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Game Info:

SOULCALIBUR VI
Developed By: Bandai Namco Studios
Published By: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Released: October 18, 2018
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Genre: Fighting
ESRB Rating: T for Teen – Blood, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence, In-Game Purchases, Users Interact
Number of Players: 1-2
Price: $59.99 with $29.99 season pass
(Humble Store Link)

In 2012, SOULCALIBUR V was released, the follow-up to a largely successful but undeniably flawed SOULCALIBUR IV. While its base gameplay was mostly improved, the game’s lack of budget and development time was obvious: a comparatively pitiful amount of single-player content and a roster on the small side was exacerbated by the removal of a number of fan-favorite characters, replaced by their mostly-unlikable children – or just flat-out gone. The series lay dormant until 2018, where Project Soul re-emerged with SOULCALIBUR VI; rather than try to salvage what V introduced, they backpedaled, going back to re-tell the first SOULCALIBUR with a few additions from the later games. Welcome to the stage of history, retold.

The SOULCALIBUR series sets itself apart from other fighting games in three main ways: its weapon-focused combat, the “8-way run” system, and its three attack types. Being at least somewhat based on realistic fighting styles means there are very few projectile attacks, so it’s easy to see at a glance what distance each character is most dangerous at: Kilik, with his rod, would obviously prefer medium and long ranges, while the nunchaku-wielding Maxi needs to get up close. Movement is a big portion of the game as well, and stepping or running in the eight cardinal and intermediate directions is vital. Rather than having light and heavy punches and kicks, attacks are separated by function: one button controls horizontal attacks, one vertical, and one kicks. These are further separated into high, middle, and low attacks; highs can be blocked or ducked, mids hit ducking opponents (even if they’re blocking), and lows damage those blocking while standing.

What this combines into is a sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Horizontal attacks tend to be quick and catch people who try to move around you, but usually hit high and can be ducked. Vertical attacks are where the majority of the cast’s most powerful attacks come from, but can be sidestepped for an easy punish. Kicks are usually fast but weak, used for interruptions or quick damage. It’s a rather simple system to grasp, but hard to master; add in the lack of long drawn-out combos and quick rounds (most best-of-five matches last only a few minutes), and SOULCALIBUR VI becomes inviting to a button-mashing newcomer, but carries enough depth to please more serious and/or experienced players. Once you factor in throws, break attacks, guard impacts, feints, tech jumps and crouches, oki setups, guard crushes, Soul Charge, and so on, you get a fast-flowing, engaging experience that, at its best, gives you all the tools you need to succeed, assuming you know when to use them. The controls are quite simple, and even fully customizable on both keyboard and controller. Since some moves are tied to pressing multiple buttons at once, you can instead bind a button to it: rather than awkwardly hitting both X and B on an Xbox controller, for instance, you can make hitting the left bumper count as it instead.

SOULCALIBUR VI
Highlights:

Strong Points: Plenty of single-player content; mechanics (mostly) flow together well; dual audio
Weak Points: PC version has Denuvo, console versions have input lag; online modes are limited and poorly implemented; a few mechanics slow down the otherwise fast pace; absurdly anti-consumer business practices
Moral Warnings: Weapon violence; some blood shown in a few story portraits; skimpy outfits and clothing damage; language (d**n, hell, b*****d, jack***, p*ssed, using (lowercase) God’s name in  vain); can choose to be (somewhat) evil in the RPG mode; alcohol use; the character creator can make facsimiles of genitalia and be shared online for all to see; the Greek pantheon is portrayed as real, with Hephaestus and Ares playing major roles; evil cults; wind worship; light magic use, mostly by non-player characters; a lot of talk of souls and stealing/consuming/empowering them; Voldo tracks people through their auras; undead and necromancy; demons and angels; some juvenile humor

There are two mechanics that slow down the pace of the game, sometimes quite severely. The first is the Critical Edge, introduced in SOULCALIBUR V. It’s the bog-standard super attack – hit a button, burn a bar of meter, do a lot of damage. However, where they were rather snappy in V, they’re drawn-out and overly cinematic in VI. If you win a round with one, you also get a close-up of the victor as they make some comment. It’s all neat to see the first few times, but you’ll be sitting around looking at what’s essentially a mid-fight cutscene for 15-30 seconds every time. The second mechanic is new to VI: the Reversal Edge. By holding the vertical attack button and the guard button at the same time, your character will automatically dodge any blow (other than break attacks and unblockables), then unleash a vertical attack. If it connects, it shifts to a more literal rock-paper-scissors match where each contestant chooses an attack: verticals beat horizontals beat kicks beat verticals. If the same attack is chosen, a second round starts; if it happens again, the initiator of the clash wins. While it’s slow and easily beaten for the most part – either break the guard or sidestep the followup attack – it’s a timewaster in the same way a Critical Edge is – only Reversal Edge gains meter rather than uses it. If you’re up against someone who spams it, the fight can drag and suck the momentum out of the game.

SOULCALIBUR has always had strong single-player content, and VI doesn’t disappoint. Along with the regular quick fight and arcade modes (the latter unfortunately more bare-bones than older SOULCALIBUR games, with no boss or character-specific endings), there are two story-driven modes: Soul Chronicle and Libra of Soul. Soul Chronicle contains the main story – Kilik, Xianghua, and Maxi questing to destroy Nightmare and the cursed sword Soul Edge – along with sub-stories fleshing out the entire cast. Each Chronicle is fully-voiced and done in a visual novel style, with detailed portraits of the cast against a background, interspersed with (rather easy) fights. Libra of Soul follows a player-created character, using the series’ renowned Create-a-Soul system, in an RPG-like experience, traversing a map of Europe, Africa, and Asia and fighting battles with various conditions – the stage may be slippery, opponents might do chip damage through your block, and so on. As you fight, you gain experience and weapons in random styles, steadily gaining strength while being pushed to explore each character’s fighting style – equipping a katana forces you to use Mitsurugi’s moveset, an axe Astaroth’s, and so on. Libra of Soul also has a few branching paths and two endings depending on your choices; while most of the mode remains the same no matter what, it does offer some replay value.

As with most fighting games nowadays, online modes are where the longevity of the game lies, though in this case they are somewhat underdeveloped. Casual mode has you create or join a king-of-the-hill style room where you can set various battle options such as number of rounds and time limit, and allow you to awkwardly converse with the other people in the room with a list of predetermined phrases. Ranked mode keeps track of your wins with a point system, gaining and losing points as you win and lose; you start as a “sprout” before your first rank-up, then slowly rise from G5 up to S1 – five ranks per letter grade. Ranked mode is the fastest way to find a fight, but has some problems, mainly in the matchmaking system: even as a lowly G3 or so, you can (and usually will) be matched with someone in the C grades with ten times your point total, who proceeds to wipe the floor with you (and gain next to nothing by doing so). The developers have promised to patch it, but the problem persists at the time of writing. You also gain way more points than you lose, so higher grades aren’t necessarily a sign of skill, but rather of time commitment – though the two do tend to go hand-in-hand. The netcode is nothing special either, but does its job; it’ll obviously be different depending on your region and internet connection, but personally speaking, I’ve had more smooth battles than jittery ones.

The game’s presentation is mostly unassuming, but with a few stand-out pieces. The hand-drawn portraits and backgrounds in Soul Chronicle are very well done, and the few in-engine cinematics are fantastically animated, but the art style and graphics themselves are nothing special. There are a lot of assets in all areas reused from previous games, from textures to animations. Early, pre-release versions of SOULCALIBUR VI had some rather extreme particle effects, but these have either been toned down or don’t distract from the action in the game proper. The music follows the SOULCALIBUR tradition of being somewhere between above-average and outstanding, and strikes a good balance between being nice to listen to and able to be tuned out when you’re in a match. The voice acting wavers at times, though it usually does its job, with a couple of praiseworthy performances – the newcomer Azwel’s voice is delightfully, overdramatically, scenery-chewingly amazing. There’s also the added bonus of dual audio; when you’re sick of Xianghua’s obnoxious screeching in English, you can change to her obnoxious Japanese screeching (that’s not a direct knock on the voice actresses; Xianghua’s just obnoxious).

Perhaps the biggest flaws of the game, for better or worse, come from outside it. The PC version has Denuvo Anti-Tamper as DRM, with all the problems it brings – performance issues, file bloat, etc. – and was, as usual, cracked within a week or two of release, punishing only the paying customer once again. The console versions trade it for some input lag instead, around five frames or so, with random lag spikes as well. What’s worse, however, is the (now unfortunately fighting game standard) anti-consumer DLC practice. The fan-favorite character Tira was announced as the first DLC character before the full base game roster was revealed, and looked to be fully complete at the time, though Bandai Namco assured she was still in development. She was then included in the beta, even when two standard characters weren’t; the defense then changed to threatening the IP’s life if the game didn’t sell. Upon release, people reported seeing Tira pop up in arcade mode even without purchasing her, heavily suggesting that she was intended to be in the base game but was pulled to sell back to her fans. Create-a-Soul suffered a similar fate, with rather limited parts and many options from previous games missing – but there will be a few “CaS packs” going up for sale soon (to their credit, they will release some for free as well). There’s also the issue of selling a $30 season pass without revealing what’s in it aside from Tira (to save you the trouble: it’s Tira, the CaS packs, the guest character YoRHa No. 2 Type B from Nier: Automata, some music from the older games, Amy, and Cassandra). It’s extremely frustrating to have content gated off like this, but since upcoming fighting games make SOULCALIBUR VI’s issues look rather tame, it’s something we’ll have to live with barring a massive change in consumer mindset and spending.

SOULCALIBUR VI
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 78%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 50%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 6/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

Other than the above moral quandary, there’s a laundry list of issues to take note of. Weapon violence is the obvious one, though there’s no blood and fighters are only ever knocked out; there is some blood in a few Soul Chronicle portraits, but it’s barely more than some red splotches here and there. In addition, there are some descriptions of gruesome, gory scenes in Libra of Soul, but they’re never shown. Strong language is rather frequent, with “d**n” and “hell” common, but “b*****d,” “p*ssed,” and “jack***” are occasionally uttered, and very rarely God’s name is used in vain, with the subtitles keeping it lowercase. There is some alcohol use shown, with one character portrayed as a drunkard; you can use some in Libra of Soul, but it acts like all the other pre-fight boosts. Most of the characters show a lot of skin, and clothing damage has the potential to leave fighters in their underwear; Ivy and Voldo are the worst offenders here, both of them in little more than bondage gear (which, thanks to Create-a-Soul, you can put on any other character, including the fifteen-year-old Talim). The in-depth nature of Create-a-Soul also lends itself to abuse, and for every neat helicopter or Magikarp made with it, there’s a giant facsimile of genitalia to be found – which can also show up in your game, thanks to Libra of Soul taking random characters shared online to populate certain missions. Also in Libra of Soul, the two branching paths involve being good or evil – to an extent. The “evil” side isn’t particularly evil, with the worst being some theft or mercy killing; a character in an event only on the “evil” side actually remarks that she “senses no evil in you.” Still, in order to unlock one character’s final Soul Chronicle chapter, you have to pick to “evil” option to aid him, though it’s portrayed as coercion on his part.

There’s plenty of supernatural and occult content to find as well. The Greek pantheon is portrayed as real, with the gods Hephaestus and Ares at the forefront; the former even has multiple speaking roles. One of the main factions in the story is an evil cult that tortures and experiments on innocents, turning them into lizardmen. There’s an island of people that worship the wind, with the playable character Talim being a “priestess of the winds” and uses it in some attacks. Christianity, for better or worse, isn’t portrayed at all. Other types of magic, including necromancy, are shown, but used only by NPCs; the closest you get in-game are Geralt’s signs and Zasalamel’s time stop “curses,” though honorable mention goes to Ivy’s living weapon, created by binding a demon to a sword through alchemy. Souls, of course, play a huge role in the game, mostly being eaten or corrupted by Soul Edge. Voldo, being blind, is said to track people through the auras they leave behind. Skeletons, demons, and angels all show up, though semi-infrequently, and you can even create your own through Create-a-Soul. Finally, a few characters have attacks that are suggestive and/or juvenile; Ivy acts like a dominatrix, Voldo thrusts his pelvis a lot, Sophitia likes to stick her opponent’s head between her legs, Tira can suck life from her foe through a vampiric kiss, and a few characters have moves that target the nether regions – with a comical bell sound playing when they connect.

SOULCALIBUR VI is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the franchise, and a return to form after its predecessor, even if it lacks some of the depth of the series’ heyday. With the content on offer for both newcomers and old timers, it should be a slam-dunk recommendation – if it wasn’t for the de facto endorsement of the anti-consumer practices. Even with all the moral issues in-game, the biggest is this: do you reward the hard-working Project Soul, who pumped out a solid game on a limited budget, even if it means buying into Bandai Namco’s schemes? The best compromise would be to wait for a sale if you plan on getting the season pass or the Denuvo-infested PC version. Transcending history and the world, a tale of developers and publishers, eternally retold.

-Cadogan

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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