Written by  :  Ace of Sevens (4474)
Written on  :  Jan 28, 2007
Platform  :  Xbox
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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The Soul burns brighter in hidef

The Good

Namco really knows how to add value to a coin-op conversion. Arcade games are only meant to keep you dropping quarters for a few minutes, so many of them suffer from a general lack of breadth when they come home. This is not the case here. Arcade mode is but a tiny taste of what you get. The arcade's 16 characters have been rounded out to 20 and there are now roughly two dozen play modes plus a museum mode. According to the records section, I spent upward of forty hours playing this game. In most fighting games, you'd run out of stuff to do in a qurter that.

While this isn't the Xbox's best looking game, this is by far the best looking version thanks to 720p support and texture effects and lighting that make the characters skin come of as far more real than in the other platforms. For instance, the ears are bump-mapped to appear to have actual depth, rather than just looking like a texture on a flat surface. This is a much bigger deal than you might expect. These make everything look great in stills, but the main strength is the animation, which is both smooth and flashy. It's one of the best games to just watch around. Luckily, a mode is included to make the CPU fight both sides of a battle.

There are two big strengths of the game. Obviously, the fighting system makes or breaks any fighting game and this one is far more intuitive than most in the genre. If you want a low horizontal slash, you press some combination of down and horizontal attack and so on. The combos are fairly natural and don't require memorization of long sequences for the most part. Success is more about knowing how to take advantage of the situations that present themselves than pulling off long strings or difficult timings.

The other great feature is weapon master mode. Here, you get to travel around and fight various battles with extra conditions, such as an enemy who constantly regains health, a restriction that you must not fall down, a short time limit, a match that can only be won by ring out, and so on. In this mode, you earn extra weapons for each character, and there are a lot with 10 for each of the twenty characters. This is also where you unlock extra characters and stages and various museum bits like artwork, videos and the theater modes.

I loved having Spawn as a playable character. While landing him isn't quite as impressive as getting Link, his fighting style fits into the game far better than the other consoles' exclusive characters. I would have liked to see more than two costumes, though.

The Bad

The game is a whole lot like the first Soul Calibur. That was an excellent game, so this isn't all that bad, but nothing much has changed except a graphical overhaul, a few new characters and stages and the additions of walls to some of the arenas. Annoyingly, Siegfried, who was my favorite character in the previous installment, is the only one not to return. Nightmare is pretty similar, but slower and missing a couple moves I was fond of.

There is no attempt to balance the weapon master mode weapons. While they are mostly balanced with other weapons of the same column, some have huge advantages over others. This means you will only ever use two or three weapons per character.

With this many play modes, they can't all be gold and a few definitely aren't. For instance deathmatch mode, in which you must land the first blow on your opponent, isn't really suited to the fighting system at all. The no-recharge survival is quite easy if you use a weapon with a large life drain. Astaroth's ultimate weapon is in this category.

The fighting seems to overemphasize dodging. It seems constantly stepping sideways and tapping attack, while counterable by an experienced player, will usually whip the CPU, even on higher difficulties.

While Xbox has by far the best looking version, for some reason, it doesn't support widescreen when both Gamecube and PS2 do. This is especially odd considering that 720p is a widescreen format and it actually pillarboxes the action to keep it 4:3. All I can think of is it's a bug of some sort.

There are three characters unlocked in weapon master mode that were added for the US release: Lizardman, Berserker and Assassin. While it's great to have them, they seem to only have a half-assed implementation. They can only be used in a couple modes.and are excluded even from arcade mode They have no endings, no gallery artwork, no extra weapons, not even a move list for practice mode. While it's great to have them for playing vs mode and team matches, I would rather have gotten a full treatment.

The Bottom Line

Don't let the minor flaws scare you off. This game is a godsend on Xbox, which has a serious shortage of fighting games. Other than this, there's the Dead or Alive series and a whole bunch of 2D games that keep getting released with minor variations. This game has more things to do and is more accessible than any of these, while still having plenty of depth for the genre fans. It is also the best version of Soul Calibur II thanks to stronger graphics and decent exclusive character. Unless you just despise 3D fighting games all together, it's difficult to justify not owning it.