Transcending history and the world, a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold. The return of a fighting legend is confirmed with the announcement that Soulcalibur VI is on it’s way from Bandai Namco. Everything we have seen so far is looking fantastic, and we were invited (rather excitedly) to their offices to play this upcoming fighter.
On the surface, everything that you have come to expect from Soulcalibur is here, with the game still playing in the usual partly-3D fighting way, including all of the trimmings you would expect. The horizontal versus vertical attack strikes, foreground and background steps, and the mechanic of the throws being different depending on the location of your character in relation to your opponent. Also returning are enhanced techniques like the Guard Impact manoeuvre, which can repel a single attack, giving the player the advantage.
There are, however, two very notable additions that dramatically change not only the basic gameplay but how the game looks for the better. The first one of which, the Critical Edge, is what essentially fills the gap of the “super attacks” of the game. With the correct amount of meter, which you can find below the health bars, you can activate the Critical Edge resulting in a devastating, cinematic moves.
Also, while speaking about cinematic additions, the other new mechanic that makes an even larger difference to the moment-to-moment gameplay is the Reversal Edge. This is essentially a stance, which will temporarily deflect the next attack, and then enter both characters into a standoff revolving around a rock-scissor-paper quick time event. The players have a short time after this becomes active to press circle, triangle, or square (with circle beating triangle beating square and so on).
If you guess successfully, you will attack your opponent, giving a clear advantage and allowing for unique combo openers. If you both match, you will merely clash and both will need to recover afterwards. But, if you unfortunately lose this little challenge, you will be placed at a huge disadvantage. So, the Reversal Edge is a huge risk to use. It can be an invaluable tool for breaking or reviving momentum, but if you get the guess wrong, you will be massively punished for it.
Despite these drastic mechanical changes, some of the fighters feel remarkably similar to their previous incarnations. To use two examples that strike me immediately, Kilik and Ivy feel almost indistinguishable from the iterations I played very recently on Soulcalibur II: HD Online. Almost all of the combos and attacks are the same, and if it wasn’t for both the Reversal Edge and Critical Edge attacks, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from their earlier selves.
However, for the most part, the entire returning cast feel developed or at least refined from previous appearances. Zasalamel, for instance, has been slightly evolved from previous incarnations giving a greater focus on more juggling capability (yes, as crazy as that sounds, you read that right). Also, the introduction of the Reversal Edge gives the character far more viability amongst the faster elements of the roster whereas before his middling speed was damning.
Then there’s the new characters; of which only two, Grøh and Geralt, were available in the demo I had access to. Geralt is possibly my favourite guest character in the franchise since Link in the GameCube version of Soulcalibur II. In fact, if I didn’t know that he was from another franchise, I would have just assumed he was new to the series. The way that Geralt feels to play and his moveset perfectly align with the rest of the roster; in fact, it makes me want to try out The Witcher just from playing a few matches of Geralt, which is a surefire sign of a good guest character.
Grøh is absolutely fantastic; not only from a visual standpoint too, he genuinely feels like a great addition to the roster. All of his attacks are suitably vicious and have great feedback to them and his Double Saber weapon gives him such a flexibility to his moveset that he can at times be utterly terrifying while being aggressive.
One of the lasting impressions I have about the game is just how stunning it is to behold. All of the attacks I’ve mentioned before have gorgeous animations and the use of colour is just incredible. All of the designs of the arenas have such a high level of attention to detail and look great from all angles, and the new and returning characters both look fantastic and unique, and yet cohesive with one another, resulting in an incredible package overall.
I think that the way to sum all of this up is simply to say that Soulcalibur has evolved. Bandai Namco have cut straight to the heart of the franchise, stripping away any unnecessary padding, and have ended up with a game that feels pure and undiluted. Even the additions to the gameplay have been incorporated into the fold in such an intuitive manner that it’s hard to ascertain immediately that they haven’t been here all along.
Needless to say at this point, I’m very excited about Soulcalibur VI. It is the game at the Bandai Namco press day that I spent the most time with, and it has confirmed all of my thoughts on it. A big problem down the line notwithstanding, Soulcalibur VI might shape up to be the best fighting game of the year, and has definitely brought me fully back to the franchise (I abandoned Soulcalibur around IV as I really didn’t enjoy it).
Soulcalibur VI releases on October 19th. Do you think you will pick it up on release? Who will you be picking up to play? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter, and keep an eye on Rice Digital in the future for more coverage of this game and other Japanese titles.
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