reviews\ Sep 1, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Soul Calibur II - XB - Review

Back in 1999, when the Sega Dreamcast was still struggling to stay afloat in a small pool of consoles that dominated the market, a fighting game so fun and addictive rose through the ranks to become one of the most beloved fighting games ever.  Not only did this game set the bar in terms of weapon-wielding action in the fighting genre, but it was also so fondly remembered and loved that gamers still longed to see the series continue.  As if to answer our prayers, Namco offers up another round of weapon fun with Soul Calibur II for the Xbox.  How good is it, you might ask?  Let’s just say you’ll be doing a lot of thanking to the Gaming Gods.


The original Soul Calibur game was a pleasant surprise with its great characters and weapon combat and this sequel, thankfully, isn’t very different from that version at all.  It still continues on the same theme, which puts you in the roll of any of the numerous fighters (some new and some old) as they seek out a mythical sword.  The story, though, is a forgettable one and it’s clear by how quickly you get into a fight that the story isn’t what will hook you.


The game offers a nice lineup of all the usual suspects: Arcade, Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle Practice and VS Battle.  There’s also a much welcome mode called Weapon Master Mode that serves as the game’s main story mode.  Weapon Master Mode takes you through a world map as you move around the grid and getting into fights--many of which have battle conditions.  One condition might be that the opponent’s weapon is laced with poison while another might have you fighting an opponent as heavy winds threaten to push you off the ledge.  This mode also serves as a tutorial mode that does a better job of introducing each move and combo attack than the game’s Practice mode.


Arcade mode takes gamers through eight levels of fighting with one “destined match” (usually between characters with a past history together) and the final battle against a fiery opponent called Inferno.  It is here in this mode, as well as any other, that gamers get to unlock many of the games many surprises.  These goodies usually come in the form of extra arenas, new weapons and extra characters.  Some of the extra modes are different variations of the same mode . . . with new weapons added.  There’s also an interesting feature that allows you to get to know a favorite character via a short bio and get to sample a few voice reactions.  There’s just so much to unlock in this game that half the fun is just discovering all these little juicy extras.


The game controls are practically the same as the Dreamcast played and those who have played that version will know what I mean.  The controls are easy to pick up and start playing right away and many of the combos you’ll be using are found by accident.  It’s easy to unleash some powerful swings of a sword or other bladed weapon and you can even guard against attacks on the fly.  Each character comes complete with his or her own weapons, fighting style and even strength and speed.  Voldo for example moves swiftly while Necrid (a new character inspired by comic book artist Todd McFarlane) moves slower but pack quite a punch.  The weapons also have different damaging effects and unique appearances (Ivy’s sword, for example, can turn into a bladed whip).  Because of this, the action is genuinely fun and never just a button-mashing fighter.


Soul Calibur II is also a beautiful looking game that is fitting of the console’s graphical capabilities.  Yes, this one is true eye-candy in every sense of the word and gamers will simply love the stunning backgrounds found in each arena.  You’ll find yourself fighting near the docks of an old pirate ship or the main gates of an ancient Asian temple.  Each character looks simply amazing and nicely detailed to the point that you’ll watch them clench their teeth when they strike or close their eyes when they’re hit.


As thrilling as the action is in this game, the sound finds itself lacking in a few places.  The score is nicely done and you’ll find several dramatic tunes and melodic ones with a touching Asian flavor.   Yet most of the time the sounds of battle and the sharp cries of pain muffle the music.  Each character has his or her own phrases they’ll spout before each round and, for the most part, they’re done with odd accents.  The remarks are also repetitive.  Some gamers might even skip through the announcer’s unusual way of introducing your opponent (e.g. “To avenge his master, he must seek out those that wrong the innocents.”)


Soul Calibur II will have you glued to your Xbox controller and have you loving every minute of it.  Not only is this one of the finest fighting games to grace the console in a long time, but also it’s many extras, wonderfully sharp visuals and amazing action will make this one a true classic.  Yes, loyal readers, it’s just that good.  If you’re itching for a great fighting game, all you really have to do is just pick this one up.  


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.7
Story?  What story?  Gamers will be drawn in by the many fighting moves and the various fighting styles you get to perform with ease.  The two round bouts of weapon combat and the destined battles between good and bad and, in Ivy and Cervantes’ case, father and daughter will hook you.  This game makes good use of every button on the Xbox controller and gamers will certainly appreciate the pick-up-and-play controls that make this game so addictively fun.


Graphics: 9.2
The visuals go way beyond the beautiful graphics of the Dreamcast version and those gamers who feel that graphics make the game will be more than satisfied.  We’re talking lush backgrounds with plenty of details.  The arenas, both indoors and outdoors, are simply amazing to look at and--thankfully--there are dozens of arenas to see.  The character models also look really good and gamers will love the way they move and their facial expressions during a fight and during cut-scenes.  Yet what steals the show is the special effects that come in the form of the bright flashes of weapons clashing or powerful combos being unleashed.


Sound: 8.2
Beautifully orchestrated musical pieces accompany the beginnings of each stage and these are punctuated by the already classic announcer’s long-winded opponent introductions.  For the most part, the sound effects of swords clashing and kicks connecting with an opponent’s chest sounds decent enough but nothing new.  The sound’s true weakness, though, just happens to be the character’s remarks.  They become too repetitive and are performed rather oddly (most of the fighters have half-British accents or talk in that badly dubbed martial arts movie voice).


Difficulty: Medium
Certain fighters put up a better fight than others and, naturally, this is where the challenge is found.  Each character has his or her own set of moves and combos that give gamers the advantage when going up against powerful fighters.  Often times, though, you’ll feel that certain opponents move way too quickly and hardly ever give you a chance to block their attacks (see Voldo).  Weapon Master Mode also pits you up against a series of opponents without restoring most of your life energy.  Still, all of this makes for a challenging game that hardly ever becomes too frustrating.


Concept: 9.5
Now this is how a fighting game is done.  Namco brilliantly knew not to mess with perfection but added new characters to the line up and scattered throughout the game a healthy dose of features to unlock right from the very start.  While fighting games such as the DOA series offer a few new costumes and fighting arenas, Soul Calibur II adds extras such as new weapons, new variations of the same game modes and neat little character profiles.  This game also includes a console exclusive character--Todd McFarlane’s Spawn character.


Multiplayer: 9.0
This one is just too much fun to keep to yourself and with some great multiplayer Verses games, two players can really bring on the hurt in this one.  One of the many goodies to unlock are a few extra multiplayer modes that allow gamers to use new weapons for the various characters so you’re not limited to a fighter’s default weapons.   An option to fight online would have really put this game over the top, but what’s featured here is still good enough to keep you and a group of friends more than happy.


Overall: 9.3
Soul Calibur II not only lives up to all the hype but it also proves that the series continues to be one of the most addictive and satisfying experiences the fighting genre has to offer.  Aside from the gorgeous visuals and multitude of goodies to unlock, the game’s action will hook you in and won’t let you go until the very last stage.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this game up right away, Xbox fans, it is just way too hot. 


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