It’s hard to believe that Namco’s weapon based fighter Soulcalibur II is now over a decade old. Released on home consoles back in 2003 it received universal critical acclaim and was regarded as not just the best weapon based fighter but one of the best fighters around. However recent iterations to the soul series have been lacking a bit, relying on some novel characters to draw people back to it. Saying that, the only reason I’ve decided to review the GameCube copy of this game is because of one particular character, but we’ll get to that a little later. So after all of these years how has it held up?
Each character has their own unique style of fighting from Astaroth’s slow but brutal axe combos to Xianghua’s speedy sword strikes. Yet these numerous fighting styles are perfectly balanced in fights against each other which makes for some great competitive fights. One of the best aspects of Soulcalibur is that anyone can play regardless of their skill. Beginners new to the game can easily pick up a controller and mash out a couple of combos with ease. However the game also rewards those that choose to learn all of the ins-and-outs of each characters movesets. There’s plenty of depth to the combat mechanics with staggers, guard impacts and quick rolls just imagine how chaotic battles can become with practice.
Most of the cast from the original Dreamcast version return for the sequel while some fresh new faces make their debut. Returning are the katana wielding samurai Mitsurugi, scantily clad ninja Taki and the fearsome demon Nightmare. A couple of characters appearing for the first time might look like they’re just rehashes of other characters but they’re not. Mostly anyway, there is Yun-seong who effectively takes the place of Hwang from the previous game and two later unlockables which have identical movesets as others. The more unique names filling in the roster include Sophitia’s younger sister Cassandra, who uses the same weaponry but has a unique fighting style to herself and Raphael a fast paced rapier user. This brings the character roster up to a solid 21 fighters they are all equally balanced and all fit within the confines of the soul universe. However there are an additional 4 fighters that are a little more unusual.
The only character that really doesn’t fit in with the cast was the console exclusive green goliath Necrid. Added to the game as part of a a collaboration with Todd MacFarlane he was intended to target North American audiences but his overall design does make him fit in with the rest of the roster and he feels more like a filler character. Interestingly the game also included characters exclusive to particular systems. These included Tekken’s Heihachi for the PS2 and Spawn for the Xbox release. These two (like Necrid) feel out of place amongst the normal roster, however the Gamecube’s addition had no problem fitting in and was by far the best cameo in the Soulcalibur series. It’s also the reason why I have decided to review this copy of the game! Yes, the Gamecube version allowed you to enter the battlefield as the legendary hero of time himself; Link.
This fighter also has a great amount of content available to the player to help keep interest for hours whether you’re playing solo or with friends. There’s a range of modes available from the more standard arcade and survival modes to the more unique team battle mode in which you can build up a team of 38 fighters and take on the CPUs or friends contenders. Practice mode isn’t as in depth as other fighters, there’s no training tutorials or combo challenge options, it’s just a place to go to hone your skills. As for unlockables, costumes are just for cosmetic purposes and for the most part so are the weapons. That is unless they’re used in certain modes which then allows you to utilise special abilities like boosted defence or extending range of attack.
The best mode available is Weapon Master mode which sees you taking the role of one of the playable characters and leading them around a map to battle it out in a number of fights. The unique aspect of these fights is the odd clear goals. These include fighting in quicksand, win with throws only, fight against poison tipped weapons and fighting invisible enemies. This fresh change of gameplay is enjoyable and there’s a real sense of satisfaction when beating a particularly hard challenge. While there is a story it’s forgettable and not really necessary to enjoy this feature. Really this mode revolves around collecting each character’s weaponry.
Soulcalibur II is a nice game to look at, characters have a nice amount of detail and the stages are varied and interesting. Animation is of a really high quality, every aspect of characters attacks really feel very fluid and even their idle stances have that polished feel from Voldo’s creepy, sultry dance to Taki’s peculiar jiggle. Sound wise sword clashes are very satisfying while the default English dubbed character voices are a little dull but this can be changed to the original Japanese voices through the options menu. The soundtrack is probably the best aspect of the games audio as all of the pieces have some great battle scores which are enjoyable to listen to and really set the tone for fights.
Soulcalibur II still stands up as one of the best fighters ever made and arguably the best in the soul series. There’s plenty of fun to be had whether you decide to go solo or play with friends, with a compelling single player mode and it’s easy to play, difficult to master philosophy. Yes, training mode could have been better and there’s a couple of strange appearances from characters well out of their comfort zone but these are really minor niggles in the long run.
This Retrospective Review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down.