Soul Calibur 2 - GameCube Review

September 24th, 2003

How do you improve upon perfection? In Soul Calibur 2's case, they didn't. The graphics are spruced up a bit, there's some new songs, some new characters, some new moves and that's about it. Is that enough? In my opinion, it is. But, of course, I feeL the need to go into detail.

Let's start with the graphics, shall we? Why? Cuz that's where all of the reviews for the Dreamcast Soul Calibur started. Because that game, on a now arguably "obsolete" system is still one of the better looking games out there. The graphics were revolutionary at the time. The home console version was markedly better than the arcade version. This latest sequel on superior hardware does not look markedly better than the DC version. I'm sure the characters and stages are comprised of way more polygons, but that just speaks to the incredible artistry and technical wizardry of the DC version. The characters all look a bit better, as do the stages. The animation has been fine tuned. But, incredibly, there are still faults to be had. Fairly obvious ones. Like clipping. The characters' clothing and hair sometimes jut through in places they shouldn't. This is most noticeable with Astaroth and Voldo. During some of Astaroth's winning animations, you can see his axe "sinking" into his hands. Likewise, during Voldo's winning animations, his blades "sink" into the ground. Also, if Link throws a bomb outside the ring it doesn't fall, it rolls on nothingness. When characters get knocked out near the edge of the ring but aren't ringed out, their bodies behave in odd ways. Sometimes they judder, sometimes they slowly slip off the edge in a wholly unrealistic fashion, never do their limbs drape over the edge or behave in a convincing manner. Fairly minor quibbles, but when you're making the sequel to one of the most revered fighting games ever, even minor things matter.

In no way did Namco screw up the most important part of any fighting game experience: the fighting. All the old characters have been tweaked to address any balance issues from the last game and the new additions to the cast (save one who I'll get to soon) mesh well with the familiar faces.I can't speak for Heihachi or Spawn, but Link feels like a natural addition to the line up. He looks and moves like Link, and has most of his best moves and weapons. Link made the purchase worth IMHO. But Necrid just plain sucks. He looks lame (and really sort of dull and plain), he's horrendously cheap and I hate him so, so much. He has access to almost every weapon in the game and all the cheap moves associated with them. Grr.... Speaking of grr... there are a few moves in this game with hit radiuses that are too wide. The game has three basic attacks; vertical, horizontal and kick. The kick are quick, the horizontal good for tagging sidesteppers and vertical is good for knocking back the opponent. But there are a few too many vertical attacks that connect with enemies that have clearly dodged them. Still, this is still the best weapons based fighting game out there and arguably the best fighting game period.

The other game vying for that title is Virtua Fighter 4 (let's leave the 2-d brawlers out of this particular argument). They are both very deep fighters. There is one vital difference: VF 4 gives you a guide to its depths. VF4's training mode is the best in the business, bar none. It walks you through everything. It teaches you techniques and them tests them. More importantly, defense is stressed just as much as offense. SC2's training mode is offensive by comparison. To make matters even worse, SC2's training mode is worse than that of it's predecessors. The Dreamcast edition gave you a demonstration of every move in the moves list complete with a key guide showing you the exact timing. And some of these moves are nearly frame specific. SC2 doesn't have that. WTF? How are you supposed to figure out the timing if they don't give you an example. Spending hours trying to get a handle on the more obscure moves is not my idea of fun. Neither is having to pause the game and select the moves list every time I want to try a new move. Even Dead or Alive on the Saturn had a better training mode than this game. That's three generations ago. That's just laziness on Namco's part.

Here's me being lazy: the sound in this game is very good. I've always preferred Soul Calibur's sweeping and stirring orchestral score to the more techno-ish leaning of most of it's competitors. The cries and clangs of the combatants and their weapons remain largely unchanged.

Like the DC game before it, SC2 has a Weapons Master mode. Which is sort of like a story mode. You wander the world like Kane from Kung Fu, getting into various fights featuring a variety of rules and conditions. Sometimes you only have half a life bar, or the ground is explosive or covered in fire or ringed with lava. A nice way to add spice to the fights and add longevity to the title. Plus these fights earn you money and unlock all sorts of goodies. In addition, the arcade version has a nice little addition: for every character, the next to last battle has a little in game cinematic that precedes it that adds a little to the story. A nice little touch. I just wish the game had more like it.

That's my main problem with this game. It's been years since the last game, but not that much has been added or improved. This is especially distressing considering how much other fighting franchises have evolved in the same span of time. But still, these are all small problems in an otherwise great game. Just because they didn't add much doesn't make this a bad game. A good cut of meat doesn't ned sauce to taste good. But I sure do like a tasty sauce.

- Tyler