Is Japan getting its groove back? Leaving Nintendo aside (or maybe not, even), the major houses of the great motor and innovator of the video games industry in the eighties and nineties have been in the doldrums. Sega, Capcom, Konami, Square, Namco: evocative names that have seen either dwindling fortunes, uncertain moves into Western co-development, or both.
It all began 15 years ago, with a lofty voice that proclaimed: "Transcending history and the world, a tale of soul and swords eternally retold!" But after the progressively stifled SoulCalibur 4 - a game whose unique selling point was the clashing of katanas and lightsabers in a Star Destroyer docking bay, with its cameos from Darth Vader and Yoda - it seemed like the curtain had finally fallen on the Stage of History. However, nobody told Project Soul director Daishi Odashima, as by taking the series 17 years into the future and retiring certain members of the cast, he finally gives us a SoulCalibur that shows tangible progression since its days on the Dreamcast.
A quick trip to the select screen reveals that Taki, Xianghua and Kilik have been replaced by Natsu, Leixia and Xiba - respectively an apprentice, daughter and successor. This passing of torches is also inherent in their fighting styles, as with bō-staff in hand, Xiba (whose named is pronounced the same as a popular brand of cat food) fights in a way that closely resembles his less goofy predecessor. Although his move set has been subtly tweaked, you can still achieve a ring-out by jamming your pole between your opponent's legs and tossing them over your shoulder.
While Sophitia has passed on her shield duties to her twin children, Patroklos and Pyrrha, the rest of the roster is made up of Calibur classics like the nunchaku-twirling Maki, the axe-swinging Astaroth and the double-cheque-cashing Yoshimitsu. Some of them also look more advanced in years, with Mitsurugi keeping it classy with his Just For Men mane and Lizardman - who now goes by his human name of Aeon Calcos - rocking an angelic set of wings that give his techniques an aerial edge.
Sometimes it's the flawed ones that make you think the most. During a rare moment of downtime in the disappointing Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, I started considering how developers and publishers reuse content: what represents an acceptable recycling of assets, and what doesn't.
Last month I packed my rucksack with the usual assortment of travelling essentials and made my second pilgrimage to the Eurogamer Expo. And while travelling from the UK's most southerly county isn't exactly cheap or hassle-free, the level of gaming opulence on offer made it worth the while.
In theory, fighting games should be one of the easiest genres to define - it's pretty much all there in the title. Two people trade karate chops, dragon punches and flying kicks until one is knocked unconscious or mercilessly killed, the only real complication coming from the clicking timer (fighters tend to suffer a cardiac arrest if they break the 60 second rule, you see.)