So I did a bad thing. We were invited to a Bandai Namco UK press event to sample some of their upcoming line-up, which included Soulcalibur VI. As someone who grew up playing the likes of Soulcalibur 1-3, I leapt at the chance to play the new iteration, like a lion pouncing on its prey.
The problem is: once I started playing, I kept playing. I couldn’t stop playing. The tendrils of addiction boroughed into me like spikes, and I was okay with it. However, before I knew it, it was 10pm. Closing time. My long awaited reunion with Soulcalibur terminated before its time. Meanwhile, the likes of New Gundam Breaker and Little Witch Academia were left neglected. I wish I could say I was sorry, but I’m not. I needed my Soulcalibur fix, and SCVI left me more than satisfied.
Soulcalibur has had a long and storied history as a series, debuting in 1995 as Soul Edge or Soul Blade depending on where you lived. Since then, we’ve had five mainline Soulcalibur games, a few spin-offs and even a re-release or two. The last “proper” game in the series was Soulcalibur V back in 2012, so we’ve been long overdue a return to the franchise.
If you’re a veteran of the series, SCVI should be immediately familiar. All your favourite characters have retained the majority of their moves, meaning if it worked in a previous game, it should work here. Mitsurugi still has his double vertical slash after a dash, Kilik still has his excellent range and pokes and Nightmare can still delete half of your life bar at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, newcomer Groh is a tricky little bastard, utilising dual swords for quick attacks and insane combo potential.
If you’re not familiar, Soulcalibur is a four button weapon-based fighter. For some reason, the controls for this build were changed, so circle was block, X was a horizontal attack, square was a vertical attack and triangle was a kick. Ordinarily, those controls would be rotated 90 degrees clockwise, so X would be block and so on.
That took a bit of getting used to, but once I did, everything was back to normal.
Combos and special moves can be performed by different button combinations, which is perfect if your idea of playing fighting games is to mash your palm on the pad until your opponent falls over. Soulcalibur has always been accessible in that regard, but there’s enough depth there for higher level players to punish you. The eight-way run system allows you to easily sidestep vertical attacks and punish accordingly, whilst guard impacts act as a parry that leaves your opponent vulnerable to a counter.
The core gameplay shares a lot in common with SCV, as mechanics such as Critical Edges and the special meter make a return. Once you’ve accumulated 1 bar of meter, you can press R2 to unleash a devastating cinematic attack. Each character has a different Critical Edge, but they’re all high risk/high reward attack because they take so long to start up. Trying to hit one during your opponent’s combo will just lead to pain. They’re best used to punish missed attacks.
Activating Soul Charge costs 1 bar of meter and triggers a cutscene, causing a shockwave to blast your opponent across the screen whilst giving you increased damage output. It also makes your character look like a weird demon thing, so there’s that.
The second mechanic is Reversal Edge, which is a parry followed by a counter attack. If the attack lands, you enter an Injustice 2 style clash, where you’re given a brief amount of time to enter an input. Depending on what you press, the results can vary wildly. Plenty of people have compared it to “rock, paper, scissors”, but Reversal Edge is way more complicated than that.
You can use all 3 attacks, guard, backdash and sidestep, and depending on the character you’re playing as certain attacks will be quicker than others. It’s like paper beating scissors because it has fewer frames of animation.
Reversal Edge is clearly a nuanced system, and one we couldn’t fully get to grips with in the time provided, but right now it seems particularly useful for new players who don’t have the timing down for guard impacts. Guard impacts require precise timing, whilst the parry part of the Reversal Edge is much more forgiving in that respect. Still, like Critical Edge, it’s a risky mechanic. Just because you started the clash doesn’t mean you’ll win it.
These features also feel engineered to ensure fights are competitive, as opposed to 3-0 stompings, though that depends on who you’re playing against. Critical Edges do a ridiculous amount of damage, which makes them perfect comeback moves, whilst Reversal Edge and Soul Charge can get you out of a sticky situation easily. Even something as simple as being given 1 bar of meter when your opponent takes two rounds helps keep things interesting.
Reversal Edges, along with Soul Charges and Critical Edges, also add to the spectacle of the fight, which is especially important for those watching. When the two characters rush each other, there’s a slow-motion moment where you usually see fighters narrowly avoid getting their head sliced off before counter-attacking.
It feels purposefully designed to pop the crowd, and it works. Of course, it helps that Soulcalibur VI is drop dead gorgeous when it comes to the graphics and presentation. Special moves fill the screen with colour, making the game a real treat on the eyes. Playing the game is fantastic, but sometimes it’s just as much fun to watch.
Despite the fact I may have neglected some of the other games on offer, I have no regrets. In fact, I’m excited to see more of this game has to offer. The potential is there for Soulcalibur VI to be one of the best games in the series. Not the best though. Soulcalibur II had Link, remember? That one is the best by default.