Classic game appreciation section: Soul Calibur

A tale of souls and swords, eternally retold

There aren't many games that can enthral a 70-something and her teenaged grandson in equal measure, but it did. And that's where Soul Calibur's design really shines. It's very easy to pull off spectacular moves, partly because every move looks amazing but also because the controls are intuitive.

Perhaps not as intuitive as Virtua Fighter 2's three-button system, but move height corresponds to direction pressed on the d-pad, meaning anyone can grasp the basics. For the advanced player, however, there's incredible depth here.

Take, for instance, the 8-way run feature, which allows you to attack while side-stepping your way around the arena with the Dreamcast's analogue stick. Where 'down' on the D-pad crouches, the same motion in the stick walks the character towards the screen. Every attack button has a different move assigned to 8-way run, making the movelist more varied and deep than anything seen until that point.

Above: Poor, poor Scissors - never stood a chance

Then there's the horizontal or vertical attack distinction. Vertical attacks are strong but can be sidestepped with quick reactions. Add in blocks, parries and throws and you're looking at a system that's arguably more complex than Virtua Fighter's. Not that my gran would know it as she hammered the buttons to an impressive (and annoying) victory.

Fishing for compliments

But there's another facet to this extraordinary control system – the fishing rod controller. The rod that came with Sega Bass Fishing could be used to perform moves in Soul Calibur, in a waggle-fest vastly pre-dating Nintendo's 'revolutionary' Wii. The official DC mag at the time even asked a martial arts expert to try it – and he found he could perform basic kendo moves with the device. Incredible.

Above: "Should we make other games work with this?" "Tennis might be good... anything else?" "...Nah, good point. Let's leave it."

With a sprawling story mode that added new rules and challenges to the regular gameplay (quicksand arenas, rats to bite your ankles, that sort of thing), the game had some serious meat to it compared to most fighters' arcade/vs/survival options.

It drip-fed extra content too, from beautiful artwork to new costumes for the characters, which meant your hard work was tangibly rewarded. That's on top of the extra skills you picked up by being forced to complete certain stages by applying advanced techniques.

It's back! Sort of...

I think it's very telling that when Soul Calibur was ported to XBLA in HD, its content was stripped-down and its original, antiquated 4:3 aspect ratio was very conspicuously preserved with huge borders at the sides of the screen.

Above: It's hard to get excited about a game when it's only filling two thirds of the screen

I'm certain SoulCalibur IV would have looked a far less-enticing prospect if the original game had been ported to HD in widescreen with online play and its Weapon Master single-player mode intact at a fraction of the new game's price.

As it is, however, the finest version of the game is still only available on Dreamcast. I know I said this wasn't going to be an article about that machine, so I won't bang on about it. Everyone got excited when Namco announced it would be releasing another game on Dreamcast, but instead of SoulCalibur II, we got Mr Driller. Still great, but not exactly what we were hoping for.

So Soul Calibur was a one-off on Dreamcast, but it's impact was arguably undiluted as a result. And its light still radiates out from the now increasingly distant gaming past, aging more gracefully than almost any other 3D game. Here's hoping SoulCalibur V can shine as brightly. Can it?

As far as I'm concerned, Soul Calibur's awesomely epic-sounding announcer dude was right: The legend will never die.


The longest-serving GR+ staffer, I was here when all this was just fields. I'm currently Reviews Editor but still find time to speedrun Sonic levels and make daft Photoshop articles.
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