplicity, while also making its roster of fighters feel uniquely powerful in their own way. While button mashing and amateur tactics only go so far in other fighters, SoulCalibur works in that it's highly accessible to anyone of any skill level while still offering a higher skill ceiling for fighting game veterans. This has not changed in SoulCalibur VI. If anything, the formula has reached a new peak.

Weapon combat is still the name of the game, with players able to unleash different attacks using three different face buttons and the D-pad. Face buttons can be combined and players can go vertical or crouch down for still more combinations. All of these different attack methods can counter one another, with precision timing also allowing for parries and stun hits. Once the standard fighting mechanics are figured out, it becomes easy to learn the 8-way run system that allows for moving about the 3D plane. Everything combines into some intense battles and some of the best 3D fighting in the fighting game world.

Where SoulCalibur VI improves is with the addition of Reversal Edge. If opponents go on the offensive, players can hold down the Reversal Edge button to absorb blows and put both fighters in a neutral clash. Here, the advantage goes to whoever can win a rock-paper-scissor clash, which can go multiple times if both players keep hitting the same button. Just the idea of the clash by itself is epic, but there's also a strategic element involved. Certain characters are encouraged to hit one button above the others, because winning with that button can allow them to chain into a greater combo. But will the opponent see this coming and counter? Learning these matchups is crucial and adds a welcome degree of complexity to this mechanic. Dodges can also be thrown in for further wrinkles. What could have been a simple addition turned into a wildly deep system.

Advanced players will also get a kick out of the Soul Charge move, which opens up new attacks and combo potential for two bars of meter. While SC6 still has flashy finishers for one bar, Soul Charge can stay active over time and can turn matches around in a flash in the hands of a seasoned veteran. Soul Charge opens the doors for some crazy comebacks and is fun to see in action, even if my exposure to it was mainly as the person who had the tables turned on him.

Edge of Darkness

While SoulCalibur VI is at its best when played with friends, Bandai Namco didn't skimp on single-player options. In fact, the SC6 story is one of the deeper stories to hit a fighting game in quite some time. At the forefront of that is the Soul Chronicle story mode, which tells the tale of the cursed Soul Edge sword from across the 16th century. Soul Chronicle's layout is novel, spread out across a horizontal timeline. There's a central storyline that spans the full century, while there are side stories and differing perspectives from each of the game's different characters that take place at varying points of that main story. It all adds up to a robust tale of corrupting evil, the warriors that arise in its wake, and dozens of different perspectives of that story.

Libra of Souls is a more outside-the-box kind of story mode, one centering around a player's custom creation. I'll get more into the ins-and-outs of character creation in a bit. But the Libra of Souls mission mode centers around a more RPG-like story that complements the Soul Chronicle tale. The premise here involves taking on various story and side missions, many of which have conditions and twists to them. Like RPGs, attempting to take side missions off the beaten path can lead to random encounters, meaning players have to weigh whether the risks of straying are worthwhile. All missions offer distinct rewards, whether it's currency (which only works in Libra of Souls, but can be exchanged for the currency that works beyond that) or items.

There's a surprisingly deep progression system in Libra of Souls, where players work to power up their weapons, level up their characters, and purchase helpful benefits that help them get a little farther along. Maybe there's a mission that's proving a little too tough. It's possible to invest in NPC mercenaries, who can pick up the fight themselves and help break this barrier down. Likewise, players can equip their characters with food items that can replenish health over the course of battle or during a key moment. The world itself opens up shockingly fast, going from just a few stops in the opening chapter to dozens across the whole continent, giving players ample time to learn more to these systems.

There's also a delightful synergy between the two story modes, with players able to unlock events from Libra of Souls and have them show up on the Soul Chronicle timeline. The two modes weave together to tell one full-blown, robust tale, showing how much Bandai Namco has dedicated to the SoulCalibur lore this time around.

If there's a weakness to both of these single-player modes, it's the manner in which they're presented. Rather than unfold with full cutscenes, as would be the case in similar fighting game stories like Injustice or Bandai Namco sister series Tekken, SoulCalibur VI's story unfolds through fully illustrated storyboards, accompanied by voice actors. The art is gorgeously vibrant, but watching the action unfold with shaky cams and red hues just feels awkward, while voice acting over still shots just feels dull. Worse yet, these scenes can drag on, with some chapters containing no fighting whatsoever. If the hammy voice acting and the sometimes-uninspired method of storytelling rubs certain players the wrong way, there's also a full Arcade Mode in place, which scratches a more traditional itch.

Choose Your Fighter

In addition to the full SoulCalibur VI roster, players have the option to create their own characters, either from scratch or based off the foundation of an existing fighter. The creation system is ridiculously deep, with dozens of race options, a multitude of clothing options, a variety of body options, and the ability to mix and match all of them.

Character creation is a requirement for Libra of Souls, but it's also housed in its own mode, where players can craft custom characters for local multiplayer play. Various outfit pieces are locked behind currency requirements, which are simple enough to earn via single-player or through online multiplayer. Sadly, there's no taking any of these custom characters or refashioned existing characters online. It's too bad, because Geralt with a "WTF horse" head is an amusing prospect.

The biggest downside to the character creation system is that the loading times eventually pile up into a mountain of madness. Merely highlighting an option does not allow players to preview what it would look like on the custom character. Players need to select the option. While that may not sound like a big deal, each item needs to be loaded individually. The load times are roughly five seconds a piece. Again, that doesn't sound like a big deal, but when one realizes the hundreds of possible options available, those seconds quickly turn into a lot of wasted minutes. It's not for the impatient.

'Soul' Food

It's been far too long since I last played a SoulCalibur game, but SoulCalibur VI reminded me of why I loved the original games. Even as a fighting game casual, it's easy to feel like I can hang with the rest of the pack, especially since there aren't any overly complex combos or special moves to memorize. The key to victory is timing, precision, and a mastery of a character and their weapon. It's something that feels immediately accessible to everyone. Yet the additions of mechanics like Reversal Edge and Soul Charge are deep enough for fighting game veterans to sink their teeth into, with mastery of these mechanics giving them a leg up on the competition.

This is on top of a one of the most robust single-player offerings I can think of in a fighting game, as well as more behind-the-scenes Museum content than one can shake a snake sword at. SoulCalibur VI is an incredible package, only bogged down by a few minor issues, and one that should be near the top of any fighting game fan's library.


This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital code provided by the publisher. SoulCalibur VI is available now on Steam, the PlayStation Store, and Xbox Live Marketplace for $59.99. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Review for
Soulcalibur 6

8

Pros

  • An incredibly deep fighting system that's accessible to anyone
  • Reversal Edge and Soul Charge are brilliant additions that will appeal greatly to series veterans
  • Not one, but two deep single-player story modes
  • A heavily detailed character creation system
  • Online play felt smooth throughout
  • A smorgasbord of behind-the-scenes and making-of Museum content

Cons

  • Presentation for both story modes can be boring
  • Load times for character creation pieces are annoying
  • Can't use custom outfits/characters online
  • Smaller launch roster compared to other fighting games

From The Chatty

  • reply
    October 19, 2018 11:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, SoulCalibur 6 review: The soul burns bright

    • reply
      October 19, 2018 2:37 PM

      The fight between Cervantes and Tiny Mitsurugi was the best fight in gaming history.

    • reply
      October 19, 2018 4:55 PM

      Boy this game loves to talk. And talk and talk. And talk. I started up one of the story modes and I'm pretty sure it was over 10 minutes of slow-paced, bad dialog before I had a chance to actually swing a weapon. A single round of fighting later I was put into another lengthy pile of inane words.

      • reply
        October 19, 2018 5:00 PM

        I kind of like the story and lore. It's really cheesy but that's part of the charm to me.

        The game has always felt as much about adventure and lore as fighting.

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          October 19, 2018 5:09 PM

          Brevity is the soul of wit. The story they're telling could be executed with a quarter of the dialog. Staring at still portraits while bad direction makes good actors sound dumb does not improve the product. Get in, be punchy, say what you need to say and hint at what you need to hint at, and get out.

        • reply
          October 19, 2018 11:08 PM

          It's some heavy Japanese fluff filler and I am happily nostalgic with it. These games always seem more emotionally resonant with Japanese voice dialogue but the English dubs are way more hilarious.

      • reply
        October 19, 2018 11:33 PM

        You ever fire up Octopath Traveler?

        • reply
          October 20, 2018 2:15 AM

          I have not. Much as I love a good battle system, RPGs are by definition a story-heavy genre. From what I’ve read, the story doesn’t even rise to “can be ignored” levels of neutral.

          I take generally take the approach that if something is in the game at all, it contributes to my perception of its overall quality. If a dev puts in story and writing I’ll read it and if it sucks I will like the game less for it.

    • reply
      October 19, 2018 10:56 PM

      Good review, thanks.

      • reply
        October 19, 2018 11:00 PM

        I haven't tried with the custom characters yet but are you sure you can not take/share them online?

    • reply
      October 25, 2018 8:37 AM

      Good review, but, you missed out a very important point. It's yet another game by a Japanese developer that puts content ON THE DISK and then expects you to pay more money for a downloadable unlock key. This practice is the reason why I'm seriously thinking of giving up on gaming. If I've paid for something I expect all the content to be available to myself. Thanks for nothing Bandai Namco!