I realize that fighting games often find their longevity in the multiplayer scene, and I think that makes a great deal of sense. To that end SoulCalibur VI holds up well, but the single player experience is so robust is what really sets this title apart from so many other fighting games and makes it one of my favorite titles this year.
I have long been a fan of the series. In fact, SoulCalibur IV was the first ever game reviewed on this site. I spent so many hours customizing characters and working through the story and single player content that I honestly lost track. I was so passionate about the fourth game in the series that it was one of the reasons I decided to start writing game reviews and opened this site.
I am happy to say I was in no way disappointed with this release, as the overall experience in SoulCalibur VI is an excellent one. The combat is approachable yet fast and deep as well. The ability to use weapons has always given this series something of a unique flavor over most fighting games (it is one of the reasons I always dug the old Samurai Showdown series as well). Simply put, it has been a long time since playing this series, but I was more than happy to pick up a controller and feel right at home with the characters. Perhaps that is one of the few knocks – that after all of this time the roster really has not changed a whole lot. There are plenty of returning characters and a trio of new ones.
Still, it is fantastic to see a fighting game that recalls story mode is important (looking at you Street Fighter IV), that knows that style is good but substance is just as important (something Final Fantasy Dissidia NT seemed to forget) and that you need more than just some fan service to make a good fighting game (SNK Heroines should take notes). I don’t intend for this review to turn into a means to bash other fighting games, but more to express that I have been deeply disappointed by a lot of them in recent years. For me, SoulCalibur VI has proven to be the most complete fighting game in some time.
The story mode has a lengthy main story that sees a handful of characters through a lengthy timeline with lots of battles along the way. Below that, you have smaller story arcs for each other character in the game. It is actually a really interesting way to do a story mode, because a lot of fighting games in the past made no sense. You picked your favorite combatant, they win the tournament, they are the best and stomped everyone else along the way. This made it very hard for companies like Capcom to tell a coherent, cannon story for a title like Street Fighter II. Over the years other games like Mortal Kombat did a better job of running you through chapters, where you use a character for a handful of matches and move on to others.
However, in trying to tell one big, long and linear story like that, again the narrative can get stretched out oddly along the way. I like how SoulCalibur VI handles it better, even if there are some kind of cheesy moments where people who were just fighting seem to dust their hands off and say, “Okay, you’re better than I thought. Carry on,” without any real consequences of the fight they just had. Also, there are very few actual cutscenes as the development team opted for a fully voiced story told over nice enough still portrait images and a background picture. Still, the intertwining story shows a good deal more thought was put into the narrative than what we usually see out of the genre.
Probably my favorite mode is the Libra of Souls. Here you take your own created character as you travel around the world closing Astral Fissures and picking up side quests while encountering other characters. For starters, the character creation mode is again fantastic. So many different fighting styles, pieces of gear and bits of visual flair really gives SoulCalibur VI legs that most fighting games lack. that being said – it is not perfect. There should be more previewing of features (like when you hover over a face, instead of having to select it to see how it looks) with oodles of loading time that can bring the experience to a very slow grind. The RPG-esque elements such as earning money and levels, making some decisions that veer their alignment towards good or evil and unlocking different story routes along the way make for a deep, replayable experience (there is even a trophy for going down either the good or bad route, begging for at least a second play through). This mode also finds itself layered against the proper story mode, unlocking some pretty cool moments along the way.
As for the combat itself – SoulCalibur VI delivers a quality experience, even if it is one that has not seen a great deal of change. Blisteringly fast attacks move at a buttery smooth framerate, so for as much movement as there is from the characters and backgrounds (though admittedly the visuals are not quite as sharp as some other recent titles, but they are still attractive), the core gameplay remains topnotch. That is the good news, however the actual gameplay probably could have used a bit more innovation. The big shiny new feature is the Reversal Edge, which is sort of a flashy game of Rock / Paper / Scissors. In theory that sounds good, but it’s a pretty easy attack to trigger and probably should be walled behind some kind of a gauge or something. Otherwise it really winds up grinding the pace of the gameplay down if you and your opponent try to use it too much. It looks sharp, but it feels slightly out of place in the overall flow of combat.
The SoulCalibur games have long had guest characters, with some that mesh better than others. Link was always an odd-looking addition, but his use of a sword and shield made him something of a natural fit. I am as big of a Star Wars guy as anyone, and I love hearing the Imperial March in a video game, but I never quite found the science fiction aesthetic of Star Wars a good fit back in the fourth chapter of the series. Here Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series is a fantastic fit with his combination of magic and unique sword strikes.
While SoulCalibur VI probably will not be a top title in the eSports fighting scene, it has a solid enough online presence that should provide plenty of competitive gameplay. That being said, too often the fighting genre relies too heavily on online competition to give their games longevity. Kudos to the development team here for creating an incredibly robust single player experience that is worth coming back to time and again. This makes SoulCalibur VI my vote for best fighting game of 2019.Score: 8.75 / 10