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Background: I own and have completed every entry in the Ninja Storm series, so there is inherent bias but luckily this isn’t a review. These are just my thoughts on a fun series I chose to pick up after my Dragon Ball Z Budokai days. I am also only about 3 episodes behind in the...
Well, let me just make one thing clear. I'm not a competitive gamer. I usually don't play fighters or other games that are basically meant for multiple players. So, I can't tell you how good Soul Calibur II is in that regard, you have to seek out other sources for that. Preferably competitive gaming circle sources, rather than a gaming review site. However, since the SC series is the one fighting game series that is actually making a real attempt to appeal to the single player gamers, I sure as hell can comment if it succeeds on -that-.
And it mostly does the job well, in fact. It sticks to what it does (being a 1-on-1 fighting game), while adding in some elements from more RPG-related games, mostly just for the hell of it. This includes lots of text to read, which can feel out of place for someone that is expecting nothing but fast action. Of course, you can simply stick to the Arcade fighting, but if you are in fact capable of reading more than five words on the screen at once, it shouldn't bother you that much.
To go deeper into Weapon Mode, the meat of the single-player game, you walk around in a medieval Eurasia doing all kinds of different fights, with all kinds of different variables put in it. Each new place provides some plot (which you can safely skip reading if you don't feel like it) and a short description of the variables in this particular fight (which you shouldn't skip reading. Really.). You may have to use only throws in one fight, or the opponent is particularly quick, or you lose health gradually... The object of all these variables is no doubt to ensure that some fighters are better suited for some missions, thus you'll probably end up using several different fighters. And with a lot of different fighting styles (though some more similar than others), you'll be bound to find one that gets you past Mission X sooner or later.
In addition to opening new missions, success also gives you EXP (almost totally worthless, with the exception of level 72. Check out a FAQ to see what I mean) and gold, used to buy costumes, weapons, and some other stuff. It adds a nice amount of depth without being too much in the way for those that don't care about such things.
And mostly, the missions thus succeeds making a variety in gameplay, with one exception: The Dungeon missions. One of these dungeons, in fact, pit you against the same opponent over and over and over. Sometimes he heals a bit quicker, sometimes he's invisible... But it's still the same enemy no matter how you put it. About 20 times in a row. Bo-ring!
For those of you reading the plot part of the mission, it's quite RPGish. More specifically, it's rather like the "plot" in FF VII: You keep working your way towards the final boss with a lot of completely random happenings coming at you, that may or may not have anything to do with your main mission. It's nice that they made the effort to put some background soul into this game, but it could have been done a lot better.
So could the voice acting. Or more importantly, the translations. The already famous "You again? I've had enough of you" "Haven't you had enough yet" exchange in Mitsurugu's plot battle (in Arcade mode, by the way) is extreme, but in general, the translation is pretty much on par with FF VII (again), which isn't really the standard you should settle for. Be that as it may, if the actors sound too silly, at least you can switch to Japanese dubbing, which probably makes some more sense to those that understand it. At least I hope it does.
Other than that, sound effects does the job. And as for the music... Well, let's just say that the scores are nothing less than superb. This isn't the average techno mix you find in your fighting games, here we're dealing with stuff inspired by Carl Orff and Basil Wolverton. Especially the opening intro score, which you should listen to a few times. For that matter, take a good look at the opening intro. Then watch it again. And again. And once more. If you're a sucker for opening FMVs that screams EPIC!, then at least rent this game to watch that FMV, even if you hate fighting games otherwise. The rest of the game looks as good as you can get it on the PS2 without increasing the loading time significantely. And as someone who abhors loading times, I'm perfectly satisfied with that.
Getting back to the fighting part, allow me to make a comment on that the three different versions offer three different fighters. It is peculiar that the Playstation, successful as it is, doesn't actually have a proper mascot going for it. Imagine that there were three brainstorming teams picking out the exlusive fighters and they were having their meetings:
Gamecube team: "How about... Link?" "Great idea! Call Nintendo and offer them cash now!" Then the deal's made, and the brainstorming team goes off to play games after telling the developers what to do.
Sounds simple, eh? Well, the XBox team probably realised soon that the XBox is too young to have a proper mascot as such. And so they delegated the task to Todd McFarlaine (due to him already designing a character for them), who promptly gave them Spawn, so he could promote his comic books. Also pretty simple.
But the Playstation team... Hoo boy, can you imagine how they must have felt, dealing with the most popular console ever, and not being able to find a character that more or less is synonymus to Playstation the way Link is synonymus to Nintendo? Heihachi was, I'm willing to bet, put in due to sheer desperation and deadlines. Oh well, this doesn't really detract from the game's enjoyment, I just felt like noticing it.
But -you- should notice this: Soul Calibur II is a very decent attempt at making a fighting game that appeals to the single-player gamer, without succeeding entirely. The difficulty in Weapon Mode increases pretty much as it should, and for those of you that aren't used to fighting games, some of the missions can be diabolically difficult. Or at least fiendishly difficult. Expect 10-15 hours of reasonably fun entertainment, and much more if you enjoy repetitive tasks and collecting all the extras, no matter how long that takes. And add one extra hour in watching that opening FMV.