SoulCalibur III Reader Review
There's something about beauty which worries me. When you have looks, does personality or depth really matter anymore? If you can dazzle the world with a bat of your eyelashes, does anyone care that you've got about as much intelligence as a piece of 2x4?
Weird introduction I know, but it really does sum up what is happening to Soul Calibur 3. Undeniably a beautiful game, which moves with grace and elegance, it entrances you over to its side. With three superb and oft-critically acclaimed games before it, it walks with an air of confidence which is quite appealing. You just WANT to be with it, despite the fact you know it's probably been under the knife more times than Cher and pumped so full of botox it may now be immune to all known toxins in the world. So, what work has this game had done to it?
Well, aside the sumptouous visual treats that are the backdrops, the first noticable change are the three new characters. Zazalamel, a man with a big scythe who wants to die. Tira, a cute young girl who is unfortunately a servent of the evil Soul Edge. And Setsuka, a young swordwoman on a quest for revenge. All three slide perfectly into the universe and feel right at home, as if they had always meant to be there.
There are plenty of modes. The story mode is a choose-your-path type adventure, but there are few differences between characters and you can pretty much guess who you'll be fighting depending on which area your cursor is. There are missions to test your skill, a Quick Play which is more traditional arcade-style fare, and Chronicles of the Sword - a game which tries to add a little strategy to the formula, as well as elenets of an RPG. Needless to say, it's odd. Enjoyable, but still noticably odd.
Also added to this game is a character creation system, with lots of goodies to unlock. The shop returns, but also contains this time lots of extra costume parts for your characters. There still isn't enough true variety and most characters still come out rather generic, but I got away with making my own Jill Valentine (Yep, it's possible - not 100% accurate, but pretty dang close). So it's not bad. Just a shame most of it can be unlocked, when most will try and buy as much as they can...
There is one problem though. And it boils down to one major issue that Namco have seemingly forgotten about - AI. It was like it in Tekken 5, and it's the same in SC3. The AI is unjust, brutal, often cheap and always a pain. Enemies can go from pathetic and nigh-motionless in one battle to I-am-a-God in the next. There is little to no balance in the single player modes - not in the story mode, not in the missions mode, and definitely not in the Chronicles of the Sword mode. At some points, it just feels as though Namco want to brutally punish you - regardless of the difficulty mode you select. The likes of Nightmare and Abyss can either be a pushover or kill you within seconds of the match starting. Skill is certainly not a requirement, bring a good dose of luck and a healthy flask of patience... this game seems designed purely for one sole purpose - to abuse and ritually humiliate its players.
There are also noticable combat mechanic changes which further unbalance the state of play. The "stun" system is still one of those ideas I think could work very well, but right now is still a little too cheap in it's usage. The quick-step feature has been dropped, which gives some extra clout to the heavy characters like Nightmare, Zazalamel and Astaroth, who don't need to be in-close to do massive damage. The throw-grasp range has been extended and is counterable regardless of if you're in the middle of a move or not. And of course, to add insult to injury to many Soul Calibur veterans - they changed most of the moves and their controls, meaning that many of us had to study the moves list for a good while before getting back into the swing of things. It feels like a cheap, tacky way of adding new depth - forcing players to relearn all they know, in the confines of a system which isn't fair.
Fortunately, there is a lot of fun to be had in this game. Get a mate (or a few) around, grab that second controller and the two-player is as fun as it could ever hope to be. When the in-game AI isn't being a jackass, it plods along nicely. There are lots of stories to uncover, and the Character Creation system - despite being rather generic - will add a personal tough for most people, who will no doubt look to be making their favorite characters from other games. Ahem. And throughout it all, it does feel rewarding as you progress through the modes, it's just a pity it feels more down to luck than anything else.
None of this is to say that it is a bad game. It is still a good game and standing alone, is rather strong. But this isn't any fighting game, this is Soul Calibur, hailed by many as the epitome of the fighting game genre - and we should be expecting far better than this. The game has numerous bugs which many have complained about (not least a save feature bug. Hooray, goodbye all my progress!), graphically - while pretty - it's not even close to as smooth as SC2 (Which had barely any visual bugs). And there's even a bug in the Chronicles of the Sword mode which apparantly makes one of the bosses invincible - which sucks seeing as you HAVE to beat him to progress to the other bosses behind it.
So there we have it. It's beauty is there for all to see, but it's developed a "Diva" complex, where sometimes - no matter how nice or good you are - it will refuse to do anything and throw the rulebook away. It's not the sequel we fans were hoping for by a long shot - we could live with the exclusivity on PS2, we could have lived with almost anything but the poor AI and gimped combat mechanics are unforgivable.
If you are a fan (like me), you'll find a way to live with this temperemental, flawed beauty. The rest of you should rent first if possible - it's got an awful lot to offer, but it's got a heck of a lot of issues to work with. It's those issues which may, inevitably, put many people off...
7 / 10