Hands-on experience with SoulCalibur VI at Texas Showdown 2018 — Part 1: Mechanics

By on May 7, 2018 at 2:00 pm
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At this time of this writing, I have arrived home from a day-and-a-half of SoulCalibur VI grinding at Texas Showdown 2018. I’m exhausted for all the reasons one usually is from a big trip, but the mental fatigue is entirely Bandai Namco’s fault. They are to be blamed for making a promising new entry into my favorite fighting game series — Thank you, Namco, and how dare you.

To give you a comprehensive rundown of my experience at TX Showdown requires gathering a lot of different thoughts — for this reason alone, we will be breaking up this editorial into two parts: today, we are covering the game’s mechanics in the current build.


As I sat down to share the details rattling around in my brain-pan, a strange thought bubbled up — I’ve been here before. 

It was hard not to compare and contrast the experience of playing SCVI for the first time with that of playing Tekken 7 at Wizard World prior to its release. Despite being the same company, the SCVI setup was much more modest and thrown-together. You could only use Xbox pads, there were fewer setups, and to my surprise, fewer players willing to jump in the fray. Maybe it’s because Calibur seems impenetrable to the 2D crowd, or maybe it’s just because there’s been less press for SCVI than Tekken 7, but it was much easier for me to get games in then I really thought it’d be. Part of me is happy about that — part of me is worried about Namco not making a bigger deal out of these public events like they did with Tekken.


Game Speed

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The Calibur series has been slowing down impact frames and movement speed for the past several iterations, to its detriment. This is almost certainly the thing most people are concerned about, and I’m pleased to say that the game speed feels great. Step is improved — I won’t say it’s back to SCII levels (here’s an example: in SCII, Xianghua can step Nightmare BB in both directions. In SCVI, she can only step it to her left.) but it’s so far beyond the stilted movement of SCV that it feels like you’re blazing around the arena comparatively. That generic AAs and BBs seem to have their oppressive speed and poke potential back certainly doesn’t hurt anything.

I can’t mention step without mentioning this, however: backdashing is terrible. I know that SCV players will probably raise their hands and say how much worse their version of backdash is, and they are not wrong. But if Namco wants to say that movement in SCVI is supposed to be “like SCII”, which they very clearly have, then this needs to be acknowledged. Stepping is ultimately the safer movement option.

Is this good? Is this bad? I don’t know. It does make it hard for some footsie situations, and I think it somewhat unfairly targets characters (like Sophitia) that are built around whiff punishes, but it also keeps the action a little more compact. Which was fun! I think only time will tell how this will play out in tournament matches, but I do predict a lot of SCII heads will have some habits to break in this area (myself included).


Performance

The game is beautiful, no questions asked. However, there’s a lot of optimization still left to be done — the game’s FPS frequently chugged, and noticeably would stall awkwardly at round ends. The game feels in a much worse state overall finishing-wise then Tekken 7 did at its preview event — not a surprise, since Tekken 7 was in arcades prior, but when I consider that there’s a 2018 release date tagged to this project, it fills me with enough concern to point out.


BBBs

One of the oddest changes to SCVI is the decision to give everyone a third hit on AA/BB strings. These are safe, too, and often times have very deceptive animations that make it look like it’s not a string, but two separate attacks. In the case of BBBs you can often step the third hit, so it does create an interesting mix-up situation where you are forced to try and guess step/GI, or try to take advantage of the frame disadvantage of BB.

I didn’t like this change at first for fairly shallow reasons — I initially saw BBB in a Sophitia trailer and thought it was a new move they gave just to her, only to learn they gave it to everyone as a generic tool. After a days worth of playing I have to say I greatly enjoy the way it forces players to think — button-happy opponents will find themselves, more often than not, eating the third hit. This will probably happen a lot at the beginning of the game’s lifespan, and it’s only going to get more interesting when you can start calling out their step/GI attempts to escape from this.


Tech Crouching

This is a change carried over from newer SCs — 2As and 2Ks tech crouch very late, and it’s just a frustrating experience to see either of these tools that are classically designed to beat highs, well, not do that. After stubbornly trying to make these work as anti-high tools, I just gave up and started doing while-rising attacks. While this worked, I’d rather the attacks that have crouching animations actually duck things. Perhaps I’m being picky.


Clashing

Horizontals and verticals can clash. I don’t even know what else to say other then that this has led to the most clashes I have ever seen in a Calibur game, and it’s kind of annoying. There also may be a priority system of some kind, as I have seen verticals knock away horizontals but not actually hit the opponent — for example, an odd interaction where Kilik 66B knocked away Sophitia 2A and put her in a reeling animation, but the 66B itself passed through her model without hitting her.

SoulCalibur III, incidentally, had a tiered priority system with its clashes as well, but more often then not it just resulted in trades or moves blatantly beating out others when they hit on the same frame. This feels like the inverse of that, in a way, but it’s entirely possible this is just a system still being worked out.


Critical Edge

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The change to make CEs one button is much bigger game-changer then I think most players understand right now. Unlike the much-slower Rage Arts of Tekken 7, CEs are quite fast and useful in punishment situations. Now that they are completely free from execution, it is brainlessly easy to turtle up and whiff punish virtually anything once you have the footsie range down. Goodbye stance transitions, too, unless your stance has an option to somehow avoid, block, or beat the CE.

This is going to be one of those things that will probably be fun for the person in control, and incredibly boring for the opponent and the audience. As someone that has listened to crowds of people complain about watching run away X in SCII, I have a feeling this could be a huge problem down the line, as it is. I hope it’s not, though — there is something special about a player finding a way to overcome the pressure this mechanic summons. I just don’t know if Namco intended it this way, since some CEs are much better than others at this.


Soul Charge

I wish I could go into more detail about Soul Charging, but the truth is that it’s mostly impossible to explore its options in this type of setting. There was no move-list available, no training mode, and no information posted anywhere around the setup about Soul Charging, so I’ll keep this short with what I do know.

The Soul Charge mechanic powers up your character at the cost of one meter. Its activation pushes the opponent away from you with a damageless hitbox, exactly the same way Pokkén Tournament‘s Burst Mode does. Each character gets some new moves during this state, but the state itself lasts for a relatively short amount of time. It does not activate on frame 1, so it is not necessarily a get-out-of-jail-for-free card.

We will go into more SC detail in Part 2.


Guard Impact

This is the strongest Guard Impact I’ve ever seen in the SC series. It guard impacts everything — highs, lows, throws, you name it. Everything except Guard Breaks and Reversal Edges. I accidentally Guard Impacted Nightmare’s CE once. Yeah.

This is also, by far, the largest GI window I’ve ever seen. You know how you can GI someone, then immediately do a slow move to prey on their twitch reactions? Well, while that’s still possible, it’s a lot harder to do now because the GI window is so big it’s likely to catch even very slow lows. It looks visually odd, as the green spark from the GI will be gone from the screen but the GI will still catch the attack. It is still possible to punish early GIs, but this particular gimmick is a lot harder to do now. What frame speed you need to use to beat early GI will need to be discovered once the game is released.

I don’t know if it’s just the thrill of having it back at all, but I was able to hand-wave things that I thought would be real problems with having a GI this strong. Fundamentally, it’s still the same — you can still bait out GIs and whiff punish, you can still beat GIs straight up (only now you use Guard Breaks instead of high/low mix-ups), and you can still mess with people’s timing. GI is wild and strong and, right now, that feels great. I just hope that feeling remains after I get used to it, instead of just being annoyed at how it shuts down mid/low mix-ups completely.


Reversal Edge

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Okay. Sip of coffee. Time to make myself unpopular with… probably everyone. I love my job.

The Reversal Edge is SCVI’s answer to Tekken 7’s Power Crush and Slow-Mo systems. It is an attack that automatically parries anything other than guard break attacks, and upon successful hit, launches into a cinematic Rock-Paper-Scissors mini-game. Correct guesses from this mini-game result in a (frequently powerful) hit, and different characters get different rewards for winning the mini-game. Some have combo starters, like Groh. Some get tricky low attack string followups, like Xianghua. It is the big dramatic exclamation point that SoulCalibur VI is attempting to hang its future on.

And it is, in its current state, a dismal failure of a mechanic.

It solves a problem that didn’t exist (“how do I actively break up my opponent’s offense?”) with a tool that isn’t useful in high or mid-level play. It is completely redundant in a game with Guard Impact, particularly now that GI has been buffed to the heavens.

If I, in my old age, am able to see this move once, on my first day playing, and then properly step-punish it on reaction with a launcher, this mechanic will not survive five months down the road. Period. And even when the RE successfully intercepts something, it’s possible to outlast it with an active-enough attack string. That Bandai Namco spokespeople continue to try and sing its praises during exhibitions not only baffles me, but indicates to me that they are, to some degree, tone deaf as to what’s actually happening in the matches real players are playing.

The general argument is that a RE gives you meter, and for that alone you should choose it over GI. It appears to be a gain of a little over 33% in the current build (a significant chunk, to be sure) but what’s left out of this argument are two important facts: 1) Your opponent still gets some meter for just participating in the RPS game whether or not they win it. And, perhaps more importantly, 2) You can still get murdered for being the person that successfully goes into RE.

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Here’s a real world example I experienced in a match I had with TX Showdown commentator and Calibur OG OmegaXCN: I had magic-pixel health, and his lifebar sat at, what appeared to me, around 25%. I AA’d, he successfully RE’d me, RPS cutscene happens. I facerolled because I absolutely don’t care about this mechanic or know what any of my or my opponent’s options are on day one. OmegaXCN loses the RPS mini-game and dies because, whoops, turns out the damage for this one giant hit from RE is hilariously high and avoids Guts-Scaling. Cool. I win the round — though I absolutely didn’t earn it.

I get it, Namco — you want your big cool cinematic cut-scene experience to sell copies of the game. No one blames you for that, and considering how much I enjoy your games, I want that for you too. You want to catch the lightning-in-a-bottle you had with Tekken 7’s Slow-Mo — but the thing that I think is missing here is that Tekken’s Slow-Mo still functions within the context of the game at all levels of play. A thinking player that is trying to win would (almost) never attempt a RE, especially when the series’s strongest version of GI is sitting there in the exact same game. And because of how heavy-handed and limited it’s designed, I really don’t think you’ll get the same wild reactions that the organic Slow-Mo of Tekken yields.

And unfortunately, I don’t entirely know how you fix this. If it’s really supposed to be about meter, I don’t think both parties should get it once the cut-scene triggers. The reward should absolutely be high for how risky RE is, but the way your lifebar can evaporate over this is an insane gamble far beyond the realm of rationality. A possible solution is to go all-in on the meter aspect — remove or reduce damage dramatically, then make correct RPS guesses within the system reward even more giant amounts of meter, and heavily scaling combo extensions. Make it actually about meter instead of just playing lip service to the idea. But even if you do that, it doesn’t change how absurdly risky the RE attack itself is, which is a good portion of the problem — and if you make RE too good, it risks invalidating GI, which also builds meter  to a much smaller extent. There isn’t enough difference between the two functionally, so just from a design standpoint, it might not even be worth it to balance RE.

Whatever they choose to do, I can say — with 100% certainty despite the fact I did not once use this mechanic intentionally in a sea of players that did — I never felt far enough behind in meter to warrant its risk. 

Moving on.


Glitches

There were a few odd glitches, which is to expected of any game in development. More than once I saw players get up backwards and attack in the wrong direction. Throw-attacker and throw-defender animations would go in the wrong directions, similar to SCIII VC glitches. This happened post-KO and I was, sadly, unable to recreate it.

But none of this compares to my favorite glitch of the night: I was rung out, but then landed unceremoniously on the stage during the replay. This possibly resulted from an error with the way the game re-positioned the models during the replay, but it had me in a fit of laughter when I saw my body clearly on stage while the announcer yelled about my “Ring Out!” loss.

I was not able to recreate anything too game-breaking à la Step-G/G2/VC aside from the lone instance mentioned above, which is for the best. I think it’s a good sign that all of the above mentioned problems are fixable and certainly common problems with development-in-progress.


That is it for SoulCalibur VI‘s mechanics, for now. Stay tuned, though — in Part 2, we’re jumping into the characters available at the TX Showdown build.

Hey, I'm just a 3D-head in a 2D-world. I like pretty much all FGC stuff, and I really like hearing about the way people think about games.