Format: GameCube Genre: Fighting Released: 2003 Developer: Namco
The Soul Calibur games are without doubt my favourite 3D fighting games, and I reckon Soul Calibur II – specifically the GameCube version – is the best of the lot. It certainly had the best guest character – Link from the Zelda series, who was perfectly suited to the hack and slash gameplay.
GameCube owners lucked out on the character front – the Xbox version had a rather disappointing Spawn as its special guest character, whereas the PS2 version had Heihachi from Tekken who, although certainly an impressive fighter, seemed to have been out of the office when the memo was sent round about packing a weapon in his overnight bag.
And it’s the weapons that elevate the Soul Calibur games above your average 3D fighter – from Kilik’s great big bludgeoning stick to Nightmare’s mahoosive sword, the various hack ‘n’ slashing tools added some fantastic variety to the fights.
The Soul Calibur series’ greatest innovation was the introduction of a ‘story mode’ for the single-player campaign. Most fighting games have pretty dull single-player modes that simply require you to fight your way through a set number of opponents in order to ‘beat’ the game [*yawn*]. Thankfully, someone at Namco realised this is a pretty tedious way of going about things, so they introduced a map that your character works his or her way across, with various extra missions and bonuses to unlock, along with an overarching story for each fighter. Some of the fights had special requirements that livened things up from the usual ‘hit your opponent in the face until they fall over’ rigmarole: one of the more interesting ones was a level in which you could only damage your foe by knocking them against a wall. Another one saw you poisoned at the start, causing your health to tick down gradually – the only way to restore it was to successfully hit your opponent (natch).
The money earned from the story mode let you ‘pimp’ your character with all sorts of improved weaponry – in a way, the whole thing was more like an RPG than a traditional fighting game. Some of the weapons were particularly brilliant – I remember Yoshimitsu’s ‘joke’ weapon was a shepherd’s crook that made bleating noises every time you hit your opponent.
The costumes were fantastic too. The levels of costume absurdity seemed to have risen steadily over the course of the series, culminating in Soul Calibur IV‘s truly ludicrous range of fashion nightmares, but the more ridiculous the costumes get, the more I like them. Astaroth’s outfit’s in Soul Calibur II deserve a special mention – I was a big fan of his purple jester hat (see above), but he also had an even better one that looked like some sort of rubber mohican.
Generally the characters in Soul Calibur II were wonderfully designed and carefully balanced – and then there was Necrid.
No-one likes Necrid. I bet even Necrid probably doesn’t like Necrid. Not only does he look ridiculous, he’s a real pain to fight with too – his style is basically a very lazy mash-up of several other characters’ moves, none of which is very satisfying or interesting. The character was designed by Todd McFarlane (he of Spawn fame), and you kind of get the impression that the Japanese designers wanted his input in order to appeal more to Western audiences – perhaps they should have had more faith in their own talents. Thankfully, Necrid didn’t make it into the subsequent two games, and he exists now only as an embrassing blip in the series’ otherwise noble history.
If you get the chance, I heartily recommend tracking down the GameCube version of Soul Calibur II – not only is it blessed with probably the best single-player mode in the series, it also gives you the opportunity to lay the smack down on various golems and ninjas with a certain green-clad pointy-eared chap harbouring various bombs and boomerangs about his person. And surely that’s an opportunity not to be missed.
Screenshots from http://www.firingsquad.com.