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.  


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


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.