Hacking its way to the top.
They say that expectation is the mother of all disappointment. This is generally a true statement. For example, those late night binges at Denny's always leave a bit to be desired, though it always seems like such a great plan in the car. Somehow, the pancakes look much better on the cover of the menu than in person, as evidenced by the fact that people still order the $1.99 Grand Slam Breakfast (are you outta your mind!!??).
Another example can be found in the world of sports. It is a well-known yet widely ignored fact that the Super Bowl almost always sucks. And we still expect it to be great, and we still find ourselves disappointed.
What am I talking about, you scream? Frankly, I have no idea. But one thing is for certain - I expected quite a bit from Soul Blade. I expected stunning graphics. I expected fluid gameplay and easy to learn controls. I expected this game to be an impressive, ingenuitive, and innovative foray into the realm of 3D fighters. And this time I was not disappointed.
Having made quite a bit of noise in Japan and as a coin-op (known as Soul Edge), Soul Blade lives up to the hype as a PSX port. This game manages to break away from conventional 3D fighters by adding variety and depth to this somewhat exhausted genre.
The first thing you'll notice about this game is, well, the beginning. The intro sequence to Soul Blade is really cool. I would usually skip this part of a game by pressing the Start button, but with this game I found myself playing it over and over again. The animation is superb; it's only a small step away from live FMV.
The story is simple. A legendary blade called SoulEdge is said to exist. It can "cut the very heavens asunder." Of course, a group of ten fighters all want it for their own personal reasons, several of which indeed involve cutting things asunder. You get to be one of these mighty warriors, each of whom comes adept at handling his own particular type of weapon. The character design is excellent. While not as imaginative as some 3D fighters (such as Star Gladiators), the fighters are interesting and well-developed.
There are several play modes available. Arcade mode is your standard One Player vs. the CPU, with the basic neat-o ending sequence if you manage to beat 'em all. Several other modes (survival, team, vs., time attack) all add diversity, however, one in particular stands out. In "Edge-Master" mode, you play as one of the fighters in an effort to gain new weapons. You travel the globe following a story individual to your character. You must beat your opponents in a variety of particular ways: knocking them out of the ring, only hitting them in the air, only using throw moves, etc. Beating your enemy gives you new weapons, which can be saved and used in any other mode. This adds a new element to the 3D fighting genre - weapon selection. Nice!
Graphically, Soul Blade is right up there with the best of them. The polygonal fighters move smoothly and realistically, without the jerkiness found in Battle Arena Toshinden. Each fighter has five separate outfits, differing mainly in design and color. The backgrounds are strange and look good -- you fight one battle on a raft careening down a river. Light sourcing affects the appearance of the fighters. Motion 'blurs' follow powerful attacks. This is just a good looking game.
And a good sounding one, too. The sound effects are precise, with the clanking, crashing, and banging of weapons as they ferociously bash against each other. There are three separate "modes" of music to choose from, meaning each screen has three different possible music selections. The only bummer sound-wise is the annoying voice that announces the victor at the end of each fight. Apparently, "The grueling battle ended with the victory of Cervantes." in case you weren't watching.
The controls in Soul Blade resemble those found in Tekken 2. Most of the moves involve simple D-pad movements coupled with a few buttons, though the truly impressive moves require a bit more skill. Each fighter is loaded with cool combos and pretty painful looking throws. However, no new ground is broken; it's pretty much business as usual. This is unfortunate, as a new combat system would have been a nice addition. Some of the names of the moves include: "Brutal Smack," "Unpleasant Desire," "Heart Exploder," "Kaleidoscope of Pain," and the incurably popular "Bloody Clap."
There are a few minor problems with the game. While I am not any more aggressive than your typical bloodthirsty twenty-something rapscallion, I like my violence. As this is a fighting game and the fighters are hacking away at each other with often gruesome weapons (check out Voldo's nasty scissors-like "katar"), some bloodshed seems inevitable (see "Bloody Clap"). Yet there is absolutely no bleeding at all in Soul Blade. That's right. A strictly PG thang.
I have two explanations for this. It seems quite possible that the programmers simply forgot to include the blood, perhaps something along the lines of: "Hey Frank, didja put in the blood?" "No, Bob. I thought you were supposed to do that.". Or maybe the game testers were nuns. Either way, this is a flaw that could have easily been solved with a simple "Blood- On/Off" option.
Simply put, Soul Blade is by far the best fighter out there at the moment. While it doesn't do anything "revolutionary," it's a damn good game that any fighting game fan should definitely buy.