1999 held the release of what many claim to be the best fighting game ever made: Soul Calibur. Its stunning visuals, fluid controls, amazing action, and seemingly endless secrets to unlock kept players coming back for more. However, its release on the doomed Sega Dreamcast gave little hope of a sequel, and publisher Namco turned its sights elsewhere.
Now, finally, we crazed fighting fans who broke many a lamp with makeshift weapons and destroyed our friends with soul-shattering taunts and victories have been gifted with a sequel. However, Soul Calibur II has big shoes to fill. Does it measure up to the perfection of its predecessor?
The original Soul Calibur boasted some pretty amazing visuals, and it seems like Namco has followed the old adage of not fixing what isn’t broken. Though you’ll notice less with all the fighting, the individual stages are varied and add atmosphere. From atop a spinning windmill down to a pirate’s cove, the backdrops are beautifully rendered and fit with the fight.
The fighters themselves are also a wonder to look at. Fluttering hair and clothing add to the ambience, and each character has his/her/its own unique look. You’ll get plenty of time to look at the characters, whether it be in a fight, exhibition, or profile, and Namco made sure to get it right. The fighting styles and moves are very fluid and lifelike, especially noticeable in the more graceful fighters like Raphael and Kilik. The mouth movements and facial expressions are also a nice touch, as are other extremities, more blatant on such characters as Taki…or Cassandra…ahem.
Weapon effects when you pull off a particularly painful combo or swing are some nice eye candy too. Furthermore, you can unlock more weapons for each character, and they’re all just as pleasing to admire as they are to slaughter your opponent with.
The sound was yet another asset of Soul Calibur, and it looks like SC2 shops at the same store. Voices and weapon impacts are right on the money and, as any Matrix fans know, good music is a nice addition to any fight, and there’s no disappointment here.
Each stage has its own music, of course, as does the map screen and character select. The music selections fit the stages perfectly. You have a dark, foreboding tone in the underground pit and a swashbuckling, trumpeting pirate theme for the cove. Asian music adorns the temple and a harsh beat drums in the ruined castle. If you can hear it through all the shouting and bone crunching, the music is a pleasure to behold.
Speaking of such sounds of combat, the music is not the only homerun scored here. The voice acting is in English this time around, though the lines themselves range from Metal Gear Solid quality to Resident Evil quality. Nonetheless, I never got tired of hearing Talim’s concerned “Are you alright?” followed by Cervantes’ “No mercy!” During the load screen, you can hit controller buttons to trigger one such taunt.
The actual fights themselves are nice to hear as well. Weapons sound differently depending on what type they are. A sword will have a slashing sound as opposed to the smack of a staff. Mixed in with the grunts and shouts of the fighters, and you might as well be on the scene of a Bruce Lee movie.
The Gamecube controller is a tad awkward for a fighting game, but the scheme is pulled off nicely. A does a horizontal attack while Y performs a vertical. B and L guard while X kicks. Hit two at the same time to pull off a throw and push some in a row to perform a very large number of combos.
Your fighter controls well, and the combos are fun and easy to pull off once you know how to do them. It’s recommended to go into the practice room to try out a character before attempting the game with him or her. Fortunately, a complete listing of combos is available right there in the practice room.
The learning curve of SC2 is low to get started with, but increases the further you go. Sure, you can mash buttons and maybe win a few matches, but that won’t get you far into the game or a victory against a skilled opponent. Precision use of combos and blocking leads to a satisfying smack-down.
There are more than ten game modes, if you count “Extra,” and each one has its unique challenge. Arcade is your standard mode where you select a character and go through eight two-round fights in your quest for Soul Edge. Needless to say, that can end quickly, but the game definitely does not end there.
In addition to Time-Attack, Survival, and the like, there is also Weapon Master mode. Similar to the same thing from Soul Calibur, your character makes his way across a map in another story, fighting numerous battles with different conditions. For example, one fight has you against four opponents while your life is slowly draining. Another has a bomb that can be transferred by an attack to the opponent and back to you. Have your opponent in possession of the bomb when time runs out, and you win.
These fights progress in difficulty and only a very seasoned player will defeat them all. Along the way, you earn experience and titles, and also some cold hard cash. Use this money to buy alternate costumes for your players, different modes of play, and weapons. With over two hundred weapons to unlock, Weapon Master mode can last you for a while. Money can also be earned by defeating Arcade mode and Survival mode, amongst others.
As said before, controls can be hard to master but are essential for victory. Circling your opponent and timing blocks right to deliver a Guard Impact can turn the tide of a fight, and combos are the icing on the cake. Add in the fact that you can knock your opponent out of the ring, and you have plenty of options for disposal at your hands.
SC2 is what it’s supposed to be: a well-balanced fighter with deep story and mechanics. In addition, it’s a blast whether you’re with a buddy or by yourself. The dungeons in Weapon Master could have used a bit more spice, but that’s a very small complaint next to the whole.
It’s a fighting game, plain and simple, and not meant to give you the time an RPG does. Is it worth buying? A resounding “Hell yes!” It contains the most content of any fighter I’ve seen, even more so than Soul Calibur. With countless features and items to unlock, combined with the pure fighting bliss, you’ll be coming back to this one again and again if you even remotely like the genre. Add a buddy, and your weekend is taken.
Some may feel that there are only so many times you can kick Voldo’s freaky butt into oblivion before the game gets old. I can agree with that, but compared to others in the genre, SC2 is gold.