Namco’s long running Soulcalibur series (itself a kind of spin-off from the Tekken series) has always been a popular choice for fans of fighting games. Many, myself included, consider Soulcalibur II to be the pinnacle of the series. Soulcalibur III, while decent, was bizarrely a PS2 exclusive and the only-just-turned-former generation IV and V were very pretty each had their problems. The Star Wars characters in IV felt incredibly out of place and V lacked individual arcade stories and so had quite a bit less playable content.
This generation has made HD releases of older games quite common, both as retail releases and downloadable games. A less substantial port of the first Soulcalibur was released a few years ago, so with the release of this game only the third game and original PlayStation predecessor Soul Blade/Edge are missing from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.
Taking place a couple of years after the previous game, Soulcalibur II again finds the various characters involved in the battle between the good and evil swords, Soul Calibur and Soul Edge, with the Soul Edge possessed Nightmare terrorising Eastern Europe.
The original release of Soulcalibur II was quite an interesting one. Released during the sixth console generation, each platform had its own version with an exclusive character. The PlayStation 2 version had Heihachi Mishima, one of the main villains from the Tekken series which until that point were PlayStation exclusive. The Xbox, lacking at that point any real character apart from the Master Chief who would immediately represent the platform in players' minds, for some reason ended up with comics character Spawn (new character Necrid was also designed by Spawn’s creator, Todd McFarlane.) Most excitingly though, the GameCube version featured Link from the Legend of Zelda series. The HD remake isn’t specifically any of these versions – both Heihachi and Spawn are playable, though for (presumably) licensing reasons Link sadly isn’t present. To me this is quite good anyway, as I only had the GameCube version so had never gotten to play extensively as either of the other exclusive characters.
The primary mode of the game is Arcade mode, where you choose a single character from the roster and experience their story, ending with a short text piece detailing what happens to that character after the defeat of Nightmare. This mode is fairly short, consisting of eight fights, but to unlock everything in the game you need to finish as every character so will take a while.
All other features of the original game are still present. The practice modes, unlockable characters and galleries and so on. One of the largest modes in the game is the Weapon Master mode, which has the character travelling through many preset fights, gaining experience and money that level you up and allow you to purchase new weapons and costumes. I had forgotten just how much text there is in this mode, as there is a full story set out across the various stages. I remember hearing the very loud noise of gaining coins at the end of each match echoing around our student house as we were all playing it and this noise has gotten no less annoying and is possibly even worse now that I game primarily while wearing a headset.
The additional weapons have different features, such as health regeneration, poison extra damage and so on that are activated by using them in one of the ‘Extra’ modes – selecting them in standard game modes gives just a cosmetic change.
As HD remakes go, this one is pretty good. Unlike a lot of earlier Arcade HD games, including Soulcalibur, this version has a proper widescreen aspect ratio, so no borders or widescreen stretch in sight thankfully. The character models unsurprisingly don't look as detailed as the current games in the series, but the design of them still holds up and they look quite nice. The various stages also still look great and have benefited from the increase in resolution.
The Soulcalibur games always have great sweeping soundtracks, and this entry is exception. Oddly the ability to change audio language has been removed however. I've always played with the original Japanese audio but the English voices are the only option here. It sounds a bit odd to me for the characters to be shouting in English but this is no major issue.
The controls are as tight as ever with e Soulcalibur games, and it's plays just as well as it ever did so is still great.
As the title game’s suggests, the online gameplay should be one of the main draws of the game. After all, Soulcalibur only went online with Soulcalibur IV so players have only been able to experience this game multiplayer in the same room until now. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been enough effort put into the multiplayer netcode. Most attempts to join a game end in failure, either stating that no players were found (a possibility I suppose, but it’s only been out a couple of weeks) or that the opponent has apparently left before the match could be joined. When you actually do finally manage to get a match, performance is usually poor and often laggy. Hopefully this will get patched before long, but it really is a shame to see what should be a major component of the game being botched like this. When it does work though, and you manage to get a game that isn’t a laggy mess and play someone who plays properly it’s the same fantastic gameplay as you’d expect.
I don’t usually mention price, however it is worth noting that it feels like a fairly expensive game. Priced at around £15, it seems a fair bit more expensive than most Arcade/PSN releases however it IS a re-release of a full retail game that I was happy to spend £40 on ten years ago. I still think it was possibly a bit higher priced than it should have been, however the sheer amount of content does mean there is a lot of play time for your money.
If you're already a fan of the series and haven't played this installment then this should be a no brainer purchase, however at its current price perhaps a little difficult to justify for those who have played it before, especially until the online is patched. It's still a great playing game with tons of content however, and if you're only going to play one of the Soulcalibur games out there it should definitely be this one.