Old ad­ver­saries stand be­fore one an­other, bob­bing gen­tly at the knees and dressed from head to toe by the male gaze. They’re about to en­gage in an im­mac­u­late dis­play of weaponised fisticuffs which, as mas­ter­fully smooth and com­plex an­i­ma­tions play out and items of cloth­ing pop away as though a soft-porn pro­ducer is call­ing the shots from on high, shows both how far

Soul­cal­ibur has come in 20 years, and how awk­wardly it re­mains stuck in the past. Above the ground-level fun­da­men­tals,

Soul­cal­ibur VI seeks to layer in new lev­els of com­plex­ity with gauge-based sys­tems which af­fect the ebb and flow of each en­counter. Some of those sys­tems are pos­i­tive, while one’s sure to be un­pop­u­lar with the com­pet­i­tive set. One in par­tic­u­lar, the re­turn­ing equip­ment-break­ing sys­tem which treats the dis­rob­ing of a bun­dle of over-en­dowed poly­gons as some sort of re­ward, feels like an un­wel­come relic, a stag­ger­ing act of tone-deaf­ness that shows how lit­tle at­ten­tion Namco’s fight­ing-game teams pay to the world out­side their walls.

As you’d ex­pect, at its core it plays much the same way the se­ries al­ways has, and it’s no sur­prise to find that nei­ther Mit­su­rugi nor Sophi­tia, the only two avail­able char­ac­ters in our demp, have been sub­jected to rad­i­cal re­designs. The for­mer still utilises his sword for bal­letic medium-speed at­tacks, while the lat­ter jabs away at op­po­nents’ nether re­gions at rapid speed. As if it needed to be said, do­ing ei­ther of these is deeply grat­i­fy­ing in the most di­rect sense, such is the grace of each fighter’s move­ment and the poise be­tween them.

In­no­va­tion in fight­ing games these days tends to be mea­sured in gauges, and pre­dictably enough the new or it­er­ated-on fea­tures in Soul­cal­ibur VI largely re­volve around the Crit­i­cal Gauge, in­tro­duced in the pre­vi­ous game. Fill it up by deal­ing dam­age or by block­ing in­com­ing hits, and its con­tents can be spent on Crit­i­cal Edge at­tacks – this se­ries’ equiv­a­lent of su­per com­bos, in which play­ers are ren­dered passengers while an en­dear­ingly over­stated and dev­as­tat­ing dam­age-deal­ing se­quence plays out. Crit­i­cal gauge is also the cur­rency be­hind Soul Charge and Guard Im­pact moves, used for self-buff­ing and ex­tra-pow­er­ful coun­ters re­spec­tively. Guard Im­pact can even de­fend against un­block­able at­tacks; it’s the sort of ad­di­tion that will de­light the tour­na­ment scene while also giv­ing the less-in­vested player a means of coun­ter­ing what they per­ceive as cheap play.

Yet the lat­ter group will be more thrilled by the new Re­ver­sal Edge me­chanic. It’s unashamedly in­tended as a way to al­le­vi­ate that in­tol­er­a­ble feel­ing of be­ing jug­gled help­lessly un­til death by a more skilled player, and, if you pull it off, gain­ing some mo­men­tum. Ac­ti­vated with a sin­gle but­ton press, Re­ver­sal Edge ini­ti­ates a dra­matic slow-mo which re­sets the ac­tion and has each player choose a sin­gle at­tack, sec­ond-guess­ing each other in or­der to strike first, and strike hard­est. Mit­su­rugi’s slow ver­ti­cal at­tack, for ex­am­ple, is a high-risk strat­egy dur­ing a Re­ver­sal Edge. Sophi­tia’s crotch-bust­ing low punch, how­ever, is a com­par­a­tively safe bet. It’s rock, pa­per, scis­sors, in other words, al­beit with more po­ten­tial out­comes and played with melee weapons from feu­dal Ja­pan. Project Soul says it ex­pects the sys­tem to be used less and less as play­ers be­come more pro­fi­cient, per­haps self-gov­erned by a kind of hon­our sys­tem in tour­na­ments, and in­tend­ing it to en­able newer play­ers to feel mas­ter­ful every now and again by us­ing it to turn the tide against a more ag­ile ad­ver­sary. A sim­i­lar sys­tem, Clash, fea­tured in

In­jus­tice 2 last year, how­ever, and rather blunted the flow of high-level play; given the flair with which Bandai Namco im­ple­mented slow-mo into Tekken 7, per­haps it has earned the ben­e­fit of the doubt for now.

Only, how­ever, in terms of me­chan­ics. For all Project Soul’s tin­ker­ing un­der the hood, the main take­away from the day is what’s un­der Sophi­tia’s skirt. She starts the round dressed to scan­dalise, and thanks to that equip­ment-break­ing sys­tem, of­ten ends it in lit­tle more than a vaguely Gre­cian bikini and heels. It’s em­bar­rass­ing for ev­ery­one in­volved – ex­cept, un­for­tu­nately, the de­vel­oper, which be­comes the lat­est in a long line of cre­ators fail­ing to spot the dif­fer­ence be­tween hon­ourably serv­ing your fans, and cringeworthy fan ser­vice.

For all the tin­ker­ing, the main take­away from the day is what’s un­der Sophi­tia’s skirt

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