Soul Calibur IV grabbed many column inches leading to its near-simultaneous worldwide release. The hype machine reached its peak when Character Designer Hideo Yoshie released a statement detailing the aim of the design behind Algol – one of the game’s new characters. One of five, in-fact, designed by renowned anime artists. That’s in addition to the heavily touted Star Wars characters, which to some may seem almost as ludicrous as the inevitably popular Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe.
However, much like Midway’s more brutal offering, every effort has gone to ensure these characters blend well within the Soul Calibur universe. Indeed, their tales of how they came to be competing for the ultimate weapon may lack the coherency of “true” Soul Calibur characters, but this doesn’t diminish from their playability. Yoda may feel somewhat unbalanced at times, being not only tricky to master but also tricky to beat – acting as the equivalent of GoldenEye 007’s Oddjob or Tekken 3’s Gon – yet is intrinsically satisfying for those who do either.
Soul Calibur IV is More than New Models
These new characters aren’t Soul Calibur IV’s only addition to the series, however. While an Arcade Mode of a-typical beat-‘em-up structure is included, the Story Mode is designed to offer the bulk of the single-player experience. Each character must compete through a series of five predetermined stages, each with varying rule sets. A one-on-one battle may be less common than a two-versus-three, until the final bout. Player attributed character traits, known as Skills, are utilised in this mode, as in Tower of Souls (more on this below), and money can be earned to buy new items and characters in the Character Creation Mode.
Tower of Souls is basically a revamp of Tales of Souls from Soul Calibur III. Which in itself was a revamp of Soul Calibur II’s Weapon Master Mode. Playing through a series of ‘floors’ with a team of two-or-three, you’ll encounter what are basically endurance matches. The Tower of Souls Mode is no doubt where most players will be spending much of their time. Especially as it’s here that allows for further weapon unlocks and Skill Set customisation, as well as online leaderboards.
Setting Templates for Soul Caliburs to Come
The Character Customisation Mode is, however, where most of the development time had clearly been spent. As expected, this mode allows players to customise any pre-built character. However, it also allows them to develop their own based on an existing Move Set. The options here have been significantly upgraded from that of Soul Calibur III. In fact, Soul Calibur IV set the template for all successive sequels. The hallmarks of this customisation system can still be felt 15 years later.
Equip characters with clothing, armour and supplementary adornments. Players earn Skill Points with which they can then use to attribute any unlocked Skills. The variations available on the Character Models is comparable to even the likes of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s character creation system. And being able to customise existing characters for battle in Tower of Souls, or online ‘Special Versus Mode’, will become quite an addictive experience for most. The only disappointment here being the lack of any Lightsaber Move Set or tweaking of such characters.
Soul Calibur Still Packs a Punch
Of course, you can’t talk about a fighting game without talking about the fighting. The system has also received a few tweaks from its predecessor. However, most of these are largely superfluous.
The face buttons control much of the action, with the A Button (on Xbox consoles) blocking, X and Y for horizontal and vertical slashes, respectively, and B for kick. The layout will be familiar to fans of the series. Critical Finishes are an entirely new proposition, in which an instant kill can be claimed.
Each player now has a ‘Soul Gauge’ next to their standard health bar. This will change from green to blue when on the offensive. Green to red when continuously blocking without returning blows. The offensive player can not only destroy a piece of their opponent’s armour when the Soul Gauge reach red – meaning further hits to the specific area will increase in damage – but also, should the timing be right, execute a Critical Finish but pressing all four face buttons simultaneously (or the left bumper/L1). The animations for Critical Finishes, however, are somewhat underwhelming. And the window of opportunity for their execution so slight that most will simply remain ignorant of them.
…And it’s Pretty, too
Soul Calibur IV sparkles with detail in both its arenas and character models. Even 15 years later, it still looks gorgeous throughout. Much of the arena list included has been redesigned from its predecessors, allowing for tight-knit combat. Ring-outs have become a much more worrying factor in a game that demands you be reactionary. The soundtrack has always been a pleasing feature of the series, and Soul Calibur IV is no different. However, the offering of a selection of tracks from the original Dreamcast Soul Calibur as DLC – at a premium – will annoy many. Why has such appreciated music has not been included on the disc?
Soul Calibur IV attempts to do many things, and at most it succeeds. While it doesn’t quite match the depth of Virtua Fighter 5 or the audacity of Dead or Alive 5, it certainly squares-up as a more well-rounded package than both. With the passing of time the beat-’em-up genre has regained significant popularity, and further Soul Calibur titles were inevitable. However, at present it remains Soul Calibur IV that offers the strongest in the series to date.