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Classic game appreciation section: Soul Calibur

SoulCalibur V is on the horizon. Are we excited? Course we are. It looks amazing, faster than ever and... well, it's SoulCalibur. But the main reason we still get excited about the series is because of 1999's original Soul Calibur, which single-handedly revolutionised the one-on-one fighting genre when it helped launch Dreamcast. This isn't an article about that machine, much as I love to talk about it. No, it's a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold. Welcome back to the stage of history…

Above: A romanticised fighter set in the days of swords and shields? Yes, I can pay by cash, how much do you want?

I say 'welcome back', because while we're used to numbered sequels to this, the original SoulCalibur, the game was itself a sequel to arcade/PSone beat-em-up Soul Blade - a game that's equally worthy of praise for its true 3D backgrounds and fights that actually looked like two people having a scrap.

But that was the previous generation and, in 1999, gaming technology was taking vast, continent-sized strides forward into the next generation. Call it providence, but everything fell into place to create the perfect conditions for the birth of something extraordinary. 

The impressive and meaty fighting engine of PSone's Soul Blade just needed a few tweaks to really shine. The dawn of the128-bit era allowed developers to draw characters and environments in full 3D with no compromises. And, crucially, the series was still young enough to feel fresh and new. Everything was set for a classic - and boy, did we get one.

Speaking of fresh and new, just look at Seong-Mina here. Her eyes aren't crossed like they are in the first sequel (I'll never forgive you, Namco), and her skin is flawless. She's beautiful. Perfectly proportioned and exquisitely programmed to fit in with her surroundings.

Wild Thing, I think you move me...

But graphical quality would be nothing without great movement – something that Soul Calibur still excels at. It's hard to think of any fighting game that moves better. Just watch as Kilik here goes through his repertoire. It's so solid, so assured… such a wonderful exhibition of technology married to skill. And there's no hint that this game is 12 years old, it's still on the very cutting edge of videogame animation, right down to the leaves being blown about the floor by the air displaced by Kilik's movement. 

Problem was, the standard was set so high by this launch title that nothing else really matched it until PS2/Gamecube's era began. Sure, we had Dead or Alive 2, which is just as fluid but lacks detail in comparison. And even moving away from sheer technical ability, the art design of SoulCalibur was unmatched by anything in the last generation.

You can feel the air around Siegfried's castle and the warmth from the glowing orange sunset behind Cervantes' ship, which casts shadows on the floor under the fighters. Taki's temple stage looks amazing, with a statue in the background so detailed, it could easily pass as a playable character.

Then there's that Venice stage, with architecture so magnificent, it single-handedly shrugged off the entire 32-bit generation like some tatty poncho it used to wear before it discovered silk robes. It made everything that came before look ragged, jagged and (to put it as eloquently as possible) a bit crap.

Above: This screen's from the XBLA version, BUT THE GEOMETRY STILL BURNS

With these beautiful characters in their incredible surroundings, it's little wonder my gran asked me whether the people were real when I showed her the game my parents had given me for Christmas that year. I can understand her confusion – the images being displayed on my 15-in TV were far too fluid and detailed to be a cartoon, yet too stylised and extraordinary to be a video. They do look like actors. But then she had a go and realised just how brilliantly interactive this stunning experience truly is.

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14 comments

  • Balaska - December 2, 2011 2:30 a.m.

    @Japanaman the XBLA version is missing the epic story mode, the whole reason I was looking forward to it's release. The DC version has far more content than the XBLA version and is far superior. The XBLA is an insult to the fans.
  • pin316 - December 1, 2011 10:50 p.m.

    GR - i'm loving these articles...you've chosen some absolutely brilliant games for them! Soul Calibur is by far and away my favorite fighting series - nothing else comes close - with SC2 holding rank as the best of the lot. I'm holding out a lot of hope for V. They've got to include Team Vs Battles...still don't understand why it wasn't in IV
  • Helo1985 - December 1, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    I'm gonna be treating myself to £100 worth of retro games after xmas and after that write up i'm gonna be including this to that list
  • Overlord153 - December 1, 2011 12:22 p.m.

    I feel left out. I have a DreamCast. I have SoulCaliber II for my Gamecube. But I have No Soul Caliber I :(
  • CaptCOMMANDO - December 1, 2011 10:44 a.m.

    SOULS, COME'TH TO ME! I played the shite out of the Gamecube version and was a late to SCIV, but I am looking quite forward to number five.
  • mothbanquet - December 1, 2011 10:25 a.m.

    I'll never forget the time me and me best mate spent a solid eight hours on it taking turns at Weapon Master. Nor the hundreds of hours spent pummelling each other into submission, me as Cervantes, him as Nightmare, constantly trying to declare a decisive victor in our eternal struggle... SC, you will always be there to remind us why we had a Dreamcast at the time, and I salute you!
  • Japanaman - December 1, 2011 8:48 a.m.

    How is the XBLA version of SC stripped down? I bought SC for the DC last year and beat it entirely. The XBLA version offers everything already unlocked. I mean, sure, there's less to do now, but why make people have to beat a game twice? I think the XBLA port is wonderful.
  • Larry Legdrop - December 1, 2011 8:26 a.m.

    I haven't had my soul since I sold it back in the earl 90's...WHHHHHYYYYYYY!! : ^ (
  • DirkSteele1 - December 1, 2011 7:52 a.m.

    My girlfriend at the time gave Soul Calibur for Christmas 1999 for my newly acquired Dreamcast that I had bought on the 21st of Dec. I took it round to her house on Boxing day where her extended family were having a Christmas get together. Her mother had purchased half a dozen board games and the like for entertainment but none were ever opened. Everyone from the 12 year old little sister to the 75 year old grandmother played for SC for hours. Definitely my all time favourite game on DC (and in my top 5 of all time), and yes Seong-Mina was beautiful in the first game. She was my favourite character back then but since Namco saw fit to change her move set in recent iterations of the game I am no longer a fan.
  • SDHoneymonster - December 1, 2011 7:50 a.m.

    Screw the game - your gran sounds ridiculously cool!
  • GR_JustinTowell - December 1, 2011 8:11 a.m.

    Haha! Thanks, she is :)
  • GhostbustTyler - December 1, 2011 7:38 a.m.

    Anytime I go over to the arcade near me, I spend all my money on this game and the Jurassic Park shooter. This game is simply a masterpiece and is one of the best fighters I've ever been able to play.
  • Pytor - December 1, 2011 7:36 a.m.

    One of the finest games ever crafted!
  • bass88 - December 1, 2011 7:03 a.m.

    Great write-up! I love this game. It stands alongside Street Fighter II as my favourite fighting game. What impresses me so much is how balanced it is. No matter what fighter you pick, you will have strengths that counter your oppenents' weaknesses. And vice-versa. Something, I feel, that Street Fighter IV failed it (still a great game, mind). There are too many characters, some of which are vastly overpowered.

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