Shoryuken review: SoulCalibur VI – The casual side

By on October 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm
soulcalibur vi nightmare steed

Despite our focus on mechanics and technique here at SRK, we can’t overlook the fact that a big part of the success of SoulCalibur is its unique world and single-player content. Given the appeal that these features have to a wide audience, it feels irresponsible to not address them in some way. Here, then, is documentation on my experience with the pre-release, PlayStation 4 version of SoulCalibur VI‘s single-player experience.

Note: All information discussed references the PlayStation 4 version of SoulCalibur VI.

Museum

portrait

Portrait mode in the Museum has several pages of info on each character.

The Museum is where you go to dive head first into SoulCalibur’s lore, art, music, and more. Probably one of its most fascinating sections is the library, which contains a massive encyclopedia of various weapons, characters, and histories of its world. It’s worth reading, despite the fact much of it must be unlocked via either playing through Libra of Souls or by unlocking with “Soul Points” earned through various game modes. (Soul Points are also used to purchase some costume items in Creation Mode, though, so you might want to use them there first.)

I want to note that while I have less kind things to say about some of the game’s story modes further down the article, the stories I sampled in the Muesem were fun to read and interesting. I also have a hunch that some of these sections — such as the music section — will be expanded on in the future.

Character Creation

You can’t put a skeleton in hot pants.

Sorry, that’s an odd sentence, isn’t it? Let’s give it some context.

SCVI’s character creator is great: it has 12 races and a huge amount of customization options thanks to stickers and accessory slots. If you are willing to take the time to play with its options, you can make some wild-looking stuff. Unfortunately, there are a few things lacking — namely, the equipment itself.

It’s impossible not to compare this to Tekken’s Customization Mode — and I think the major difference is that, while SoulCalibur undeniably lets you do more with individual pieces, Tekken simple has more pieces, and they fit better on the model. SoulCalibur’s pieces clip nearly all the time, and it gets particularly bad on some of the fantasy races –a basic shirt clips through the entirety of the front of the Fully-Transformed Malfested, for example. (Which, for some reason, are only allowed to be male.) And that’s even assuming you’re allowed to put that equipment on a particular race at all.

skeleton

You can, however, put a skeleton in a French maid outfit.

You see, there’s Lizardmen and Skeletons in the game, and I hope you didn’t actually want to get creative with either of them, because you can’t put them in most of the pieces in the game. A skeleton can wear pants, but not hot pants. Lizardmen exist, but they apparently don’t know how to wear most clothes, either. Maybe Lizardmen clothes are going to be DLC along with Aeon. Grumble grumble.

These are extreme, silly examples meant to underline a more general point — there’s arbitrary things you just can’t do in this engine, and it all just smacks of a lack of imagination on the developers part. Or time. Maybe they just ran out of time. Honestly, given some of the cool stuff you can do, I think I am more willing to believe that.

So yeah, long story short: I got to write the sentence “You can’t put a skeleton in hot pants.” That’s on my resume now.

Story Mode

There are spoilers below for events very early into the game, so if you want to play this spoiler-free, I’d just skip this section all together.

There are two story modes in SoulCalibur VI: “Libra of Souls” and “Soul Chronicle”. The bigger draw from a promotional standpoint was Libra of Souls, as it called back to SoulCalibur III’s wildly popular “Chronicles of the Sword” mode.

For whatever failings SCIII had as a game — and it had a lot of them — it made money for Namco because of this RPG/Fighter hybrid. Both SCVI’s LoS and SCIII’s CotS are basically RPGs where you create a character that participates in part of the SoulCalibur plot-line. Substituting your typical RPG random encounters are AI Battles within SCVI’s versus engine, and you can manipulate your damage output and health with food and weapons as you journey along.

Libra of Snores

As far as Libra’s plot is concerned, the basic gist is this: Zasalamel finds your character floating in a strange, energy-filled tear in time and space called (unfortunately) an “Astral Fissure”. He tells you that you almost fully turned into a Malfested — a being inflicted by a curse that turns its victim to a cancerous, enraged Body Horror — but that you’re lucky he got there in time to save you. He also tells you this exact same dialogue if you pick the Fully-Transformed Malfested race as your character. You don’t have to lie to me, Zas. I know my character’s face looks like melted nightmare candle. That’s why I picked him. It’s October.

zasalmel

tedward

Where’s the “ask about his eyesight” option?

From there, your quest leads you to running around and thrusting your hands into Astral Fissures — the game’s choice of wording, not mine — in order to stay alive. There’s not much to really develop your character’s personality outside of a small alignment system. The way it works is: you’re presented with tough moral questions like “Do you want the GOLDEN SWORD OF FREEDOM or the BLUE SWORD OF ORDER.” I picked the golden sword because I think free people are typically happier people. The game informed me that I became more evil because of this decision. Cool, thanks.

I don’t know if it’s just a problem with some poor translation choices, or if the original writing is really that bad. But between the bland presentation, dry prose, and bizarre motives of every character (every party member that I can recall, I stabbed with a spear in order to make them my friend. The 16th century was wild, ya’ll.) have made Libra of Souls an experience I have trouble picturing anyone enjoying. Having dumb-as-rocks AIs as your antagonists doesn’t really help the excitement levels in anyway. The only difficulty in Libra of Souls is that, eventually, your health will start carrying over between battles through the form of an expedition. With that in mind, item management becomes important so that you don’t die while traveling — this might be the only “fun” I can really picture from LoS, overall.

libra

So, this is it. This is Libra of Souls. Just imagine the experience of looking at this picture for 13 hours.

Minor aside: There’s also a strange quirk with the camera in this mode — it’s off-center, tilting towards your character’s perspective. It doesn’t make things “more difficult to play” so much as “more difficult to look at.” Luckily, I found out, this can be disabled in the options. It might be cool and cinematic for other people, but I had the vague feeling of motion sickness when I looked at it.

If all you need is an RPG UI to be happy and nothing I’ve said above sounds like a negative to you, let me drop one more thing here: Lizardman is in the game. He’s a finished NPC you run into with some regularity, he has his own unique style with his classic moves from earlier games, he has some new moves, and you’ll never know how good they are because you can’t play as him. He’ll almost certainly be in the Season pass later down the line, and much like Tira, it’s a shameless nickle-and-diming of the audience that has, unfortunately, become commonplace in our genre. I don’t mind that he’s there, I mind that he’s there and not playable.

But there is good news that even I can’t deny: there’s a lot of content this mode. My 2 hours is nowhere near the full amount of this story, and this mode is good for grinding in-game gold to unlock CaS equipment. I think if you enjoyed Chronicles of the Soul in SCIII you’ll probably dig this if just for sheer amount of stuff to do. It’s just a shame that all that stuff feels completely bland and inconsequential at best.

I really did go into this trying to see from the eyes of players that love this sort of thing — and I know I am woefully outnumbered on this take. But I don’t get it, and that’s fine — because there’s another story mode I can play instead, and it tells the story of the same events in a way I actually enjoyed.

Soul Chronicle

“Soul Chronicle” divides several episodic stories along a timeline of events, with chapters centered around a single character’s journey and how they tangle into SoulCalibur VI‘s overall narrative. Its individual “episodes” are told through beautifully-rendered character portraits and voice-acted dialogue. The game-play is about the same as Libra of Souls: you vs. some dolls from the character creator, or maybe the occasional main character– but something about piecing the story together into singular, contained chunks made it a lot easier for me to digest. Neither story mode’s plot is particularly deep or inventive, but at least “Soul Chronicle” respects your time and has fun while doing so. The AI battles are still dumb, but they feel a lot more tolerable only because you’re actually in the middle of a narrative whose end you can see in sight.

astaroth

There are levels of madness that even Astaroth cannot process.

Every now and then, I was genuinely impressed by some of the depth woven into these stories. Slight spoiler in this paragraph: Astaroth’s section is an example of what the best storytelling in Calibur looks like. They took what seems like a flat, irredeemably evil character and wove in a gripping arc amid his divine bloodbath. The bar for fighting game plots is low and fighting game character development even lower — When Astaroth’s inevitable crisis of purpose finally occurs and his genuine confusion colored his dialogue, I wasn’t thinking about genre or combos or training mode. I was just wanting to see more of his story. That immersion is far beyond anything else this genre has ever done for me.

Not everything in Soul Chronicle hits, but when it does, it’s worth it. There’s truly not much else to say than this. It’s amazing how much difference presentation and pacing can make.

There’s something here for you.

So it’s probably clear that I leaned heavily in favor of some modes over the others. Ultimately, I think this is a strong point in favor of SCVI — that there is something here for everyone. I just wanted SCVI so that I can go back to tournaments for my favorite series of all time — and if I, as rigidly uninterested in single-player content as I am, can find some genuine entertainment outside of versus mode, I am confident you can too. SoulCalibur VI delivers, it just doesn’t deliver consistently. Given some of the sins of its past, that’s totally fine.


Bandai Namco provided SRK with a copy of SoulCalibur VI for the purpose of this review.


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