Soulcalibur (Dreamcast)

Transcending time and space, an eternal tale of souls and swords.

Considered by some as a Hero's Sword or even the Sword of Immortality by others, rumors of the legendary sword Soul Edge spread throughout the world under its many guises.

Whatever its name, Soul Edge was without a doubt a sword of great evil.

The owner of the cursed sword was the dreaded pirate Cervantes, whose reign of terror ended after his defeat at the hands of Sophitia, the sacred warrior, and Taki, the demon huntress.

However Siegfried, who was searching for a sword of vengeance, stumbled upon Soul Edge which was now without a host and on the verge of tearing itself apart because of its uncontrollable evil energy. When he grasped the sword, the nightmare began once again...

Soulcalibur is the second entry in the long-lasting Soulcalibur series. Like its prequel Soul Blade, the game was initially released as an arcade cabinet, and later ported and expanded for the home versions. Gameplay-wise, this Dreamcast port of Soulcalibur starts with the base arcade offering, and then adds various modes which are provided as unlockables. In the arcade mode it's your basic one on one fight until the last one standing, the winner being the best out of three rounds. Right from the outset, Soulcalibur's weapon-wielding fighters provide an enhanced experience over traditional fighters like Tekken due to the diversity of the weapons contributing to a wider pool of fighting styles.

As a fighting game, Soulcalibur also includes throws and combos. And pretty popular in 3D fighting games is the possibility to throw your opponent out of the ring, finishing the fight instantly. You have to be careful however, as getting too close to the edge with the intent of pushing your opponent over may end up with you on the wrong end of the ring. Soulcalibur however also introduces three new mechanics. The first of them allows you to pull of combos by stringing moves together even before the current move is finished. An other innovation is that players can move around the fighting stage freely, breaking away from the 2.5D mentality of all the other fighting games of the era. And the last one is the Soul Charge, a move that temporarily increases the player's power, but leaves them open to attack whilst it's being executed.

There are eight characters to fight in each arcade mode run. The first six are random, whilst the seventh pits you against another character who has some background relation with you. All of the characters are trying to reach the infamous sword, and upon beating their nemesis, the blade's soul takes you to the final stage inside the chaos realm against Inferno. This character is made up of pure fire, and randomly wields one of the weapons of its defeated opponents, which esentially means you get another random character.

The initial character roster lets you choose between ten characters, each with their own individual fighting styles. Based on their weapons, they can be better at close or long range combat, or more or less aggressive based on the weight of the weapons they hold. Almost all of the characters from the first game make it back to this sequel, but some of them are available only after beating the game with another character, bringing the total selectable characters to nineteen. The unlockable characters are all a variation of a style of the initial characters, with the exception being the last unlockable character Edge Master. This old master knows all the tricks in the book. When you choose him, each round you get a random fighting style and a related weapon from all of the other characters.

Whilst the arcade mode is quick with my best time clocked at three minutes, it is in the mission mode where the home-version shines. By giving you missions which can be completed using specific moves, it helps you to learn about all of the possible combos and fighting options rather than pushing the same button over and over. Each win also gives you coin which you can spend in the gallery. And some of the purchased artwork will unlock further modes, character costumes, or stages. So it's a collector's dream forcing you to keep going until you have them all.

Soulcalibur's lasting gameplay also lies in the other game modes. Your standard two-player vs match is here, together with a team battle mode with up to 8 vs 8 where each beaten character is replaced by the next one. Then there is the time attack, survivor and extra survivor modes. Finally, the museum mode is where the developers show everyone that the game's graphics and animation are so good that it justifies a mode where the characters can exhibit their moves. The Dreamcast was one of the first home consoles which was more powerful than the competing arcade games, and Soulcalibur takes advantage of that. Better resolution than the arcade game it is ported from, detailed characters, and fluid animation leave no doubt about which hardware is the best.

For a game that strives to be as realistic as possible, there are also moments where special effects kick in to enhance the experience. As you slash your weapons around, coloured trails indicate the type of move that you have just pulled off, and are combined with other particle effects. Some people will be happy to know that there isn't any blood shed from the fighters with the sharp blades, which makes the game accessible to everyone. So no one has any excuse not to play this genre-defining game that is Soulcalibur.

Why should you play Soulcalibur?

- Various game modes - Offers a tactical approach to fighting - Great for two players

What may put you off?

- Subtitled Japanese voice-overs may reduce the fun for some people


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