Soul Calibur 2 (review)

When Soul Calibur launched with DreamCast on 9.9.99 it was hailed as the greatest fighter ever made, and it was hard to disagree. It took 4 years, but Namco is finally back with a sequel. Which version should you get?

Now the fighting genre is quite large with many different flavors, but I tend to group them in two main categories: 3-D and 2-D. You can split them up further with hand-to-hand combat fighters (Tekken 4) versus weapon based (Soul Calibur 2), but when it comes to any 3-D fighter, it doesn't get much better then Soul Calibur II.

The graphics of the game are quite good. Fighters in general show off what a system can do, and it's really no different here. The character models are nicely detailed and move fluently, but the backgrounds could use work. They are very bland in even the best cases, and they keep the graphics from greatness. The game is similarly good in the sound department: forgettable but decent music, and sound effects of varying effectiveness. Plus the cheesy English voices will have you quickly searching for the Japanese option. (I don't need no stinkin' English! The original didn't have it.) The voice from Soul Calibur is back. Though you will quickly miss the infamous "but his soul still burns" line.

The gameplay in Soul Calibur 2 is excellent as usual. At the core it's very simple. You have your kick, your horizontal weapon swing, your vertical weapon slash, and your guard (defend). Add that this is the one 3D fighter with the full freedom to walk in all 360 degrees just by moving your d-pad, and things get real interesting as you pull a ton of different moves and combos. Some are simple (like pressing Back+A+K), some require a series of inputs, and some are "Street Fighter"-esque (example: rotating the d-pad down to back). You can also pull a "reversal" (Guard Impact). And of course the Soul Charge is back to increase your abilities at the push of a button.

In total there are 23 playable characters: Sophitia, Seung Mina, Yoshimitsu, Charade, Lizardman, Assassin, Berserker, Raphael, Talim, Yunsung, Cassandra, Mitsurugi, Necrid, Cervantes, Taki, Voldo, Nightmare, Astaroth, Ivy, Kilik, Xianghua, Maxi, and the console specific special character. 3 of these (Assassin, Berserker, Lizardman) are only available in versus play though. My favorite? Good ol' Kilik.

Several characters are new. Necrid (who was designed by Todd McFarlane just for this game) seems out of place with his more hand-to-hand style combat, but he's still a badass. Talim, who is best described as almost a female Maxi with her quick moves while swinging about her knives, is a very nice addition. (Just remember guys, she's only 15.) Raphael is also a cool new character. He can be harder to learn, but his unique graceful fencing style makes him stand out from anyone else. However, some of the other "new" characters seem more like doppelgangers (in classic Ryu-Ken style) then totally new fighters. One of Cassandra's costumes even looks just like her clone, Sophitia. Hwang is replaced by the very similar Yungsung and Assassin. You can also get Berserker who is similar to Astaroth and Rock. Edge Master is no more, but Charade takes his place randomly using the other characters' fighting styles and weapons. Then of course each game has its own special character.

The PlayStation 2 version has Heihachi (from Tekken fame). Xbox has another Todd McFarlane creation, his famous Spawn character. And the GameCube version has good old Link of The Legend of Zelda fame. None of them really seem to 'fit' in this game, but they are sure helping the game sell. As players, I personally like Spawn the best. Many gamers seem to really like Link too, but I could never really get "into" him besides just for the nostalgia factor. It is cool to see him shooting off arrows, boomerangs, and bombs though.

The heart of the single player experience is the Weapon Master Mode. Back in Soul Calibur, Mission Mode was one of the most unique aspects of the game. Because of that, there is now more of a focus on it. It is here that you basically unlock everything in the game: from new costumes, to weapon demonstrations, to art galleries, and even new weapons. As you play through the missions you earn experience points to rise in rank (though it doesn't make your character any stronger), and you earn gold with which to buy all of these things. Just to "beat" this mode it won't take you very long nor is it very hard, but you are far from done. In total there are 116 missions when you add the extra missions. These are basically harder versions of the first, and some can be quite tricky. Levels vary from matches were you are slowing losing health, to only air combos inflict damage, to beating 5 characters on one health bar, and many more. New this time are dungeons where you go room by room through a maze working your way to the "boss". Since each room is a 1 round fight and you have unlimited tries, they aren't very hard and can quickly become repetitive. In all, it will probably take most gamers somewhere between 12-16 hours to finish all of the levels.

Protip: To open Subchapter 2 - Beat every level, earn a Edgemaster rank (72), and beat Level 4-3 again.

While I miss buying new paintings in the art gallery (here you buy them in bunches and I don't think any of them are nearly as cool anyways), the addition of weapons easily makes up for this. These weapons do much more then just look different, they can completely change your strategy. They also can help you out tremendously. As an example, here is the list of weapons for Link (all are sword/shield sets):

  • Master Sword: This is your most familiar and balanced weapon.
  • Razor Sword: It's short with a penetrable guard, but has good offense.
  • Armos Series: Offense goes up with Soul Charge, but lacks defense.
  • Megaton Hammer: Good offense, but short. Strong single strike.
  • Cane of Byrna: Defense up with Soul Charge, plus recovers health.
  • Mirror Shield: Reflects attacks, but you can lose your balance.
  • Magic Sword: Good at penetrating defenses, but weak against impact.
  • Biggoron's Sword: Long reach with good offense, but drains energy.
  • Soul Edge (complete): Fearsome demonic weapon said to excel in offense and defense. (every character has this)
  • Great Fairy Sword: Ultimate Sword. Wield to discover its true power.
  • ???: Everyone has one last weapon that's just for "fun"...

If WMM wasn't enough for you, don't worry there is plenty still do to. There is the standard Arcade mode where you battle 7 fighters to reach Inferno (same old boss from before) which then unlocks the profile for that character. There is Time Trial (3 types even) where you fight numerous battles as fast as possible. Survival mode has you winning as many matches in a row as you can. Team Battle has each side pick up to 3 characters to battle with (but this is not a tag team mode). Practice mode allows you to check out each character's moves. And of course there is a versus (and versus team battle) mode. Plus each has a normal and extra version (in extra you can use the weapons you bought in WMM).

There has been much to do over which version to get. The answer is simple: any will do. Seriously. The PS2's graphics aren't up to par with the GC and Xbox versions, but I don't think enough so that it should be the determining factor. Though it also has longer load times, even if only by a couple seconds. A good fighter is a fighter with good control, and in which case, the PS2's Dual-Shock 2 wins here. GC's controller was not made for fighters, but after some practice you will get used to it and it's really not so bad. Not enough to keep you from getting this version. My concern would be if you want to become an expert player, you won't do it on GC. I felt it was harder to Guard and Guard Impact on GC then the others, and more advanced "Street Fighter" moves were hard to consistently pull off. Though if you really want to excel at SC2, you'll want to get an arcade stick on any platform.

In short, in my opinion, PS2 has the best control but worst character, GameCube has the best character but worst control, and Xbox is the Jack of all trades but master of none. From that, you pick. I'll also just add Link is really only the best character for Nintendo fans. Many others might rather have the chance to play as Spawn. (FYI: I personally got the GC version which most of this review is based on.)

It took 4 years for Namco to get this sequel to us, was it worth it? Yes and no. It is true that SC2 is a fantastic game. One of the best 3-D fighters of all time (only Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution beats it in my book). It takes what made the first great and adds to it. The problem is it doesn't add that much. Only 4 new characters that aren't based off old fighters. Of these, Necrid and the specials really don't fit and take a bit away from the overall presentation of the game. The gameplay hasn't changed much, but I guess why fix what wasn't broken. Guard Impacts (GI) have been vamped up to make them all the more useful (and important) though, and Soul Charges have been as well. Plus the overall difficulty has increased. While graphically better, it's not THAT much better for being 4 years older. The biggest difference I see is the camera zooms in more so your fighters are larger on screen. Because of all this, I think players who never played the original (FOR SHAME!) will be a lot more impressed with this game then those of us who were smart enough to own a Dreamcast. For us the biggest change is WMM and a choice in weapons.

Where does that bring us? To a very worthy sequel to one of the best 3D fighters ever. If you loved the first one, you'll love this one just as much. I'd pick VF4: Evo over this game, but it's a personal choice and many others would do just fine to pick SC2 as their favorite 3D fighter. The best part of all this is that Soul Calibur (and indirectly, Dreamcast) is finally getting its just due. It was well known on DC, but DC never sold as many as systems as current consoles, let alone the fact SC2 is on 3 big systems. A fighting game fan's dream. I just hope for Soul Calibur 3 Namco adds more to it. More new characters (and all old ones too), a tag team mode would be nice, and online play anyone? I can't wait!


 9.0 (for SC1 owners)
 9.5 (for those new to the series)