Hi. I’m Crow, a dedicated SoulCalibur tournament player since around 2002. I want to tell you about my hopes for SoulCalibur VI.
In the middle of 2017’s The Game Awards, legendary Bandai Namco producer Katsuhiro Harada marched out on stage with a man I did not recognize. I had a lot of anxiety about Harada’s appearance, because of the various Calibur rumors floating around before the show. My first thought upon seeing Harada: “Can these rumors even be true? Is this Calibur-related?” My second came when I saw he was accompanying someone: “Who is this man, and what is he (very clearly) about to sell me?”
Based on past experience, I wasn’t sure who would be tapped to lead a theoretical new SoulCalibur game. Before Harada’s counterpart spoke, I only knew who this new man wasn’t: Pokkén Tournament producer Masaaki Hoshino, the man I had been expecting to see. Hoshino has worked on multiple Calibur games in the past as a programmer, and proved to be a successful producer with the very experimental Pokémon title. He was also SoulCalibur V‘s head producer post-launch, after Hisaharu Tago stepped down. He was the safest bet to announce a new Calibur, and there’s still the possibility he’s involved with Project Soul.
Anyone that has followed SoulCalibur’s trajectory over the years knows that Namco can’t be accused of playing it safe. For better or worse, everything is subject to change, and that can (and almost always does) include staff and leadership. There’s little to say about the resume of the gentleman with Mr. Harada: this stranger, Motohiro Okubo, worked as a producer for Tekken 7, and has received special thanks in credits for various odd titles at Namco.
Mr. Okubo taking over as lead producer for Soul Calibur VI indicates a fresh start for Project Soul, at least on the surface. With little to go on other than his few credits and a trailer, we have virtually no indication of his vision or intentions for the new title.
I want to tell you about my hopes.
But to do that, I also have to tell you about my fears.
If you somehow haven’t seen the first trailer yet, here you go!
What do we know right now? In SoulCalibur VI‘s premiere trailer, Mitsurugi and Sophitia clash in an exciting spectacle of parries that’s impressive looking, on first glance. There’s also this bizarre moment where Mitsurugi blocks the 2nd hit of Sophitia’s 4AAA string without crouching:
This move has hit low for over a decade, but Mitsu ain’t duckin’ for NOBODY.
This was an immediate worry. Compare the above with this snippit of game info dropped over at Gematsu:
■ New System: Reversal Edge
In SoulCalibur VI, “Reversal Edge” is a new battle system that integrates both offense and defense. Once a Reversal Edge is activated, you can continuously defend against the opponent’s techniques to clash against each other and follow-up with powerful counterattacks based on the opponent’s actions. When a Reversal Edge hits, you can enjoy a powerful production like a scene from an action movie highlighted by a dynamic camera.
While trying to parse out what this exactly means, PSX gameplay surfaced that, frankly, left me even more confused:
Here, we know that meter is back, since we get to see supers, a new “Powered Up” state, and what looks almost like SCV’s riff on EX moves, the “Brave Edge” mechanic. There’s a particularly odd exchange where Sophie is clearly in the “Reversal Edge” state and uses it to block what looks like a low (despite clearly standing), but then gets guard-broken immediately afterwards into a cinematic. Mitsu uses that to go into Relic stance. (Also, Mitsu has both of his stances back, by the way.)
I finally think I’ve started to piece together what’s going on with Reversal Edge after reviewing Mr. Okuba’s interview at PSX:
After doing my best insane Charlie Day impression with this footage, I believe I have a better grip on what’s happening with “Reversal Edge.” Please check out this timestamp: we see Mitsurugi’s Reversal Edge whiff, then hit. This is what it looks like without any of the odd parry aspects we’ve seen from the trailers. Now compare that with the Reversal Edge here. Mitsurugi parries Sophie’s BB during the startup, but is sort of frozen in a parry animation while doing so. Sophie only gets hit by the RE because she followed up her BB with what looks like her old 3A+B. Why point this out? Because she could have just blocked.
So, basically, “Reversal Edge” is to Soul Calibur as “Power Crush” is to Tekken. It’s an auto-parry attack that you can bait it out with fast, safe pokes, it would seem, and there’s no telling what the frame data of REs are on block. On re-review of the original PSX trailer, we can also see that the “Reversal Edge” cannot parry Guard Breaks.
Mr. Okuba looks to be well-rehearsed at giving interviews that speak directly to Calibur players:
And going a little more in-depth, what we wanted to recreate was some of that fast responsiveness that you would see in SoulCalibur II, as well as what we believe is kind of the completed form of balance in character interactions and mechanics that you saw in SoulCalibur V.
Wisely sidestepping any discussion of SC3 and SC4’s gameplay, Mr. Okuba directly points out SCII’s movement and SCV’s refinement as inspirations. That’s a very straightforward, unbiased takeaway of both titles mechanically, and is the most optimistic moment for me in these very early advertisements.
This is also by far the most enlightening footage of SCVI we have. Guard Impacting has returned to a meterless state, but whiffing it does reduce your guard gauge. (Also, yeah. SCV’s guard crush system is back.) Movement seems very fast a la SCII speeds, but to what extent it truly borrows from SCII remains to be seen. These decisions indicate a developer that has paid attention to tournament play. I’m concerned about tying GI to the guard gauge (is whiffing a GI not enough of a punishment?) but it’s certainly a better decision than tying it to your super meter.
“Soul Charge” returns in an unexpected form:- it now costs one bar to perform, and you enter a powered-up state until the bar drains. That’s certainly an interesting take on this classic mechanic. It also appears to cause a damage-less hitbox to push the opponent away. That should sound familiar to anyone that’s played Pokkén Tournament.
SCII had some fancy Soul Charge cancel states, such as Kilik’s 6AA SCC and Raph’s FC 3A SCC — I wonder if this will be cleverly implemented to allow new ways to combo? As a big fan of Soul Charging in SCII, this is an interesting new twist on the concept. Do I like it more than the old form of SCC? Not yet, but I’m excited to see what they do with it. There seem to be a lot of possibilities with this “new” mechanic, but we won’t know without more time.
A feature I can’t imagine anyone wanted to return from SCV is back: “Reverse Rage.” When you get your opponent low on health, “chip” moves that deal less then a certain amount of damage suffer additional damage scaling,making them basically worthless. This forces a winning player to take even bigger risks with stronger moves in order to win at the end of a round, and it’s one of SCV’s most disparaged mechanics — both within and outside its community. SCVI is still very early in development, and a lot of what is in the engine right now probably is just directly ported over from SCV; I am more then happy to use this space to denounce this mechanic while there’s still time. This was a bad idea conceptually, and it needn’t ruin another game.
Outside of the mechanical breakdown above? We know this:
The first new character is apparently Purple Darth Maul.
I’m kidding, please stop emailing me and my family.
What we know about the game’s mechanics thus far is very promising, excluding the baggage of “Reverse Rage.” There’s still something very important to talk about, and it’s likely going to make me a punching bag for a few of you.
The SoulCalibur series, beloved as it is, has been battered critically both as a casual experience and as a tournament title. As someone deeply entrenched in the scene of the latter, I say the following with a certain sense of grief: it has deserved everything negative that’s been thrown its way over the years. I don’t want that to be true of my favorite fighting game series of all time, but it is. I’m not in the business of denying reality.
From a casual standpoint, SoulCalibur V was a bad misstep. It offered a comically small cast, axed some characters (and their movesets), and offered a dry and bland single player experience. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 came out a few months before SCV, and looked like it was made with three times the budget, both visually and in terms of content offered. It didn’t help any that insipid, amateur designs like Pyrrha, Alpha Patroklos, and Natsu were (rightfully) panned by the gaming community at large.
Which is why SCVI’s initial trailer is very interesting. If Mr. Okubo wanted to make a statement about the place of legacy characters in SCVI, then having Sophitia appear was the wisest choice. He wasn’t content with just that: we also get to see an apparent Young Mitsurugi, which raises a wild amount of questions: is this a prequel? A reboot? Alternate timeline? Based on some the details already dropped, it is almost certainly the former: Sophitia’s bio, for example, lacks information on Patroklos and Pyrrha, her controversial children that served as protagonists of the maligned SCV.
But the negative connotation with the Calibur name wasn’t just because of the single-player experience of SCV. Frankly, if that were the only problem with SCV, the tone of this section would be very different. But the real problems that have plagued Calibur for years, and the problems readers within the FGC need to be aware of, predate SCV.
I don’t think it’s necessary, or fair to Project Soul, to give you an exhaustive, detailed history of every bug and misstep that the series has suffered. I say this for a couple of reasons:
- I don’t want this to be a 10,000-word rant about past glitches, particularly over a few short trailers. That probably deserves its own article.
- The entire fighting game genre was founded on combos, which was famously the result of a bug in Street Fighter.
- It would be wildly dishonest of me, considering I already have written an article that was almost exclusively about how SoulCalibur II was made better by a bug.
But that won’t stop me from pointing out SCIII as the start of Calibur’s decay as a conceptually-sound fighting game. It is, also, directly relevant to SCVI’s fate to do so, as they both share a frightening similarity.
I am calling out SCIII because this is the game where Namco altered their development cycle for the series. Gone was the two-year, sculpture-like process of arcade development. (A process that most recently, I’d like to note, Tekken 7 and Pokkén Tournament both enjoyed, and a process of which absolutely resulted in superior games then their original releases.) For whatever reason, ever since SCIII, Namco has decided the Calibur series doesn’t deserve the same careful touch and feedback that their other fighters get. It baffles me, because everything I dreaded was revealed at the end of the first trailer:
Dear readers. Help me out here. SCIII was released in 2005. It has been over a decade, and the same horrifically short scheduling that marred three games in a row is being used again. I cannot, in good faith, tell you that this bodes well for SCVI when we have demonstrable evidence to the contrary.
I know you want your new SoulCalibur right now. So do I.
I also want it to be a good game.
All of the worst stuff in the last few iterations’ competitive meta (SCIII VC, SCIV Hilde, SCV Alpha Pat/Viola balance as just a few examples) were found instantly by the player base, and should have been caught in development by anyone that knows the pace and mental game of a Calibur match. This isn’t an argument about arcades being dead in the US or anywhere else — it’s about the fact that Project Soul (and Namco) had a formula that worked, and discarded it for one that hasn’t yet. And they are stubbornly sticking with it, even after all these years.
I feel like if there were a tournament-level Calibur player consulted in any way during this development process (and I have also felt this way about all previous Caliburs) then someone would have said something to Project Soul or Namco about this. Tekken has MarkMan and Michael Murray. Capcom has had a list of players in that capacity, from Seth Killian to Combofiend. As it stands, any fear I possess right now about SCVI is only because of past mistakes, and I have no idea what outreach Namco has ever attempted for Calibur. Namco has a wonderful opportunity from here on out to make the best Calibur ever, but as someone that has seen Namco try to cram a game out three times in a row with a formula that just doesn’t seem to work, “Coming 2018” is a giant red flag.
But — this is pure speculation on my part — I have to point this out because I want to believe:
We are working very hard to get this game out, and I would like to say “As soon as we can.” “Within the 2018 year” is the best answer I can give you right now.
This came from Mr. Okuba at the trailing end of his PSX interview, when asked when players would get to buy SCVI. This fills me with hope that they perhaps realize that the release date they have is a little absurd given the history of the franchise. I have never wished for a game to be delayed more until this very moment. I see too much good potential here for it to be ruined by bad habits.
And to a certain extent, I know that’s a point of view not shared by most consumers. It has been about five seconds since the trailer came out, and Mr. Okuba has had a brutally short amount of time to show what his vision is about. All system mechanic breakdowns above, while done with the best of intentions, must be taken with a grain of salt since things can change during development. We don’t know what frame data on lows will be like (if that makes no sense to you, check out my breakdown of Raph’s 2K over the years.) There’s so much still up in the air. All we really know is: this exists. It’s certainly a thing that will happen now. And Mr. Okuba is at least playing the part of someone that has looked into tournament Calibur.
My hope? My hope is that Calibur is a great game for everyone, but that it’s a great game first. We don’t know enough about the game as it stands now to say much else, though the PSX footage is certainly optimistic.
My fear? My fear is that history will repeat itself. That Calibur’s battle engine won’t be given enough time to develop or breath in the hands of players. No one wants to go back to vanilla Tekken 7 in the arcades when they have the superior game at home, if you know what I mean. But we also have a new producer involved, someone of whom is likely hungry to prove themselves with this project. He can still surprise us.
However, I will not give this game a free pass just because it’s Calibur, or just because it’s Namco. I will, also, not try to judge it on the mistakes of its predecessors. I want SCVI to succeed, but I (and many others from the splintered Calibur community) have been burned before. SCVI will have to prove itself. Here’s hoping it can do just that.
SCVI’s tagline says that it “marks a new era of the historic franchise.” I really hope that’s true, and will be the first to point it out, if I see evidence of it.