Guess what? The soul still BURNS!
Once upon a time, pretty much the only game that would spin regularly in my apartment was 2008’s Soulcalibur IV. No, it wasn’t just because it served up a much better depiction of Yoda in combat than Episode II could ever hope to; it was 3D fighting ground down to its purest form. Ring outs were plentiful, and anyone who wanted to step up to the plate had at least a passing chance at winning a round or two. After a somewhat forgettable fifth entry and an even more forgettable piecemeal follow-up in Soulcalibur: Lost Swords, the long-running franchise is finally back in fine form with Soulcalibur VI.
Right from the start, the feature that makes Soulcalibur VI attractive is how stripped down the entire thing is. It’s just Soulcalibur, baby, and how you react to that statement will dictate whether or not this one is an immediate purchase for you. Classic characters and newcomers alike—including Geralt from the Witcher series and 2B from NieR: Automata—are all present and accounted for, and that curséd titular blade is as coveted and dangerous as ever. There are a few new mechanics introduced for good measure, but for the most part Bandai Namco wisely kept the entire package as streamlined as possible here.
One of the key mechanics making a first-time appearance is the “Reversal Edge” system, which essentially gives you an opportunity to defend against and counter oncoming attacks. Its slow motion style is always cool to behold—kind of like the awesome way Tekken 7 brought in those slo-mo final hits but to a lesser degree—but its implementation is a little confusing at first. Once you get the hang of it, well, you might not be using it all the time, but at least you’ll know what to do when someone else does. Personally, I still enjoy playing Soulcalibur VI just as much without touching Reversal Edge, but it does become essential depending on who you’re going up against.
Even if you haven’t tried it for yourself, you’ve likely seen some of the fun that can be had with Soulcalibur VI’s custom character creator. Sure, Story Mode is fine and battling friends is as enjoyable as ever, but why waste your time playing the game itself when you can whittle away countless hours trying to recreate characters from every single unrelated media property ever conceived? While there have been some annoyances in this regard thanks to a lack of developmental foresight—mostly in the form of people making obnoxiously monstrous creations with no discernable hit box—the sky isn’t even close to the limit here. If creativity is your thing in fighting games, you’re going to be busy laughing it up with friends and enemies alike once you take your malformed experiments online for all to see.
It’s hard to believe this is part of the celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary. As it stands, it’s a strong entry that honors the legacy that came before it well. However you decide to play it, Soulcalibur VI is a refreshing addition to a currently-bursting lineup of solid fighters that has something to offer to both longtime fans and newcomers. I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here, but for the time being I’m more than happy to hang out and knock people out of arenas repeatedly in VI for the foreseeable future.
publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
system(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC