Soul Calibur III
Developer: Project Soul | Publisher: Namco| Release Date: 2005 | Genre: Beat ‘Em Up | Website: n/a | Purchase: Amazon
Namco’s Soul Calibur series has always been a fun, weapon based alternative to their Tekken titles so I was eager to see what this PS2 exclusive had to offer. Fans of the series will be pleased that virtually all of the main characters have returned along with three newcomers. The story takes place shortly after the events of the last game but as always it all boils down to finding “Soul Edge” either to destroy it or to gain its evil power.
From a purely visual standpoint Soul Calibur 3 looks incredible. I was impressed with Soul Calibur 2 but Namco has somehow pushed the hardware even further. Each character has intricate costumes with flowing fabric that looks astonishing in motion. This coupled with the highly detailed backgrounds shows that Namco has definitely mastered the hardware. The levels are lush and situated in exotic locations like Egypt, a burning mansion, a clock tower, a castle and even a ship in the middle of a storm. Each of these stages has so much going on that it almost becomes a distraction during battles. Fighting on the deck of a ship as it heaves and rolls is awesome enough, but spying another pirate vessel in the background is just unbelievable. There are instances of weapons or accessories clipping through the character costumes, but this can be forgiven in light of how good everything looks overall. I was usually too busy gawking at how smooth the animations where or how good the lighting effects are to pay much attention to the clipping issues.
Namco has made the decision of not including any form of online play, which has upset many fans, but to make up for it the game is packed with extras and unlockables. “Tale Of Souls” is the main story mode and follows the adventures of the characters in their quests. The story progression is entirely in text format however, except for a few cut-scenes that are shared by everyone. The cut-scenes are unskippable by the way so you’ll be beyond sick of them after multiple playthroughs. In true “Choose your own adventure” book style you are sometimes given a choice on where or how to proceed next and some choices will lead you to new unlocks. During some cut-scenes (including the endings) a button combination will briefly flash on the screen and if you manage to imitate it on your gamepad it will change the outcome of whatever is happening. This might give the game some replay value but it does become old quite fast.
Story mode battles only consist of one round and there’s no way to change the difficulty. This is quite unfortunate as your opponent A.I seem to randomly switch between punching bag and invincible. If you’re not the patient type your gamepad will suffer some damage. It really does feel like the CPU sometimes decides enough is enough and go into overdrive. I don’t mind a challenge but when fights degenerate into luck based affairs its not fun. Some better balancing and a gradual increase in difficulty instead of random spikes would have helped a lot. With some unlockables requiring you not to lose or continue a lot of players are going to have to resort to cheap tactics to prevent the CPU from obliterating them in an instant. Having calluses on your fingers from a fighting game is normal, but when they are the result of pressing the “Continue” button you know something is wrong.
Another new addition to the series is the “Chronicle Of The Sword” mode. I’ll spare you the boring story details, but this is where your custom characters get to shine. It’s apparently a “strategy” mode but moving characters around a dull map so you can hack away at towers and battle opponents (in standard Soul Calibur Fashion) does not seem very strategic to me. You can level up your character but this mode suffers from the same unbalanced CPU A.I and some long load times to boot. You’ll unlock loads of new items for custom character creation while playing this mode so if you want everything you’ll just have to bear with it. Creating a custom character is fun and the amount of options are staggering (once you’ve unlocked and bought them all) but since all custom characters use the base moves of whatever main characters weapon style they use they don’t feel totally unique and original. People have come up with some very creative characters however and overall it’s a nice addition to the series.
The “Soul Arena” mode has some cool mini games that can be played and there’s even a special “Tournament” mode that I guess is supposed to emulate online play. The best part of any fighting game is taking on your friends and Soul Calibur III still allows you to do this provided you have an extra controller (and friends of course.) Some characters are a bit button bashing friendly but you’ll do fine once you’ve mastered your character.
The game has some classic sounding Soul Calibur tunes, but nothing I would rate as especially memorable. The songs all sound good at first, but after ten hours or so the mute button starts to look very tempting. It’s not like the songs are bad but because rounds can be very short you’ll constantly be hearing the same parts over and over again. The over eager announcer also makes an unfortunate return. While most games in this genre opens with a short “Ready?, Fight!” this game spews forth barely coherent phrases. Some of the stuff sounds like it was directly translated from Japanese and lost some of its meaning along the way. You know it’s serious when an announcer rambling is so long it gets cut off by the round starting. The English voice acting for the characters aren’t that great either. The men are all hamming it up big-time while the woman sound like they were picked up from a California beach. Newcomer Tira in particular sounds like she is still in school.
If you have been a fan of Soul Calibur you’ll know what to expect from this installment. Some characters received tweaks that will require a change in tactics but for the most part it’s still the same bunch of misfits you’ve been pitting against each other for years. The new faces Tira, Zasalamel and Setsuka takes some getting used to but will surely find their fans. The wacky difficulty spikes might make you throw down the gamepad in disgust but there’s plenty of reasons to pick it up again. To unlock everything in this game could take weeks if not more so value for money is definitely not an issue. There’s going to be fans that will cling to the last installment but Soul Calibur 3 has just as much merit and is well worth adding to your collection.
*Review originally published 2005.