Review – Soul Calibur 3

Soul Calibur 3’s is like a reunion tour, featuring every character in the franchise, as well as classic stages and songs. It also boasts a huge level of customization, right down to the ability to create your own character. It seems to be everything you could ask for, but in order to experience it, you’re going to have to play by the game’s rules, very strict rules that state that if you want to enjoy some of it, you’ll have to slave through all of it.

Soul Calibur 3 is the Square-Enix of fighting games, so proud of its accomplishments that it doesn’t give you a choice about whether you want to see it all, so ashamed of its old school roots that it hides them far away from the player, as if to scold them for ever wanting to dig them up. It’s a lazy and pandering game that should be so much more.

The first thing you will notice about Soul Calibur 3 is that the menus are a mess. Most of the modes are hidden between layers of sub menus that divy things up with no real thought or logic. Some of the modes have even gone through name changes. “Arcade mode”, a simple and straightforward name that is honest in its offerings is now dubbed “Quick Play”, which sounds belittling and scornful, like it has been relegated to ADD riddled action junkies who can’t appreciate a story, instead of for serious fans who just wants to go through seven good bouts. Mission mode has been properly neutered, so that all it contains is a handful of battles in three flavors of difficulty, with no meaning or weight to them aside from collecting gold.

There’s also a mode that allows you to pretend you’re entering a tournament against rivals, but it is so lacking in explanation that I have no interest in seeing how it works. The message here is clear; SC3 does not think a fighting game should be about the fighting. Most console fighting games have survived on the same basic setup; Arcade, VS, Time Attack, Practice and Options, all surrounded by a crusty and aged interface. SC3 wants nothing to do with this, and so these very modes are the ones that are tucked away like bastard children as far from the main screen as possible. It’s still all there, but you almost feel as if you’re being punished for choosing them, a sentiment that defies all logic in the genre.

There are some modes that are easy to get to, modes that stand out as soon as you begin the game. Not surprisingly they are the same ones Namco wants you to devote all of your time to.

The first is Tales of Souls, the primary single player mode. It attempts to add a weighty amount of story for each character, giving you narrative before and after each battle, branching paths, and QTE-esque cutscenes before some fights. It is probably one of the best sounding bad ideas out there. Each character’s story starts with the usual prologue about their quest for Soul Edge, while the rest of the exposition is the same generic text about how they “crossed the sea to Europe and found nothing”. The cutscenes can never be skipped, even the ones that each character shares in which the same thing happens again and again. When you add up all this worthless junk, a Tales of Souls run can last almost twenty minutes.

And the best part? This is the quickest way to unlock the secret characters. Except it isn’t that quick when there is no guarantee you’ll even encounter one along the way. What’s more, certain secret characters only show up for three or four possible fighters, so chances are you will have to fight with someone you don’t know how to use in order to obtain someone you want. That, or fight a few thousand battles, which seems to unlock most everything.

Finally there is Chronicles of the Sword, which indicates better than anything what Namco wanted to do with this game. It is Tactical RPG that replaces normal turned based combat with rounds of Soul Calibur. It starts off by forcing you to create a custom character, though good luck using them in the regular modes of play, because you can’t. And better luck making anything interesting, since most of the fighting styles and clothing are locked away. The best way to obtain them? By playing through Chronicles of the Sword and Tales of Souls of course (the latter of which unlocks items randomly depending on how well you do. I find it gives you more for losing.)! There’s so time wasted thanks to the boring narrative and running across the silly map that losing an actual bout is not an option, otherwise you may have just lost fifteen minutes of your life.

Is that…is that a HELICOPTER PAD?!

Tales and Chronicles of the Sword are an endless loop of stupidity. In order to enjoy Tales, you need a full roster of characters, most of whom Tales hides away in its labyrinth of bullshit. Chronicles might be interesting if you could go wild with your custom character, but instead it hides things so you can’t even make a damn samurai at the start. No matter who you are, SC3 is going to make you do something you don’t particularly enjoy.

And the cause of all of this frustration? Whiny reviewers everywhere who complained that fighters don’t have enough story, that they don’t feel compelled to play through them alone. Gamers who seem to think that every game is better if you make it like an RPG. People who simply don’t understand that fighting games are about combat and competition. Soul Calibur 3 shows that piling fluffy exposition and non fighting game elements onto it doesn’t make it more robust, it just makes it more convoluted and obsessive compulsive.

In this day and age of extra content and polished menus, I can understand the desire for a fighting game that doesn’t look like its vintage 1996. I can also think of many better ways to do it than SC3 does. Why is it that Tales is so long and drawn out? Because the rich lore that was hinted at in the art gallery of Soul Calibur 1 couldn’t be pieced together by the fans. Why does Chronicles even exist? Because people wanted to be able to both fight and watch numbers go up. Why does everything unlocked have to then be bought in the Item shop? So you can earn it twice? No, so you can buy them from large breasted women in maid outfits who will chirp to you in a squeaky Japanese voice.

Why is it that the actual combat involves tons of explosions and lightning bolts. Why does Yunseung fight in surf shorts and lime green Adidas sneakers? The answer to all of these questions is the same answer as to why you’ll find any Create a Character image gallery crammed with a thousand different renditions of KOS-MOS. Soul Calibur 3 is the fighting game turned jRPG. One of the purest, most honest genres has finally been weighed down with inane gameplay and silly otaku bait so that Namco can get even more of the marbles.

Time was when Soul games were deep and technical, while Tekken was goofy indulgence. Now it seems the roles are being reversed, and I for one hate to see it. The sheer amount of stuff that you can eventually obtain in SC3 is enough to tempt any fan of the series, but do not be like me. Be strong and don’t support this path. We want deep and balanced fighting and lots of good, fast ways to do it. Don’t give in, draw the line in the sand. And please, be careful what you wish for.

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home work
home work
14 years ago

Money often costs too much.