Soul Calibur II

-Namco (2003)

-Also on: GameCube, PS2

Summary:

The Soul Calibur fighters and Spawn beat on one another for a sword that holds the ultimate power and the ultimate curse.  

My Thoughts:

Everything that made Soul Blade and Soul Calibur undeniably great games is done even better in Soul Calibur II. It’s time to once again set aside your life and perfect your skills in the eternally retold story of souls and swords. 

The graphics are crisp, sharp, and visually outstanding. Weapons flash and spark while coming in contact during a heated match. The characters and fighting arenas look better than ever. The moves of the fighters are graceful and believable thanks to the unbelievably fluid animation. The glorious locals of the stages seem to have their own stories to tell with sunlight glistening through stained glass and off the crumbling walls and a looming presence of previously fought battles. 

The gameplay remains relatively unchanged from Soul Calibur. Most of the moves you mastered in the previous title are the same or similar here, although the fighters have been better balanced to make all the fights a little more fair. The fighters do have plenty of new moves, too. Whether you are new to SC or not there is plenty of joy to be found in the fighting system. Beginners can button mash and quickly discover a few useful combos and moves. The advanced players however can take plenty of time to master a favorite character and pull off some fantastical techniques.

Ring-outs, which many players thought were a cheap way to win a battle, have been significantly reduced. Many stages now feature walls so players can use other possibly cheap juggle combos to bring down their foes. Most of the stages still have a fall-off point or two, and there are the common huge-pedestal-in-a-bottomless-hole stages, but most of the time you’ll be fighting until a true knockout.

The music is again epic battle fare. The voices are excellent too, if you’re listening to the Japanese voices that is. The English voices are pretty terrible and some of their sayings are hilarious while others make absolutely no sense in both languages. Keep the Japanese vocals on to save your ears.     

The single player mode is fine, giving players access to the usual arcade, versus, time attacks, survival, and team battles. As good as the game is I am very disappointed with the arcade mode endings. There are no sweet CG endings, no in-game endings, nothing but a few measly pictures and very brief text. The only CG movie you’ll see is the usually awesome opening.      

Returning to increase longevity once again is the excellent weapon master mode where you battle your chosen character(s) throughout differing scenarios. As you win you receive prize money to purchase new costumes, weapons, and demonstration movies. I wish there would have been a quest for each character though, like Edge Master Mode in Soul Blade. This time it’s only one generalized quest for the hero. Each of the characters also has their own antique/joke weapon to be purchased. The funniest of these are tambourines, a boat oar, calligraphy brush, and a broom. 

The versus game is still the best part and will lengthen time with the game indefinitely, or at least if and when a fourth game is ever released.

Fourth? That means this would be the third game. Yes, if you are not aware, Soul Calibur II is the third game in the series. I wonder how many people think that this game is the second game in the series, when it’s actually the third. Thanks to the “2” in the title many may not know or realize that Soul Blade (AKA Soul Edge) was the first game in this eternally retold storyline and preceded Soul Calibur by many years. You may think “Of course people know this is the third game,” well sadly, they don’t. A friend of mine that loved Soul Calibur and was excited for SCII never even knew Soul Blade existed until I brought it out one night. Do yourself a favor and play through Soul Blade, available on the PS One, to learn the true origins of these great characters.

Namco’s keen strategy of placing an exclusive character in each version is a very novel idea. The PS2 gets Heihachi from the Tekken series, the Gamecube receives the mighty Link from the Zelda games, and Xbox gets Todd McFarlane’s comic anti-hero Spawn. Obviously, I purchased the Xbox version. I can’t see Heihachi fitting in with the Soul Calibur fighters. SC is a weapons based fighter and Heihachi’s arm guard is not much of a weapon, since he uses his fists most of the time. I love that Link was placed in the Gamecube version. The pointy-eared hero may seem a little out of place in the Soul Calibur universe, but if you take a look at other creature-ish characters such as Lizardman, Astaroth, and the corrupted Nightmare, I think Link fits in just fine. I feel Spawn is also an appropriate choice. There are many evil characters in the game and though Spawn is not particularly true evil, he was certainly born of it. However, I think it would have been better if Namco and McFarlane decided to place Medieval Spawn in the game instead of “regular Spawn.” That way they wouldn’t have had to explain Spawn’s appearance of being sent through a time warp, Medieval Spawn could have just been a part of that world and would have fit better with the other fighters. As much as I like Link and want to play a game that features adult Link, I am a bigger fan of Spawn, so I bought the Xbox version. When SCII reaches $20 on the ‘cube, I’ll probably pick it up just so I can play as Link.

Spawn is prominently featured on the front box art, on the back cover, and the game disc features his green-eyed mug. Spawn also appears on the cover of the instruction manual and his presence permeates the pages within. The opening movie also has a couple Spawn scenes. Namco probably figured the player would forget which extra character they had so they pasted Spawn everywhere they could. I sure the other versions are the same with their exclusive dudes.

Along with the new exclusive characters, there are two other completely new characters to Soul Calibur. Raphael is a fencer guy and Talim is a sweet chick with tonfa sticks. There are a few other new characters, but they are only new in name and somewhat in appearance as they feature moves of previous Soul Calibur fighters. Necrid is McFarlane’s original character for the game. He looks alright in his green skin, but looks really cool while wearing his metal mask. I thought he was just going to be an everyman like Edge Master in the previous game. Well, he is, but he’s not. He can use a lot of the other characters moves, but he can do them at anytime, he’s not confined to whatever character happens to load before battle. Necrid has some force ball thing that allows him to create other characters’ weapons on the fly, making the familiar moves seem fresh. He is fast too, much faster than I thought he would be. Of course, there still is an everyman character found in the giant eyeball surrounded by rocks known as Charade. There’s also Cassandra, Sophitia’s sister, with her sisterly similar moves. Yunsung and the unlockable Assassin are based on Hwang, and the unlockable Berserker is essentially Rock. 

The returning fighters have their own new costumes. Voldo has a creepy and cool looking Giger Alien mask. Mitsurugi kicks back in his robe, Xianghua has a maid outfit, and Seung Mina wears a long, yet panty-revealing sundress. There are twenty-three characters to fight with, but it would have been nice to have a few more completely new characters.

Soul Calibur II is a truly remarkable game. There is no reason that any fighting game fan should not have this in their collection, no matter what system they own.

Score: 9.5        

Soul Calibur II Figures

If you love this game you'll want to check out McFarlane Toys' Soul Calibur II figures. Ivy, Voldo, Nightmare, Necrid, Astaroth, and two versions of Spawn (masked & unmasked) make fine miniature sculptures. They aren't too poseable as they're stuck in dynamic fighting poses, with very few points of articulation. They come in small window boxes with backgrounds from the game and one or two weapons. The figures look great with McFarlane Toys impeccable level of detail. I wish Astaroth was in his one of his other costumes though, as the purple horned hood look is my least favorite of his getups. The figures are 4" tall, though it would've been nice to have the figures in a proper 6-7" scale. They many be tiny, but they certainly kick lots of ass.     

-Shawn

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