Ahhh, so this is what comes from the oft-bemoaned “We’ll release it when it’s done”” philosophy. Soul Calibur II’s arrival sets a new benchmark for one-on-one fighting games. Developers take note.
The usual Arcade, Time Attack, Team Battle, and Practice modes are all in attendance. But what’s always set this gaming series apart are its weapons and, in particular, its Weapon Master mode. The standard Weapon Master mode will take several hours to complete, earning money to buy new weapons and outfits along the way. Clearing the standard Weapon Mode opens up expanded revisions of all the same fights, but with different characters, objectives, fight parameters, and so on. Plus, the advanced mode is just plain hard at times. It forces the player to learn all the intricacies of the fighting in Soul Calibur II – and there’s plenty to know. However, despite claims by many companies that in ?their’ fighting game, ham-fisted button-mashers won’t stand a chance, this is yet to be proven true in any game. And Soul Calibur 2 is no different. Yes, there are many cool moves and combos to be learned and perfected, but people jamming wildly at buttons will still somehow manage to hold their own against self-professed experts.
The graphics are top notch. Environments and weapon effects are also outstanding, with no frame rate or speed problems. Visually, everything remains nothing short of silky the entire time. Even the load times are minimal. There are times when perhaps it would have been preferable to have a retry option without having to reload the level, but it’s hardly worth getting upset about.
The music and sound effects are also quite good. Sweeping orchestral scores and pounding beats keep tension high as fights unfold. Weapon clashes trigger an appropriate stinging ring of metal on metal. Everything aural is exactly as good as it should be – sometimes better.
The assortment of characters, both new and old, will take time to master, but they’re all so different and well balanced that you’ll probably pick a favorite in no time, but still want to try them all. Earning new weapons in Weapon Master mode makes the game’s other modes more interesting. Weapons can have different properties like health regeneration and longer reach, but some of those enhancements come at a price, like slowing a weapon’s speed or it inflicting less damage. Weapon selection can be a strategic point when playing against other gamers.
The variety of character fighting styles keeps things interesting, too. Maxi and his nunchucks, Kilik with his staff, Talim’s crescent blades, Voldo’s devastating claws, Ivy and her sword whip – Namco really did a great job here. By adding unique weapons and creating moves that capitalize on the strengths of each, they have successfully avoided the emergence of one overpowering character.
The PS2’s exclusive fighter, Heihachi Mishima from Tekken (Link on GameCube and Spawn on Xbox), isn’t the game’s most exciting hidden character, and his weapon is kind of silly. While everyone else has swords and axes Heihachi has gauntlets with almost no reach whatsoever. But Namco have kept his fighting style as true to its Tekken roots as possible and he still emerges as a viable contender in the Soul Calibur II ring. Though likeable in both videogames franchises, Namco could have picked someone more original or suitable for a weapons-based fighting game. The kid from Ico with his mighty stick and horns, or that hottie BloodRayne would have been cool.
Imitators, go home. Soul Calibur II has finally arrived and delivers on all its promise. The bar has now officially been raised for all fighting games to come.