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Soul Calibur II

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Namco
Publisher:  Namco
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Fighting
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  In-game Dolby Digital, HDTV 720p
Date Posted: 

11-21-03

The original Soul Calibur proved to be a surprise hit for the doomed-from-the-start Dreamcast (R.I.P.), and the systemís best game at launch (even topping Sonic Adventure and NFL2K).  Featuring crisp visuals (which some still claim are the systemís best despite it being a launch title) and excellent gameplay it helped move Dreamcasts and establish Namcoís Soul series as one of the genreís best.  Inexplicably Namco never brought the title to other platforms (notably a lesser N64 port or at least a lackluster PS2 port), but they didnít make that mistake with the sequel.  Soul Calibur II has arrived on all three systems, and it might just be the best fighter on Xbox yet.

Apparently Namco agreed that the first game rocked, because its sequel does very little that itís predecessor didnít do.  Iíll admit that I approached this thinking it would be a button-mashing fighter, because that was always my impression of the first game having never played it myself.  After getting my butt handed to me several times, I quickly realized that this wasnít the case.  It wonít take long for anyone else to realize that thereís a great deal of strategy involved here as well.

Movement can be made in eight different directions, and primary weapon strikes are divided up into horizontal and vertical.  For good measure thereís also a kick button and a guard button as well.  In addition to these basic attacks there are a variety of specialized attacks, combos, charge moves, and other such attacks youíd expect in a fighting game like this.  Iím still not sure I really have the fighting system mastered, although admittedly Iím new to the series and fighting games in general.  I donít imagine that a veteran of the first game would have much of a problem with it though.

The primary single-player mode is once again Weapon Master, which still has characters hopping from location to location participating in fights with specific requirements.  The ultimate purpose of this mode is to collect each characterís alternate weapons, so the lame storylines can be forgiven.  Plus, you know, fighting games never really have good storylines anyway.  Then there is a litany of other standard fighting game modes, including Arcade, Vs. Battle, Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle, Vs. Team Battle, and the omni-present (and very basic) Practice mode.

Graphically, Soul Calibur II surpasses the original in beauty and scope.  One of the downsides of being a multiplatform game however is that the Xbox version usually suffers, and thatís the case here.  While the character models all look impressive, some of the secondary/stage animations are rather basic.  The texture work also looks slightly below that of standard AAA Xbox fare, and the menu is rather basic and cheesy.  On the whole Soul Calibur II doesnít wow the way Dead or Alive 3 did when it launched on Xbox, but itís still a mighty good-looking game.

Sound is impressive; in particular the voice acting as each character has a ton of phrases (close to a hundred) that are delivered in a professional manner at various points during battle.  In contrast to games like Guilty Gear XX, the music is very epic in nature and almost makes the game feel like a RPG at some points.  If the storylines werenít so lame, I could actually see the music adding some weight to them.  As it is now though, it merely serves to ratchet up the intensity of each battle several notches.  Thatís good enough for me.

Highs:

  • Still the best weapon-based fighting game series.
  • A gorgeous game that doesnít skimp on the visual flair.
  • The voice acting is impressive, as is the epic musical score.
  • Spawn is an inventive choice for the Xbox-exclusive character.
  • Plenty of stuff to unlock.

Lows:

  • Not a lot of improvement over the first game, which isnít that bad overall but shows in several areas versus todayís fighting games.
  • Practice mode is pretty basic.
  • Like most multiplatform games, the visuals suffer slightly in comparison to Xbox-exclusive titles. 

Final Verdict: 

I always feel uncomfortable reviewing fighting games (Iím more of a RPG guy), but this review was an easy one to write.  Soul Calibur II delivers more of what gamers loved in the first game, without straying too far from the seriesí winning formula or (unfortunately) adding a lot of innovation.  Namco certainly needs to look at how they can improve the series for the third installment, but for now thisíll do just fine.

Overall Score: 8.9

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