Soul Calibur 2 GameCube Review
Note: This is a review of the GameCube version of Soul Calibur II. Xbox and PS2 versions are similar but each have a different special character, along with a few other minor differences.
With the huge success of Soul Calibur on the ill-fated Dreamcast, Soul Calibur II would have to be an amazing game to be considered a worthy successor. Over the years, the Soul Edge series has become one of the most important fighting series in the genre. The series was solidified in 1999 with the release of Soul Calibur, a fighter that featured a solid gaming engine built around a vast array of detailed characters. Since then no other fighting game could surpass Soul Calibur, which became the staple for 3D fighting. Four years later, Namco’s series returns to the forefront with the release of Soul Calibur II for the GameCube, PS2 and Xbox consoles. Does the release hold-up against the previous installment?
Soul Calibur oozed originality and featured an abundance of game modes that stretched the game’s replay value to the limits. Everything from the graphics to the gameplay made Soul Calibur the perfect fighter. The game almost became the benchmark for fighters as many used the title to compare newer releases with. Soul Calibur II looks to expand on these qualities. Soul Calibur II’s fighting style is very similar to the one featured in the original game, with a few minor alterations, such as improved timing on parries and dodging. For those who never had the opportunity to play Soul Blade or Soul Calibur, the fighting style consists of three attacks – horizontal, vertical and kick, three levels of attack – high, medium and low and three defense types – block, parry and dodge. Soul Calibur implemented the Soul Charge, which would allow your character to charge up a little energy, leaving them temporarily vulnerable, and perform a more powerful attack. The Guard Impact moves allow for a powerful deflection of an incoming attack.
Each character still has a wealth of super-fluid moves that can be strung together, and despite having vastly different fighting styles they all seem very balanced. The nice thing about each of the game’s conversions is the ability to play an exclusive character on its designated platform. The GameCube version features the Legend of Zelda’s Link, while the Xbox conversion features the popular Todd McFarlane comic book character Spawn and the PS2 edition has Tekken’s Heihachi as its special guest. Link plays like a charm and doesn’t look out of place graphically. Link comes into Soul Calibur II packing all the various forms of attacks you’d expect to see in a Legend of Zelda game, including his bow, boomerang and the ability to use bombs. In certain situations these attacks can give him somewhat of an unfair advantage however. But come on, who hasn’t dreamed of such an inclusion in a fighter before?
As for the other characters, the entire cast of Soul Calibur returns in some form, be it in either body or spirit. A lot of new moves have been added, some of which will change the way you fight as that particular character, especially when it comes to working out new combos. There are only four truly new characters in the game – Raphael, Talim, Link (substitute with Heihachi or Spawn) and Necrid. The other new characters, Cassandra and Yunsung share fighting styles with Sophitia. Raphael is a fencer with an elegant but quick and deadly fighting style. Talim utilizes a pair of twin blades, and while she is small and weak, her outrageous speed makes up for her lack of power.
Soul Calibur II sees the return of the Weapons Master mode from Soul Blade, where your chosen character treks around the countryside, fighting battles with varying stipulations (draining energy meters, altered gravity, etc.), earning money and purchasing new weapons, costumes, art and much more. Each of the new weapons you purchase has its own attributes, advantages and disadvantages. On top of Weapon Master mode, Soul Calibur II has all the standard fighting game modes – arcade, survival, team battle, training and so on. Extra versions of these modes have been provided if you wish to use your special weapons.
Artificial intelligence is one area where Soul Calibur II has substantially improved over its predecessor, as the computer controlled players reacted to your attacks based on their position in the ring. When playing on higher difficulty levels, the AI is almost obsessed with your destruction, and will pull out all the stops to achieve victory. Of course, playing against human opponents is still more satisfying, and it is Soul Calibur II’s multiplayer experience which helps ensure its longevity long after you’ve completed the extensive Weapon Master mode, beaten the arcade mode with 20 characters, and unlocked all the weapons and art.
From the minute you put the disk into the console and the introduction video appears, you can easily tell that this is a much bigger-budget game than its predecessor. Whereas before there was a reasonable real-time 3D sequence introducing the characters, this time it’s been replaced by much higher-quality full-motion-video. The game’s graphics are stunning and add to the look and feel of the original. The characters are more detailed and better animated than their original counter parts. The characters also move fluidly giving Soul Calibur II a polished and distinct feel. The arenas are also well detailed and contain some of the most stunning textures found on the GameCube. All of the character models are modeled with excellent precision. The impressive animation and cloth physics from the original game have made their return with some slight enhancements to make for more realistic and believable motion. The frame rate during the course of the game is a constant 60 frames per second, though there have been reports of slight hiccups in the Playstation 2 and Xbox versions during the final boss fight. Soul Calibur II supports 60Hz display mode for full speed play, and 16:9 support for those with widescreen televisions.
Following on from its cinematic beginning, Soul Calibur II has many more cut-scenes and introductions for each of the characters and arenas. Before each battle, the playfield will be introduced with a nice rotating camera angle and a voice-over giving you some background information about your opponent. Even the replays after each match switch to a wide-screen mode for added cinematic effect, and the overall result is a game that looks incredibly polished. All the characters now have more winning and taunting animations.
Like almost every aspect of Soul Calibur II, the game’s sound has made a big leap since the Dreamcast days. From the intro sequence to the menu music, everything fits perfectly and is of very high quality. The sound effects are also done particularly well, with the hit noises now varying depending on what material your current weapon is made out of and which part of your enemy you hit! Namco has delivered an impressive musical score in Soul Calibur II, replacing the standardized heavy guitar rock soundtracks which fill fighting games these days. Each level has its own track which helps better establish a mood for that level. English voice acting has always been lacking in quality in fighting games, and Soul Calibur II isn’t really an exception to this rule. The sound effects consist mainly of samples used in both the preceding games, so fans of the series should feel right at home. Soul Calibur II also supports Dolby Pro Logic II for those with high tech sound setups.
Soul Calibur II has enormous replay value. Be warned though, you’ll most likely spend a lot of your precious time fighting for the Soul Edge as the game contains a fair amount of un-lockable treasures. Un-lockables include new characters, outfits, arenas, game types and new weapons. Weapon master mode will take up most of the single player experience while you will want to play your friends in multiplayer action for months to come. With tons of stuff to unlock this title will keep you going for months. Trying to improve your rank in weapon master mode adds longevity as you will need a whopping 500,000 points to reach the highest rank.
Soul Calibur II is bigger and better than its predecessor in almost every area, so if you liked the first game, you’ll probably love this. However, it’s not perfect; there’s still reams of background text to read through that could be replaced by some nice cut-scenes. Despite this, Namco have still managed to produce yet another classic fighting game, which will probably be the best fighter on any console for a pretty long time. The bottom line is that Soul Calibur II is a solid sequel that lives up to the hype. Like the original release, Soul Calibur II is an addicting adrenalin-inducing title that will keep you glued to your TV set for quite sometime. Soul Calibur II is definitely a solid game in all respects, and while it doesn’t do anything drastically different from its predecessor, it manages to continue a proud tradition of weapons based fighters by producing an attractive, deep and outright fun game to play.