If you were lucky enough to purchase a Dreamcast on September 9th, 1999, you probably purchased one of two titles: Sonic Adventure or SoulCalibur. Your average Sega fan probably assumed that the cocky hedgehog’s game would be the obvious choice, but boy, was he mistaken. It’s not like Sonic Adventure was a bad game, but who’d want to play that when it was accompanied by the best-looking fighter to ever grace a home console?
We’d seen some decent looking 3D fighters on home consoles before SoulCalibur, but most of them chugged like a 10mph train. The animations typically weren’t fluid, and it often looked like the characters were fighting underwater. So there was a reason behind most hardcore fighting fans sticking with 2D fighters. Well, SoulCalibur swooped in and changed everything.
SoulCalibur was famous for its blisteringly fast frame rate and its gorgeous character models. With a frame rate of sixty frames per second, for once, 3D fighting games actually eclipsed their 2D counterparts. No longer did players have to witness slow animations and blocky polygons. Instead, they could play as characters who swung their weapons with ferocity.
These fearsome warriors managed to look convincing, not only because of their blades of death, but because of their excellent character models. Ivy looks like a cold dominatrix, because of her tall frame and icy glare; Mitsurugi looks like a fierce samurai who’s braved countless battles, because of his military garb and intimidating stance; and Nightmare will make players lose sleep with his massive sword and shiny armor. This variety makes each character feel unique, and is achieved without resorting to balloon-sized breasts and panty shots.
Not only do the characters look splendid, but so do the backgrounds. You’ll often find yourself battling on a raft in the middle of a body of water (I guess that’s what warriors do), but the surrounding environments generally look gorgeous.
Players duel opponents in beautiful temples, dark caverns, and all sorts of environments that are now common in 3D fighting games. Some of the textures don’t hold up as well in this era of HD visuals, but SoulCalibur still looks plenty impressive on an analog TV.
As any fighting game fan will tell you, the visuals are only something that serves to draw a player in. What’s more important is the underlying gameplay.
Thankfully, SoulCalibur delivers a timeless experience that will appeal to all types of gamers. It has plenty of depth with its three types of attacks: vertical, horizontal, and kicks, and also includes a block button.
Besides these basic moves, characters can perform a variety of throws, and move in eight directions. A player with average skills can also take advantage of SoulCalibur’s repel, parry, and counter abilities.
Veteran fighters will also notice that each character has a set of special moves that are executed in a similar manner to those you’d find in other 3D fighters. Usually, this involves combining a selection of button presses with various d-pad movements.
Clearly, SoulCalibur has plenty to offer players, but the great thing about it is that it’s a fairly accessible fighter. Rookies won’t find themselves getting away with button mashing against veteran players, but moves like throws and evading are easy enough for anyone to execute.
Unfortunately, there was no online play with this launch title (Sega.net hadn’t launched yet), but it’s plenty of fun with friends. It might be difficult to find someone who matches your ability level, but at least new players can get the hang of things quickly, which rarely happens with fighting games.
SoulCalibur’s versus mode is quite fun, but the game also contains a treasure chest full of unlockables. There’s the standard arcade mode, which allows you to compete against AI opponents (who aren’t overly cheap by the way), and then there’s a lengthy quest mode. Both give you access to new characters, character artwork, and stages. Sure, it’s not much different from what you’d find in most other fighting games, but at least it’s enough to keep players busy for awhile.
There are a couple features unique to the quest mode, however. In quest mode, you’ll learn combat techniques such as parrying and repelling, and you’ll take on a variety of opponents under special conditions. These special conditions include things such as slower player movement and increased enemy damage. I didn’t find these encounters particularly exciting, but I enjoyed the training portion that forced you to properly execute certain techniques.
Ten years later, SoulCalibur still amazes me. The graphics aren’t as impressive as those found in recent installments in the series, but this is where fighting games really started to look pretty. Not only do the visuals hold up well, but the game is still plenty playable, because of the excellent controls and silky-smooth frame rate.
SoulCalibur IV may feature bigger boobs and Star Wars cameos, but whether the series actually evolved in a substantial way is questionable. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at a 3D fighter, there’s no better place to go than SoulCalibur. Both the Dreamcast and XBLA versions are fairly inexpensive, so now’s a good a time as any to take a stab at this 3D fighting champ. It just might sooth your soul.
- The character models still impress
- The SoulCalibur engine is buttery-smooth
- SoulCalibur’s arenas have spawned numerous imitations
- Its fighting system is accessible, yet contains plenty of depth
- There are plenty of fun modes and unlockables
- Some attacks just look plain brutal (watch Ivy entangle an opponent with her whip)
- One of the better soundtracks to accompany a fighting game
- SoulCalibur doesn’t rely on sex to sell
- Some textures look bland
- The lighting and particle effects aren’t as flashy ten years later
- You were like me and skipped over this fighter ten years ago