Soul­cal­ibur VI re­turns to tell a tale of souls and swords

A look At the re­turn of the swash­buck­ling 16th cen­tury fight­ing game

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Af­ter a five-year hia­tus, Bandai Namco has an­nounced a se­quel to its seem­ingly for­got­ten weapon­based fighter. On first im­pres­sions Soul­cal­ibur VI looks like a solid re­turn to form, and with the im­pend­ing 20th an­niver­sary for the se­ries, it’s been missed. Fol­low­ing the pos­i­tive re­sponse to Tekken 7, Bandai Namco has given its other fighter an­other chance, herald­ing the re­turn of a se­ries that had steadily de­clined fol­low­ing Soul­cal­ibur II. That game was the first to fea­ture guest char­ac­ters, and in­tro­duced Zelda’s Link, Tekken’s Hei­hachi Mishima, and even Im­age Comics’ Spawn (but we’ll pre­tend that didn’t hap­pen). Later games saw the in­clu­sion of the likes of Star Wars’ Darth Vader, Yoda and even As­sas­sin’s Creed’s Ezio Au­di­tore. But it was clear by Soul­cal­ibur V that the se­ries had lost its way.

The weapon-based brawler has al­ways pri­ori­tised the vis­ual spec­ta­cle over the tech­ni­cal as­pects of fight­ing, and while few would deny that the se­ries has some of the most colour­ful and en­joy­able bouts in gam­ing, such ex­trav­a­gance came at the ex­pense of game­play depth. The sim­plic­ity of Soul­cal­ibur’s com­bat and ex­ploitable me­chan­ics were part of the rea­son why it hasn’t re­mained as a com­pet­i­tive fight­ing scene main­stay.

That role has been filled by Tekken over the years, al­low­ing Soul­cal­ibur to lux­u­ri­ate in the ridicu­lous and some­times sub­lime non­sense of its clash­ing war­riors. While few would deny that Soul­cal­ibur had some of the most colour­ful and en­joy­able bouts in gam­ing, such ex­trav­a­gance came at the ex­pense of game­play depth. The sim­plic­ity of Soul­cal­ibur’s com­bat and ex­ploitable me­chan­ics were part of the rea­son why it wasn’t a com­pet­i­tive fight­ing scene main­stay. This wasn’t helped by Bandai Namco’s lack of in­ter­ac­tion with the fight­ing com­mu­ni­ties out­side Ja­pan and South Korea. Lean­ing into its strengths in the spectable stakes, Soul­cal­ibur VI fea­tures an all-new game­play sys­tem, Re­ver­sal Edge, that is in­spired by the epic bat­tles be­tween skilled fighters in the movies with a slow-mo­tion ef­fect – a bul­let time of sorts. Think Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon and you’re there. This will en­able skilled fighters to utilise the slow­ing ac­tion to de­fend an on­slaught while pre­par­ing for a counter at­tack.

Hope­fully Soul­cal­ibur VI erad­i­cates much-ma­ligned ex­ploits like the guard-step glitch which cheap­ened the ex­pe­ri­ence in Soul­cal­ibur IV. The com­bat in Soul­cal­ibur VI is built on a three power sys­tem, where one move can over­power an­other, which is kind of like a rock, pa­per, scis­sors af­fair.

From what we’ve seen so far in an in­tense bat­tle be­tween se­ries main­stays Mit­su­rugi and Sophi­tia – in a time-lapsed stage re­sem­bling an­cient Greece – the com­bat looks to re­tain the swift and fluid style the se­ries is known for. As each fighter trades blows with their op­po­nent, their ar­mour is steadily de­stroyed, em­pha­sis­ing the im­pact of each strike and addind to the drama of the bat­tle.

The game’s pro­ducer, Mo­to­hiro Okubo, has stated that Project Soul wanted to cel­e­brate the 20th an­niver­sary of Soul­cal­ibur, feel­ing that the best way to achieve this would be with a se­ries re­fresh. He has in­di­cated that the se­quel will im­ple­ment the speed and re­spon­sive­ness of Soul­cal­ibur II, com­bin­ing this with the bal­anced char­ac­ters and game­play me­chan­ics of Soul­cal­ibur V. The game has been qui­etly in de­vel­op­ment for the past three years, and it’s clear that Project Soul clearly wants to re­vive the se­ries for a new gen­er­a­tion by re­fin­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence with­out rein­vent­ing the wheel. Sadly it seems that any chance of a Nin­tendo Switch port may be off the cards due to de­vel­op­ment on Soul­cal­ibur VI be­gin­ning be­fore the con­sole’s an­nounce­ment. How­ever, Okubo re­mains hope­ful that a fu­ture port could hap­pen, pro­vid­ing the Switch can han­dle Un­real 4 with­out is­sue.

It’s good to see the se­ries is still alive, and vis­ually it looks just how we would ex­pect on to­day’s tech­nol­ogy. The game is pow­ered by Un­real 4, and it looks to be work­ing well with the de­vel­op­ers able to recre­ate the se­ries’ sig­na­ture tone to fan­tas­tic ef­fects. This is ev­i­dent through­out the footage shown, cov­er­ing the sur­round­ings in re­al­is­tic shad­ows set against the sat­u­rated yel­low of the set­ting sun. Ev­ery­thing looks won­der­ful, shim­mer­ing wa­ter­falls cas­cade down the side of bril­liant white lime­stone rocks, and see­ing the cor­us­cat­ing of the gold de­tail­ing on Sophi­tia’s ar­mour is a sight to be­hold.

By tak­ing the char­ac­ter bal­ance im­prove­ments from Soul­cal­ibur V, en­hanc­ing the vi­su­als ten­fold with Un­real 4, and com­bin­ing the move­ment speed and re­spon­sive­ness of Soul­cal­ibur II, all signs are point­ing to­wards a se­quel that aims to cap­ture the magic of the early games.

Above: Soul­cal­ibur

VI will be look­ing to in­tro­duce new play­ers to the core con­cepts of how the game works, like how cer­tain moves are per­fect coun­ters to oth­ers.

Be­low: the de­vel­op­ment team has said that it will be look­ing to Soul­cal­ibur II and Soul­cal­ibur V as its key touch­stones for the feel and flow of the game.

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