SoulCalibur VI builds and improves on the mechanics of the long-running fighting franchise which dates back to before the Sega Dreamcast. Yet for all intents and purposes longtime fans and newcomers should treat the latest entry as a soft reboot of the series. SoulCalibur VI is developer Project Soul's - a subsidiary of publisher Bandai Namco - attempt to bring SoulCalibur back to relevance and respect. It works very, very well.
SoulCalibur has never quite gone away though. There's been at least one entry every console generation since the series' true launch as Soul Edge in 1995. Yet the sales and reviews have been less than stellar in recent years. There are reports that if SoulCalibur VI doesn't sell well enough it could be the last SoulCalibur game ever. Whether SoulCalibur survives is up to the public but as a game SoulValibur VI is satisfying, gorgeous, and an absolute blast. If SoulCalibur VI somehow is the franchise's finale it's an excellent one.
There are a couple important new improvements in Soulcalibur VI but the game succeeds primarily by going back to basics. The roster is relatively small. There are 20 characters at launch, with only three new additions including the new "guest character" The Witcher's Geralt of Rivia. There is a unlockable boss and DLC on the way but it's still a step back from Soulcalibur V. That game had 28 characters with almost half of them being brand-new. Thankfully the smaller cast of VI is hardly noticeable because the gameplay is so tight and diverse.
Where SoulCalibur IV and V tried to add too many mechanics and systems at once, SoulCalibur VI holds back. It’s not a simple or easy fighting game but it’s an intuitive one. The game has three basic attacks; the standard horizontal attacks, the slower but more powerful vertical ones and very quick but weak kicks. SoulCalibur VI’s horizontal and vertical weapon attacks all feel crunchy and powerful, while kick can break an opponent’s deadly combo. In a remarkably short amount of time it's possible to start pulling off flashy and devastating combos with just button mashes. There's also a real depth that opens longer the player goes on and the more characters you play.
The smaller roster means that SoulCalibur VI was truly able to take its time in making each and every fighter feel unique. The hallmark of SoulCalibur has always been the different weapon types of the various fighters. There is no other fighting game series where a monstrous brute with an axe the size of several small children can swing at an anime child wielding a bo staff. Yet never has each of the combatants felt so special and unique as they do in SoulCalibur VI.
This fighter originality is most keenly felt is SoulCalibur VI’s new Reversal Edge system. A huge chunk of the larger Soul system, Reversals act similarly to counters. They take a bit of each fighter’s power-up Soul meter to stop the action of the fight and engage a rock/paper/scissors mind game with each of the three main attack buttons.
It sounds simple but even though a vertical strike will always beat an opponent’s horizontal attack, each character has a very specific way to make the Reversal work to their advantage. Geralt of The Witcher franchise, for example, can not only win the Reversal with a vertical strike but with the right combination afterwards it can lead directly to a devastating Critical Edge - the SoulCalibur equivalent of super moves. Even in failure though Reversal Edge and Critical Edge produce some of the most cinematic and gorgeous moments in fighting game history. SoulCalibur has a flair for the melodramatic but in both of these moments it's more than justified. SoulCalibur VI is often just as much fun to watch as it is to play.
Critical Edge and Reversal Edge work in tandem with Soul Charge, another brand-new mechanic which will use up a fighter’s Soul meter in a single press of the trigger. Soul Charge puts each fighter into something akin to a Super Saiyan power-up for a limited time. Each fighter is stronger and has special moves in Soul Charge but they are less defensive. There’s big risk to Soul Charge but even bigger rewards.
When it comes to just the core fighting game SoulCalibur VI has nailed it. Even Geralt fits the series liked a padded leather glove. Guest fighters have always been tricky for SoulCalibur ranging from the broken (Link in SoulCalibur II) to the ridiculous (Darth Vader in SoulCalibur IV) but Geralt seems like he should’ve been involved all along. SoulCalibur VI has gotten the most important elements right. However, when it comes to the game’s other modes everything’s good but not at the same level of excellence.
SoulCalibur VI has all the usual modes expected for a modern fighting game. There’s local multiplayer with ranked and casual online matchmaking options as well. They’re all solid if unremarkable. The real focus for SoulCalibur VI is on single player. In addition to Arcade Mode, there are two main story modes in SoulCalibur VI and it’s easy to spend dozens of hours between the two.
The best of the duo is Soul Chronicle. SoulCalibur has always had some very deep lore but its become very convoluted in recent entries. VI corrects this by going back to the beginning and remixing the story of the original game in Soul Chronicle. Soul Chronicle follows each individual character through the epic tale of the evil sword, Soul Edge. The story is told through voice-over with accompanying artwork. It's more like an audiobook than a video game but it’s still engaging. NetherRealm Studios has raised the bar on what a fighting game story looks like with the cutscene-heavy Mortal Kombat and Injustice series. SoulCalibur deserves that same treatment especially since the battles are so cinematic already but it didn't happen. It’s a testament to the narrative and voice acting though that Soul Chronicle continually entertains without much player interaction or visual flair.
The slightly less successful story mode is Libra of Souls. This is SoulCalibur VI’s attempt to do an RPG. It works but has flaws. Libra of Souls uses the same setting and basic narrative of Soul Chronicle but from the perspective of an original character. Libra of Souls tasks the player with creating an original fighter, who will later be known as The Conduit, and have them travel across a map of Europe and Asia, fight opponents, pick up new weapons and make very simple good or evil decisions. Geralt is involved too but Libra of Souls is nothing like The Witcher 3, to be sure.
There are a few cutscenes in Libra of Souls but its primarily text with no voice acting. This ends up being the mode’s downfall. The plot is much better than expected but there’s a lot of reading in Libra of Souls which can make things bland. It doesn’t help that, especially in the early hours, the fights that break up the story are over very quickly. There’s a real imbalance between the slow story and the SoulCalibur VI’s frenetic gameplay. It’s too easy to get bored of Libra of Souls and move onto another mode altogether.
Even if Libra of Souls is a bit of disappointment it's a small qualm in the overall package. SoulCalibur VI is the game that the franchise and the fighting game genre at large needs to exist. It's not perfect but with refined mechanics, a retold origin story and stunning visuals, SoulCalibur VI sets the stage for a new era of the series with hopefully many more entries to follow.
SoulCalibur VI releases October 19 for $59.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Screen Rant was provided a PS4 copy for review.