When someone says, “Oh I love SoulCalibur,” there’s a great chance they’re talking about a nostalgic vision of yesteryear in the form of SoulCalibur 2. This was back when there were three competitive home consoles to spread exclusive guest characters across, and before the words “soul” and “calibur” were inexplicably joined. Simpler times, these.
The series had a difficult time identifying and harnessing the charms that drew moths to the flame in the second entry. The springy-yet-responsive movement was one of those tactile features that defines SoulCalibur and has never gone away. But everything else seemed to be expanding into uncharted and undesirable waters.
The combat was growing more complex, but less in line with any of its contemporaries, making it hard for players to switch to it from other games. The story was becoming untenable, even for fighting game campaigns. The characters, if not replaced with seemingly generic fill-ins all together (a throwback from the big Soul Edge to Soul Calibur jump), were becoming over designed and uninteresting. This came to a head in SoulCalibur V, which was admirable, but still the most bafflingly underwhelming of the series – maybe even including the portable entries.
SoulCalibur V dropped the ball mechanically, had wildly limited features in comparison to it’s predecessors, and featured Assassin’s Creed 2’s Ezio, who paradoxically found a way to be one of the dullest characters in the game. SCV was mediocre enough in 2012 that it was incredibly hard to see another big budget entry in the series ever happening again. Six years, and a miraculous fighting game resurgence later, and SoulCalibur VI stands at the precipice of the FCG not just to return to form, but to attempt to steal the show.
My hands-on time with it at PAX East 2018 couldn’t tell me much about the game’s non-exhibition battle features. In fact, depending on the screen you played it on at the show, you had the option between selecting two fighters or six.
Without much else to see, I had to stick to my instincts – absolutely wrecking the people across from me with my trusty go-to face crusher, Nightmare. And as a person who hadn’t put much practice into SoulCalibur in years, I felt right at home.
The Azure Knight is characterized by his lumbering walk speed, short but quick dashing, and all-in, heaving sword attacks. As I dashed and darted in and out of enemy range, I felt more in control of my options than in the previous entry. My short, strong attack strings felt reliable, and the impacts feel kinetic and powerful. It was good to know that, after six years, no one lays the smackdown quite like Nightmare.
The meters and other micro-mechanics added to bring the game in line with the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter still exist in SCVI, and they definitely add pieces to your tool set that can be a big game changer when used correctly. A new meter-based mechanic, the Reversal Edge, allows you to quickly repel an attack and enter a slow motion mini game of rock, paper, scissors, where the winner of the clash gets a free hit and potentially a big combo. It was more a distraction than a utility in my experience, but time – and the hands of skilled professionals – will reveal its uses.
The most important takeaway of my time with SoulCalibur VI, is that I got home and had an urge to play SoulCalibur, something that hasn’t been true in a decade.