It's Soul Calibur 2, and it's got Link! Is that enough? Billy finally let go of the controller long enough to pound out his thoughts. Welcome back to the stage of history!
I never really got hardcore into fighting games until I played Soul Calibur on Dreamcast. I played a few Street Fighters, Killer Instinct, and the Virtua Fighter series, but most fighting games just didn’t interest me. Then Soul Calibur (the sequel to Soul Edge) arrived on the Dreamcast and I was a changed man. With slick graphics, cool characters, fun weaponry, and an easier to digest, yet very deep control scheme, I was hooked. Just recently I finally got to play the arcade version at a new GameWorks here in Minneapolis, and was just blown away. After a four year absence, Soul Calibur 2 is finally released on all consoles, and if it weren’t for having to write up these impressions, I’d still be playing it.
Each console version of Soul Calibur 2 got a console-specific character. Xbox got Spawn, PS2 got Heihachi from Tekken, and GameCube owners are blessed with Link from the Zelda series. There are more than 20 total characters: 15 available off the bat, and 5 are unlockable. Contrary to other reports, you’ll also get to play with other characters like Lizardman in the Weapon Master mode, but they’re not selectable for single or multiplayer.
Namco really beefed up the console version to contain a plethora of different game modes. These include Arcade, Vs. Battle, Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle, Practice, and the Weapon Master mode. After unlocking the other modes by playing through the Weapon Master mode, you can also open up things in the Museum – Art Gallery, Character Profiles, The Weapon Gallery, and the Demo Theater. Also unlockable are the “Extra” versions of the gameplay modes where you can use weapons you earned in the Weapon Master Mode and earn more gold.
Many people were worried that Soul Calibur 2 wouldn’t play well with the GameCube controller, but I think it works great. At least, I have no problem using the analog stick for my main player control. There are basically five main buttons for controlling your attacks. Default settings: A – horizontal attack, B – block, X – kick, and Y – vertical attack, L – grab, R - grab. There are other set settings, or you can program the buttons to your liking. Combinations of these buttons give you a ridiculous amount of different attacks, super moves, and combos. Namco also adapted the EO type controller scheme where you can map moves to your C-stick. With one flick of the C-stick, newbies can easily perform super moves. If you want to play Soul Calibur with a fighting stick, there’s a Hori stick available which I’ve heard great things about. I’m partial to playing with my X-Arcade Solo, and Soul Calibur 2 absolutely plays like a dream with it. X-Arcade owners are going to absolutely love this game.
One- and two-player battles play just like they would in the arcade. I think the reason I like this 3D fighter more than Tekken or Virtua Fighter is that the moves feel a lot quicker and more fluid. Also, the weaponry each of the fighters has is a lot of fun to beat down your opponents with, at least much more fun than the weapons in Mortal Kombat. The combo system feels really tight and is very deep. I’m always finding new combos to better my attack strategy.
The basic arcade game is fun, but since Namco packed so many other additions to the game, there’s plenty more to offer than just the basic arcade game. Since I’ve been playing Soul Calibur 2 alone most of the time, I’ve been occupied with the Weapon Master mode. It's exclusive to the console versions and is an excellent addition for a single player. It’s basically a series of battles that you play through and earn experience points and gold to purchase weapons, arenas, characters, modes, game art, and more. You travel across the land in different chapters, fighting your way across the landscape. There are 10 chapters in this mode, and many different types of battles to fight through. Elements in these fights are sometimes changed; for instance, the walls will be explosive, or there will be quicksand or lava rocks, or you’ll only be able to fight with specific attacks. This mode is an absolute blast, and I’ve already taken a day and played through the mode once, and I’m about a quarter of the way through a second time. Each character has 12 weapons that can be purchased, and I’m definitely going to play through enough so I can unlock all of them. Once obtained, you can take these weapons into the Extra modes and use them there. Very cool indeed.
The characters are varied and well balanced. Obviously, since Link is the added character for GameCube, most of you just want to know how he plays. To put it lightly, Link is a bad ass. He’s a very agile and quick fighter, and has additional weapons like the boomerang, bombs, and bow that take over most of his super moves. I mostly rely on him for quick sword and kick combos to dismantle opponents. Even though Link is a solid fighter, I’ve been using Taki a lot for her wicked combos. But there’s more than enough variation with all the characters, so finding your own favorites will be fun.
Visually, Soul Calibur looks just like, if not better than the arcade version. The GameCube version does support progressive scan and widescreen display if you have the technology. But even on my analog TV, the characters and environments are stunning. The game runs in 60 frames per second, and it just looks absolutely brilliant. I have seen some minor clipping issues when backed in weird tight corners, but overall Soul Calibur 2 is one of the best looking fighters on any console.
Soul Calibur 2 isn’t available until late August in North America, and it’s no surprise that it’s one of the hottest import games this year, with the advent of the Freeloader. It’s very import friendly, and for people wary of importing, only the menus are in English. The move list, weapon descriptions, Weapon Master mode descriptions, and main story text are all in Japanese. Ultimately, everything can easily be figured out.
Namco should be commended for packing so much in the console version of Soul Calibur 2. It’s really a complete package. The multitude of different modes and unlockables will keep you busy alone and with friends. It’s easy for anyone to pick up and start kicking butt, but meaty enough for any hardcore fighting fan. Soul Calibur 2 is one of the most polished third-party games to ever be released for the GameCube, and it's hands-down my favorite fighter. If you’re into fighting games, don’t even think twice – import this game today!