For a franchise as revered as Soulcalibur, only a few of its games are as beloved as titles in other fighting game franchises. Beyond Soul Edge, Soulcalibur, and Soulcalibur II, the quality of the rest of the series is highly debatable. The console port of III had massive bugs, nobody really grabbed onto IV and its complicated mechanics, and V got rid of everyone’s favorite characters and replaced them with sub-par clones. But people still love the series, and for Soulcalibur VI to reclaim the love among its fanbase that entries like II have, Namco Bandai had to go back to basics and push to the forefront everything that people love about the series. Luckily, that is exactly what they did, and Soulcalibur VI stands as possibly the best in the entire series, even if some of the package doesn’t hold up as well as the rest of it.
Best to get it out of the way now and talk about the worst part of the game — the single player. Soulcalibur VI has two single player modes, Libra of Souls and Soul Chronicle. The former has you creating a custom character and taking him (or her, or… skeleton) through a glorified board game as you reach the end of the inconsequential plot, all leading up to one of the most frustratingly broken and un-fun final boss fights in recent memory. There are only a couple short CG cutscenes while the rest of the story is told through text boxes. Nothing of importance is told in the bare-bones story, and it all boils down to trite and boring save-the-world fare.
The second mode is a simple, more traditional arcade mode where you take each character through a quick story in a handful of fights against mind-numbingly stupid AI. While this mode is far more enjoyable than Libra of Souls, it still doesn’t add much to the single player experience, and it doesn’t top Soulcalibur II‘s Weapon Master mode.
Now we can get to the good parts of the game, chief among them being the gameplay. Soulcalibur VI keeps the traditional gameplay the series is known for, that being its rock-paper-scissors system of horizontal, vertical, and kick attacks and the 8-way run system, and it also adds a few new interesting layers to the mix. The most dramatic of them is the “Reversal Edge.” Acting like a focus attack from Street Fighter IV, pressing R1 will have your character enter a parry stance where you will automatically parry oncoming attacks and execute a counterattack. If this attack connects, you will be entered into a slow motion “clash” cutscene, which will be familiar to fans of the Injustice series. Unlike in Injustice though, you have far more options available than just pressing three buttons.
You can press horizontal, vertical, or kick, and if your opponent presses the button that attack is weak against, you will break through with a follow-up attack. Likewise, if you press the weaker button you will get hit. You also have the option to block, and even press a direction to attempt to avoid the attack entirely and set up a counterattack once the Reversal Edge ends. Some characters even have unique combo strings exclusive to Reversal Edge follow-ups. Ultimately though, this move is meant to be used sparingly as the initial attack for every character’s Reversal Edge is a vertical attack, so a watchful opponent can simply sidestep out of the way. Also, not every attack will be countered by the Reversal Edge. Low attacks and certain armor-breaking moves will break right through the parry animation. Like in all good fighting games, the Reversal Edge is not a get-out-of-jail-free card and must be used sparingly.
Another offensive option is the Guard Break. By pressing L1, you will initiate a slow move that can break through defensive maneuvers like Reversal Edge and Guard Impact. This is another move that has to be used carefully, because if it is blocked or avoided you are left wide open. Don’t be too defensive though, as Soulcalibur VI has a guard crush mechanic. While there is no visible guard break meter, if you block too much your character’s health meter will flash yellow and then red before your guard is broken and you are left wide open for attack.
The biggest offensive addition to the game is the Soul Charge. By pressing back and R2 with at least one bar of meter, your character will enter a powered up state until your meter runs out. Every character’s Soul Charge is different and can do anything from changing your move’s special properties to changing the character entirely. For example, Kilik will turn into a darker, more sinister version of himself and does massive damage at the cost of his own life. It is worth checking out each character’s Soul Charge mode to see all the wacky shenanigans they gain. Of course, you can also use a Critical Edge, Soulcalibur‘s version of a super move, with at least one bar of meter to use an extremely powerful cinematic combo.
With all of the various offensive and defensive mechanics Soulcalibur VI has available, it ensures that both players are constantly interacting with each other, vying for space, and trying to out-think each other.
The other most important aspect of Soulcalibur VI is its character creator mode. A trademark feature of the series since II, the character creator in VI is more robust and varied than it has ever been before. Every item, accessory, sticker, and label can be twisted, contorted, and modified to suit whatever your needs are. Without hyperbole, the scope of the character creator is limited only by your imagination. Creative players have been discovering new ways to mold the creator to their needs and create anything you can possibly think of. Whatever character you are thinking of right now, chances are 10 people have already made it.
Lastly is the game’s online play, and thankfully Soulcalibur VI keeps the string of solid netcode fighters going that Namco Bandai started with Dragon Ball FighterZ. While it is extremely connection-dependent, if you and your opponent have solid connections, you will have an almost seamless online experience. Even slightly lower connections perform admirably well. As long as you have a decent connection, you can count on having a solid online experience with Soulcalibur VI.
One glaring issue with the online however is that custom characters are allowed in ranked matches, and it is an absolute disaster. Unscrupulous players have taken to creating characters with absurdly large hit boxes, or can even blend into the background of the stage, making them essentially invisible. These created characters can also alter their hit boxes to make combos that should normally not work on them, and allow their own attacks to connect when they shouldn’t. Hopefully Namco Bandai is aware of this issue and will just outright ban custom characters from ranked matches. Casual matches are fine, but when points are on the line, it should be kept simple with the base roster of characters.
Speaking of rosters, Soulcalibur VI has a great one. Almost all your favorites are back, including some newcomers like the dual sword-wielding Groh. Also available is Tira as the first DLC character. 2B from Nier: Automata joins the cast as the second guest character, along with Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher. More DLC will be added down the line, and I can expect we will see a few more veterans return.
While its single player suffers, the combat at the core of Soulcalibur VI remains as fast and fluid as ever before. It provides a robust fighting experience along with solid online and a custom character creator that puts everything before it to shame. Fans of the franchise and fighting games in general will have a blast revisiting this tale of souls and swords, as always, eternally retold.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.