SOUL CALIBUR 4
Developer: Project Soul
Genre: 3D Versus Tournament Fighting
Platforms: MicroSoft Xbox 360 & Sony PlayStation 3
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Online Multi-Player: Yes
Downloadable Content Support: Yes
Online Leaderboards: Yes
Memory: 864 KB To Save
Hard Drive Installation Memory: about 4.3 GB
Media Format: DVD ROM
Vibration/Rumble Support: Yes
Arcade Fight Stick Compatible: Yes
HDTV: 720p/ 1080i/ 1080p
Audio: In-Game Dolby Digital
ESRB Rating: Rated “T” for TEEN (Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence)
Series Legacy: Soul Edge, Soul Blade, Soul Calibur, Soul Calibur 2, Soul Calibur 3, Soul Calibur Legends, Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny, Soul Calibur 5
Instruction Manual: Yes, 35 Pages in Black & White, written in English & French
PLEASE NOTE: This Review was updated by the Original Author, Game-Quest-Ex in the fall of 2012
Sometime in the 16th Century, a meteor shower covers the night sky, and it’s flashing pieces fall down to Ostrheinsburg somewhere in Europe. This means trouble for the world. Somehow, the Cursed Sword Soul Edge has managed to return to cause trouble to the world.
Not only that, but a huge and ominous tower rises up in Ostrheinsburg as well. This structure is known as the “Tower of Remembrance” (ToR).
What does the meteor shower in the night sky and this new tower have in common? Who or what dwells at the top of the tower? How are any of these things connected to the return of the Spirit Sword “Soul Calibur” & the Evil Sword “Soul Edge”?
One thing is for sure: barbarians, knights, ninja, samurai, and warriors of all kinds, from all over the world, are now fighting their way past each other, in order to get to the top of the ToR, to find out for themselves, exactly what awaits them.
“Soul Calibur 4” (SC4) is the 4th Installment in the SC Series, but probably the 6th overall game in the entire weapon-based series, if you count both Soul Edge & Soul Blade.
This time, the story promises to focus a bit more on the origins of the two opposing weapons, and one the earliest human beings who actually started to use them, as far back as ancient times.
Many of the main cast of characters from previous SC titles return to Part 4, with most of their signature looks and weapons intact, and they will need them to fight through a bunch of adversaries as the climb their way to the top of the Tower of Remembrance (ToR).
The story is cryptic and vague as usual, but it fails to deliver on its seeming promises of revealing anything worthwhile about the past history of both Soul Calibur & Soul Edge. In fact, the focus on one of the new characters, Algol, who is the last boss in the game, gives you only very little in-sight into the man’s past, and his “connection” to the swords.
Very few 3D cutscenes fill in only bits & pieces of the story for the rest of the cast, as well as your Created Characters. Most are simply not worthwhile to watch, because they lack any real emotional content or meaning. Many aren’t even cool to watch, because nothing interesting happens in them. This goes true for the Storyline Endings for each character. Don’t expect much in terms of a fulfilling plot in SC4: you won’t get any.
In other words, the story in SC4 is easily its weakest point. This fact is not helped at all by the very odd inclusion of “Star Wars” Guest Characters, which are quite frankly, completely out of place on the Soul Calibur universe, and should not have been added in the first place.
VISUALS & ANIMATIONS
On the other hand, the graphics are gorgeous, and so are the animations. You will notice a very lavish use of colors, lighting, reflections, and shadowing effects on the Fighters, as well as on objects & props on each stage. Armor glints, shines and reflects light very nicely. Clothing has a good amount of detail on them, like their stitching and design patterns. Characters have clear facial expressions: some looks angry, pleased, happy, or just very serious.
Each warrior has his or her own signature weapon, which looks very well designed, especially things like Siegfried’s Giant Sword, or Rock’s Giant Hammer. The weapons all have very detailed designs and patterns of them, from the handle to the blade, and so on.
In the Character Creation Mode, you can edit existing fighters or make-up your own. The various combinations of faces, animations, clothing, armor, jewelry & weapons means that if you are patient and creative enough, you can mold a very unique looking warrior. The powerful graphics in SC4 highlight this fact very clearly once your character is ready to be displayed and played with.
During End of Stage Replay Sequences, when the last few seconds of the last round of a fight are being automatically replayed for your viewing pleasure, you get to use your controller, or arcade stick, to control the various camera angles, so that you can get the best view that you want. Simple as it is, this is still a cool feature to have in SC4.
The Warriors have very distinct looks to them, which reflect their native land, culture, or the traditions of the part of the world where they are from. For example, Mitsurugi is a Samurai from Japan, and his design clearly shows that. Cervantes is a pirate, who sports a hat and coat to match his sinister high seas roots. Raphael’s upper-class costume & fencing style betrays his possible aristocratic background.
In arcade mode, there is a VS sequence in which images of the fighters slide rapidly onto the screen, in an effort to show you who you are using, and who you are about to fight against. It’s a nice touch, especially if you like to admire your newly Created-Character right before a fight begins.
Stages show off everything from ancient mammoths frozen in ice, to wrecked ships at sea and the mysteriously designed floors of the ToR. Each stage typically has its own unique theme. Colorful vegetation highlights many outdoor arenas, while mysterious giant monuments might decorate the interior of other stages. Of particular note is the stage at Ostrheinsburg Castle, in which suits of armor mysteriously march forward towards the combating characters, and effectively make the size of the fighting area of the stage smaller & smaller, with each few steps the suits of armor take. This is a nice touch on the part of the developers, which actually affects gameplay. Now with less space to fight around in, both warriors are now closer to the ring-out side of the arena & must fight more carefully. Other noteworthy stages in SC4 include the exterior of the ToR and the raft which floats outside of the Ostrheinsburg Castle.
Stages from “Soul Calibur 3” seemed to be a bit more adventurous in design than there are here in SC4. In SC3, the use of color and lighting seemed to be put to better use, and there was almost always a lot of activity going on in the backgrounds. Even though SC4 is on newer more powerful consoles, the stage designs don’t seem to live up to those shown in SC3, which is odd.
Also, there are “clipping” issues which can’t be ignored. Clipping in video games occurs when two or more physical objects in the game seemingly pass through each other, without any “collision” happening between them. For example, during your “Create-A-Soul” session, some of the armor you might select, actually cuts into other parts of your character’s clothing, making it all look messy & unrealistic. Clipping occurs with some characters body parts, and with some of their weapons. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it can be spotted once in a while.
AUDIO & SOUND
If you are a Soul Calibur fan, you can expect to listen to beautiful music that is tailor-made for this series, since the very first game. They range from epic & grand songs to tunes with somewhat dark and sinister under-tones, which are largely symphonic in their style.
Also, after your Health Bar drops to a certain low level, meaning you are in danger of losing the last round of a fight in Arcade Mode, the background music actually changes, and becomes a lot faster, in order to convey to you a sense of urgency.
Winning a match also gets you a victory tune played to denote your accomplishment. The same goes for losing: another, shorter song plays if you don’t win to show the shame of your defeat.
The English Voice-Actors have all gotten much better in SC4, and it’s is worth your while to listen to the characters with the English VO (voice-overs) turned on. It isn’t as embarrassing as in some prior SC titles, or like in some other games. In fact, there are some instances when the English VO are actually better than their Japanese Counterparts.
For whatever reason, some of the English voices convey a sense of emotion, like anger, desperation, frustration & sadness, better than the Japanese ones, which is rare in games like these. The Japanese VOs are still great, mind you, and characters like Mitsurugi and most of the other roster of Asian Warriors, excel with their Japanese voices activated.
There are some instances when the sound effects cut out, and don’t coincide with an on-screen action that is currently taking place. This isn’t a wide-spread problem, as the audio effects are all nicely done. Swinging your weapon produces the appropriate sound. Stabs, thrusts, slashes, bashes, blocking, Armor-Breaking, Guard Impacts & Critical Finishers all have their accompanying sound effects to go along with each action. Falling off the stage, or getting knocked off the stage, results in a “RING OUT,” which the announcer clearly calls out. If you or your opponent land in water, you hear the loud splash of water. All of these are cool and authentic touches added to the audio experience in SC4.
Sadly, DLC as it concerns music has been abused & misused in SC4. Basically, music from older SC titles, which the developers could have put in SC4 as in-game unlockables, are sold back to the gamer later on as DLC packs. In other words, you end up paying more money for your old favorite SC music tracks, things you either immediately had in prior SC games, or which you had to unlock by playing through the old games themselves.
It hasn’t changed much since the very first game in the SC saga. You get a Vertical Slash, a Horizontal Slash and a Kick Button. For defense, you have one Guard Button. The rest are a “Switch” Button, and the existing buttons, all combined into the other unused buttons on your controller.
LEFT STICK/DIRECTIONAL PAD: Move Your Character/8-Way Run
X-BUTTON: Horizontal Strike (A)
Y-BUTTON: Vertical Strike (B)
B-BUTTON: Kick (K)
A-BUTTON: Guard (G)
LEFT BUMPER: A+B+K+G (For Critical Finisher)
LEFT TRIGGER: B+G (For Throwing)
RIGHT BUMPER: SWT (Switch between characters in “Tower of Lost Souls”)
RIGHT TRIGGER: A+B+K
PLEASE NOTE: A, B, K & G simply denote the Original Arcade Button Command Notations, from the original Soul Calibur Arcade titles.
All controls can be tailored to your specific play-style. So, if the above default setting is not to your liking, for whatever reason, go to the options menu, and change the controller configuration to suit your personal tastes.
A good feature in SC4 is that the Controller Options Menu, can be accessed from almost anywhere in the game. If you are actively playing in Arcade, Tower of Lost Soul (ToLS), Training Mode, Story Mode, just pause the game, and highlight the Controller Options Menu, and alter the Button Configuration as much as you want. It will automatically save your choices, so you don’t have to exit any of your gaming sessions. Whatever mode you are already in, just pause your current game & to go into the Pop-Up Options Mode to make any & all alterations.
Your objective in SC4 is simple: using your current character, cut, stab, strike, and kick & throw your opponents, until you deplete all of their Hit Points (HP, which is basically their Health Meter). This is one way to win. Another way is by throwing or knocking your foe clear out of the arena, which earns you a “Ring Out” Victory. Beware that your enemy can do the same thing right back at you. Don’t forget to defend yourself in the process & make sure your health bar does not get emptied by your opposition & that they don’t hurl you out of the arena.
Simple combat patterns and techniques work, mainly against the CPU-AI, but when it comes to human opponents, the fights get more challenging. Learning more advanced methods of combat, like Guard Impact, Parries, Repels, Soul Crushes & Critical Finishers just might give you the edge you need to win your next fight.
If you block too many attacks in a row, your Soul Gauge, located right next to your Life Bar, will turn from Blue, to Green to Red, and then to Flashing Red. Full of energy now, another blocked hit would put your guarding character into a “Soul Crushed” State. When battling against others, press A+B+K+G simultaneously during your foe’s “Soul Crush” animation, you get to perform a “Critical Finisher.”
A Critical Finisher (CF) is like a Fatality: no matter how much life either you or you enemy has, a CF will destroy them and win you just that current round, and not the entire match. A CF is automatic once it starts and involves very elaborate attack animations, in which the character doing the CF move, pulls out all of the stops, and repeatedly strikes, combos or attacks their opponent. At the end, their foe is completely KOed, and you win the round. Always remember: the same things can be done right back to you.
CPU-AI issues still are of concern to you in SC4. At times, the CPU-AI is very easy to defeat, other times, the AI is almost impossible to even touch once. It’s very inconsistent and unbalanced, though it is slightly better than the AI inconsistencies of some of the previous SC titles. The Apprentice, Star-Killer, the guest character from Star Wars, is a perfect example of an enemy who will give you a lot of trouble in the Arcade Mode. Still even so, there are gaps in his AI, which thankfully enable you to defeat him (hint: they involve Throws).
Some of the SC4 Cast simply play better than others do. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sticking only with a handful of warriors, who suit your play-style. Yun Seoung has a great set-up for applying a CF to your opponents; Mitsurugi is a great all-around brawler, while Astaroth is more of a power-house warrior, dealing tons of damage with each move of his. These are but a few examples of some easier to use combatants.
Others like Voldo, Yoshimistsu & Maxi are indeed manageable, but they require more patience and skill to use effectively, because of their lengthy and varied movesets. Hilde & Tira are characters who HAVE to be learnt correctly, or they become frustrating to use, especially when you are just trying to get a simple win.
In Character Creation Mode, you can dress up your Created Character or the regular roster, in a series of Body Armor, Clothing, Jewelry or Decorations, which will give them more power, speed, health, better skills, improve defensive & offensive abilities, etc. The Item Effects break down into the following categories:
POWER-Related Items: Raise your Offensive Skill Rating so that your attacks do more damage to your foe
IMPACT-Related Items: Improves your defensive skills like, guarding and repelling
BOOST-Related Items: These temporarily raise some or all of your Skill Stats & Ratings
GAUGE-Related Items: They will give your Health, and or, Soul Gauge advantages over your opponent’s
SPECIAL-Related Items: These affect not just your abilities, but also the Ring-Conditions, as well as your Enemy’s skills & abilities
Most of these Items are not just for decoration, as they can affect the outcome of matches.
Some clothing items don’t have any of these effects, but those that do have to be picked carefully. For example, they may add more useful skill points to your “Boost” Rating, but they might completely lack any “Power” uses. Other items you wear may even take away certain Skill Rating Points from your character. Still other single items actually have a combination of different Attributes like “Impact & Boost,” or “Power & Special,” or “Gauge & Impact” and so on.
Each of the characters’ Weapons in SC4 also have Skill & Effect Ratings, which can also affect how much damage you do, how good your defensive abilities are, how much health that you can have, and how many different Skills you can equip at once.
The more Weapon & Armor Rating Points you get, the more Skills you get access to, and these skills help to improve your overall Offensive & Defensive Combat Abilities. For example, some Special Effects enable you character to automatically counter Grab Attacks most (not all) of the time. This can prevent you from being thrown too often. Other Special Abilities prevent you from getting knocked out of the ring most of time. You can apply these Skills & Special Abilities in every Game Mode in SC4, except for in Arcade Mode & Standard Versus Mode.
Underneath your Health Meter, is a Body Armor indicator (green in color), which shows Upper Body Armor, Middle Body Armor & Lower Body Armor. Your Body Armor can be broken with repeated physical strikes. Once the armor is gone, your character is now wearing less on their body. When that happens, any further physical attacks to that now exposed region of the body will do more damage to your health bar. This is an interesting and worthwhile addition to SC4, because it is a more realistic touch to combat.
Whether Offline or Online, there is are many things for you to do in SC4.
SINGLE PLAYER MODES: Contain STORY, TOWER Of LOST SOULS, ARCADE & TRAINING.
VERSUS MODES: Contains STANDARD Modes & SPECIAL VERSUS Modes
XBOX LIVE/PLAYSTATION NETWORK: Play Online Against Other Human Opponents
CHARACTER CREATION: Edit Existing Fighters or create your own New Warrior from scratch
MUSEUM: Unlock CG Cutscenes; unlock endings; access “Chain of Souls,” buy images; view the Art Gallery, Slideshows, Event Theatre and Battle Records
OPTIONS: Change Control, Audio, Subtitle & Versus Mode Options
Most of the Game’s Content is self-explanatory. However, the meat of SC4 now becomes the “CHARACTER CREATION” Mode, which makes a return since its official debut in SC3. In this mode, you can add or remove items from an established member of the main SC4 cast. Think of it as character editing, which goes well beyond just changing their color palette.
Also, in Character Creation, you can start fresh, and make your very own original warrior, who can either be male or female. Give them a name, change their face, skin color, add muscles, change their weapons, give them new skill sets & special abilities, change their voices, etc.
The sky is NOT the limit though, because there are limitations in the SC4 Character Creation Mode. You cannot extensively edit your character’s individual body parts, when compared to other video games like the “WWE SmackDown versus RAW” Series. Even though this section of the game let’s you do more to your Custom Creation than in SC3, it would have been better if the developers given you more options to play around with.
There is a feature in SC4 which allows you to actually insert your Custom Created Character, into the game’s main CG Intro. This is a very cool feature, as you get to see any one of your Created Characters, designed & dressed the way you made them, battling enemies during a specific part of the game’s opening. The problem is that your character can only ever be seen fighting with a particular sword, which the CPU always assigns to him or her. This is true no matter what weapon you originally gave your Custom Character to fight with in SC4. They never get to use their own personalized weapon, but only that default sword, which is sadly limiting to the overall visual presentation you, may have wanted to see for your character during the game’s intro.
“Chain of Souls” is basically an elaborate “maze-like” structure, which shows to you who the SC4 characters are, what their personal motivations are, how they are connected to each other and how the two Swords affect their lives. In this part of the game, you get all of the Official Character Profiles, some of which contain information that is not found in the Story Mode. This is a nice & a very welcome major addition to SC4.
Absent from SC4 is the Exhibition Theatre, in which each character posed, and displayed their martial arts & warrior skills, while using whichever weapon, and or, wearing whichever outfit you give them. That mode was in prior SC games, but was sadly omitted for whatever reason in Part 4.
In Practice/Training Mode, your Custom Created Character can be used, just as much as the normal roster of fighters. In this mode, you can perform various attacks and combinations, or if you like, you can get the CPU to Auto-Demonstrate any one of the listed Attacks on the Movelist Menu. This is very useful in giving you a better idea of how to time your characters attacks, and what sort of effects they can have on your foes. The obvious goal is to Train yourself & improve you overall combat skills in Practice Mode, and the features & options in this mode are extensive enough to help you out to do just that.
Arcade mode is old school: you fight through 8 Stages, with the last 3 being Sub-Bosses & Final Boss Stages. Each battle becomes progressively more difficult than the last. Once you clear every match and the game itself, your overall performance is evaluated, including who attacked first, how fast you took to win, how many Perfect Victories or Ring Out Wins did you get, etc.
In the Versus Modes, you can play in the “Standard Versus Mode” which will not allow the use of any armor & weapon effects, skills or abilities. “Special Versus Mode” will allow fights to make use of any and all armor & weapon skills, abilities & effects. Fans who just want a more balanced versus match against other human opponents, will appreciate having the option of playing without any “special effects.”
“TOWER Of LOST SOULS” (ToLS) is basically the Mission Mode of SC4. In here, you are required to perform very specific tasks, before you can unlock Treasure chests, and clear each stage. Clearing the current stage opens up the next series of stages. Some missions have you blocking attacks in a certain way while others require you to beat a stage while your warrior takes no damage, and so on. The catch is that the enemies here are very powerful, smart and aggressive, and they will constantly attempt to frustrate your plans. Thus, you have to play very carefully in order to win.
The problem with ToLS is that you are only given a very vague hint as to exactly what it is you need to accomplish, before you can advance. It rarely ever tells you the correct thing to do, so you will most likely have to get your information on the internet, which kinda beats the purpose of just wanting to play SC4 on your own, and uncovering things for yourself.
And, don’t think you can play through the entire ToLS in one short sitting, because that is nearly impossible. The reason why is that many of the Missions require you to exit that entire mode, go to “Character Creation Mode” to edit an existing fighter or one of your own warriors, just so that you can beef them up, to be strong enough to take on some of the more demanding challenges in the tower. Expect to exit & re-enter the ToLS very frequently, all in an effort to give your selected character the best advantage they will need to complete a particular mission. Remember that you also most likely will have to switch to different characters in order to get the job done correctly. Their weapons and abilities could be better than those of others. Just remember to equip them with the best weapons, armor & special skills first.
What’s REALLY FRUSTRATING in SC4 is that if you fail a floor, you are sent back to the start of that whole mission (not to the start of that particular floor) to try ALL OVER AGAIN! So, if your mission has 4 stages, and you make it to the 4th stage, but fail for whatever reason, the game forces you to go back to the first floor of that mission! This means you have to fight through all of those same difficult enemies, just so you can try and get back to the 4th floor, so as to clear it and move on. It gets very frustrating, especially if you lose your patience in repeated attempts to complete the mission successfully. It honestly would have been better if developers included the option in the game, which allowed you to select the start of the same floor you just failed on, instead of being force to return all the way back to the beginning of that entire mission!
There are two paths to ToLS: Ascending & Descending. Ascending is the “Mission Mode” described above. Descending ToLS is a real test of endurance, as it is a literal endless Survival Mode, in which you battle non-stop wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. Going up the Tower is 60 Floors. Going down the Tower never ends, until your two selected characters get KOed by the CPU-AI. You gain Treasure Chest rewards descending every 5 Floors, but the Survival Challenge never ever ends.
The rewards are plentiful in ToLS, though. Successfully completing the all of the Ascending Missions, according to how the Game instructs you to, will unlock Treasure Chests. These typically contain clothing & armor, which will then have to be purchased by you and used in the Character Creation Mode. In other instances, the Treasure Chests might contain Gold Coins, which is digital currency you will need to buy items throughout the game.
The Gold Coins are earned by playing through most of the Modes, from Arcade, to Story and ToLS. Every time you win and clear most of those modes from start to finish, you earn money, which can be used to buy new characters, new weapons, and new Character Creation Items. This system alone is reward and incentive enough to encourage multiple replays.
SUMMARY and CONCLUSION
The Star Wars Guest Characters (Darth Vader, Yoda, and the Apprentice) are honestly a pointless waste of space in SC4, and should have never been added into the game. Their advanced, space-aged tech and stages, ultimately don’t make any sense, and don’t really contribute in a positive way to the SC mythos. Also, Yoda was exclusive to the Xbox 360, while Darth Vader was exclusive to the PS3. That means that whichever console you got SC4 on, you have to pay extra to get either of those characters as DLC later on. Essentially, the Star Wars characters were simply added into SC4 as an over-blown cross-promotion for the then new “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” game, which was released around that time.
The stages in SC3 seemed to be more interesting to look at overall, than those in SC4. The exterior stage of the ToR, the raft outside of Castle Ostrheinsburg, as well as the throne room inside of the Castle, are among some of the better looking stages in SC4; the rest are decent or okay. Many do not visually stand out like the SC3 stages, for some reason.
Gameplay is a bit of an improvement over that of SC3, which is good, despite some of the usual CPU-AI imbalances that might work in your favor, or against you.
Character Creation has a cool feature in which you can immediately take your newly Constructed Character directly into a “Test Play Mode” and try out their moves, without ever having to pause, exit or switch any modes. This feature is a very welcome one, and saves you on wasting any valuable time.
Music & Audio are still very strong, and if you are interested in the somewhat shady DLC option that is available, you can obtain prior classic SC soundtracks from older games. The existing music already in the game fits the tone and mood of SC4, and the audio effects and voice-acting do their job well enough.
Giving your personally Created Characters more speaking roles, more original Cut-Scenes & Story Endings Scenes in Arcade, Story & ToLS Modes, outside of their just regular verbal taunts & victory quotes & appearances would have been a much better thing for the developers to have done. As it is, all your Custom Character amounts to is a “re-skinned” version of an existing SC4 character. This is because once you have created your new warrior, they now have to adopt a Fighting Style & Weapon of an existing SC4 character, and not anything new or original. They also don’t get any variations of existing styles, like there were in SC3.
Known for its involved storylines, the plot of the SC saga should actually be one of its stronger points, but it is probably its weakest link in Part 4. Not enough is revealed about the characters, their relationships with each other, their personal objectives & desires, as well as more interesting secrets from their past and so on. And even the characters with interesting backgrounds don’t have their stories presented in SC4 in a manner that is entertaining enough to watch.
Completing the Story Mode actually unlocks newer characters, never before seen in the SC series. They were actually originally designed by artists & fans in Japan prior to the game’s release. Still, these new characters (all female, by the way), are essentially re-skinned versions of existing SC4 cast members (yet again), even though you may actually find some of their storylines more interesting than that of the main roster of fighters. It’s too bad that these Extra Character Story Endings are only composed of still “Slide-Show” Images with Text, as opposed to being full 3D CG Animations with professional voice work.
It isn’t all bad, though, since the positives actually outweigh the negatives. If anything the Character Creation Modes should provide enough replay value for any SC fan, or for any fan of these types of fighting games, whether they are offline in Single Player Modes, or Online, looking to take the Fight to other Human Opponents. The use of Gold as a virtual currency ensures that the gamer will have to play through this title repeatedly so as to earn enough dough to buy out all of the new items throughout the game. And, of course, there are always the XBL Achievements & PSN Trophies to obtain, which there are plenty of for any interested gamers to get his/her hands on.
SC4 could have been a stellar follow-up to SC3, but it is nevertheless a worthwhile sequel for fans to own and to play, at least until they get their hands on Part 5.
Reviewed by GameQuestEx