Soul Calibur

Developer: Namco
U.S. Publisher: Namco
U.S. Release: September 9, 1999
Genre: Fighting
Format: GD-ROM

Based on: Soul Edge, having faith in a beautiful, better world for us all...and weapons.

Games | Sega Dreamcast | Soul Calibur

Article by Kolbe | August 20, 2007

Once upon a time, the name Soul Calibur stood for something besides a mere boob-fest that made gamers pine for the sophistication of Dead or Alive. It was part of an elite tier of arcade-to-console ports, the one in which the home version actually improves on the arcade original. But Soul Calibur wasn't simply an important milestone for the beat'em-up genre, it was a watershed for the entire video game industry. Magazines, TV shows, websites -- Soul Calibur was everywhere. It was the first game of the post-PlayStation era that truly felt like a step forward thanks not only to its beautiful graphics but for its depth of gameplay and content as well.

It wasn't mere luck or marketing that put Soul Calibur on the map. Unlike its sequels and spin-offs, it was a game made of pure love. Well, love and a lot of effort.

Soul Calibur was the direct sequel to Soul Edge (Soul Blade to you American PlayStation owners) and told (albeit loosely) the story of a demonic sword that perpetuates the time-honored cliché-ridden violence that gamers expect out of this genre. Trite or not, Namco put enough meat on the plot's bones to create a full story-driven game -- even an RPG, maybe!

The demonic sword Soul Edge is capable of unbelievable destruction. It eats souls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it falls into the hands of Nightmare (formerly Siegfried), a German mercenary with a very disturbing past who seeks revenge for his father's murder. Opposing him are the game's heroes, Kilik (an orphan raised in a martial arts temple), Maxi (a pirate and possibly an ancestor of both Elvis and Bruce Lee) and a Chinese girl named Xianghua. Though she doesn't realize it, Xianghua has the only weapon capable of opposing Soul Edge, the holy Soul Calibur.

If the story still seems hazy and convoluted, please take my word for it: compared to other fighting games, you're dealing with fine literature here. Soul Calibur's story is unusually well-crafted for a fighting game, developing the characters -- the most important part of any story -- in a way unlike any other fighting game. Still, an RPG it's ain't. How does the more important part -- the part where people beat the hell out of each other -- stack up?

Soul Edge (the game, not the sword) featured a unique fighting system for its time, but ultimately it was highly reminiscent of Namco-made sibling Tekken in terms of pacing and look. While some of the basic game structure transferred directly over from Soul Edge to Soul Calibur, the overall gameplay changed drastically. Soul Calibur added specific buttons dedicated to horizontal slashes, vertical slashes, kicks, and guarding. This being a fighting game, the correct combination of these buttons (possibly with certain other commands) unleashes special moves, throws, and other stuff.

The game also implements the eight-way run, giving fighters the ability to move freely about the stage and rendering the traditional "side steps" unnecessary. This also spelled a very welcome doom for the Marvel Vs. Capcom-like super jumps of the first game. One feature retained from Soul Edge is the Guard Impact, a sort of parrying move that leaves an opponent open for a counter-attack...unless an opposing Guard Impact is performed simultaneously.

The commands for most of these moves feel instinctive -- for example, moving the stick diagonally and pressing A performs a horizontal slash in that exact direction. This helped the combat keep a smooth flow and made the game more appealing for both hardcore players and newcomers alike. So good was the battle system that it's hardly changed for its sequels. More recent Soul Calibur titles move a tad more quickly, but ultimately the gameplay is the same.

Any fighting game needs to go above and beyond just solid gameplay to enhance its replay value, and Soul Calibur offers plenty to do if you want to enjoy it solo. Soul Edge introduced Edge Master Mode, where you'd select a character and travel the world in an RPG-ish way, fighting under weird conditions and unlocking new weapons with different abilities. Soul Calibur contains a similar Mission Mode though it unfortunately doesn't develop the characters' stories in as much detail as the previous game. No extra weapons are to be found, either.

Fortunately, Namco introduced other, more amusing rewards in their place. Character profiles, team battle, survival mode, a huge art gallery with more than 300 images, and the ability to change the introductory demo all added extra interest to the gameplay. Those for whom this was the only Dreamcast game they owned at launch had little room to complain, because Soul Calibur constantly offered so many new things to try.

Even gamers who don't normally play video games find the extremely detailed characters and stages serve to keep things interesting for spectators. There are better-looking games today, but Soul Calibur's graphics have a timeless quality to them. Whether it was Ivy's model -- sexy without being pandering -- or Siegfried's stage -- a beautiful representation of Venice -- Soul Calibur still manages to please the eye.

Really, it's difficult not to be a Soul Calibur fanboy -- but it's totally justified. The game is truly a masterpiece; playing it is believing, and it's worth owning a Dreamcast simply to play this game.

It's a pity that the franchise -- once poised for greatness -- seems to have turned into just another cheap way for Namco to bag some extra cash. Their new "better and bigger techology = better and bigger boobs and over-the-top character designs" policy seems an ill fit with the Soul Calibur we all know and love.

Images courtesy of VGMuseum