(Bandai Namco for PS4)
by Mike Delano
Why can’t the Soulcalibur series get any love nowadays? Sure, the series’ golden years were its debut on the Dreamcast and its excellent sequel, but even its more recent entries (2012’s Soulcalibur V and 2008’s underrated Soulcalibur IV) were good and should have been enough to maintain its status as a premier 3D fighting game, alongside the recently-reinvigorated Tekken and the sadly absent Virtua Fighter. Instead, the weapons-based fighter seemed to fade into irrelevance.
Soulcalibur VI makes another strong case as to why the series should always be in the conversation when it comes to fighting games. Its strengths begin with its cast — these warriors and their weapons are the most diverse and satisfying crew outside of Street Fighter. The crashing wave slashes from Mitsurugi’s samurai sword or flurry of cuts from Taki’s ninja blades give you the sort of feedback you would want from those weapons, and they’re an entirely different feel from the staggering momentum of Astaroth’s axe blows or the rapid fire blunt impact of Maxi’s nunchucks or Kilik’s staff. The diversity of the play styles these characters offer make every matchup a memorable one, and it’s rare to find a corner of the roster with characters that aren’t fun to learn or fight against.
Gameplay-wise, the fighting feels as good as ever, even though the implementation of the new Reversal Edge mechanic — a slow-mo rock/paper/scissors standoff with your opponent — can kill the momentum of a fight. More successfully implemented — and just as useful for disrupting your opponent —are the flashy Critical Edge attacks that act like traditional super moves and can turn the tide of a battle.
There’s style to go along with the substance of the fights, too. Maxi’s is a pirate version of Elvis, Voldo and Ivy exhibit overt references to BDSM and Tira is a sadistic jester who attacks with a deadly hula hoop (or “ring blade” if you wanna be conservative). The new characters introduced in VI fit in nicely (twin-bladed Grøh, magic-based Azwel and guest character Geralt from the Witcher series) and the detailed character-creation option has already been put to great (and sometimes horrifying) use by the community.
VI continues the Soulcalibur tradition of extensive single player options, although it’s unfortunate that the story modes are bogged down with endless text boxes and throwaway encounters, a far cry from the superlative campaign in the Injustice games or even the underwhelming story mode from last year’s Tekken 7.
When you boil it down to just a one-on-one match with another human opponent, though, the soul still burns bright for this series. There may be some rough edges when it comes to the full package, but, in the heat of battle, no other 3D fighting game can match the joy and intensity of Soulcalibur VI.