Title :Soul Calibur II
Platforms :Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox
Publisher :Namco
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :9.4
Review by :Ken Gagne

Welcome… to the stage of history. 

The introduction of a new Soul Calibur game is rightfully defined as a historical event. In the genre of fighting games exists three categories: realistic, such as Virtua Fighter or Tekken which employ actual martial art styles; surrealistic, as with Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat; and weapons. Namco's series of weapons fighters, which has also been known as Soul Blade and Soul Edge, exhibits the finest qualities to be found throughout the fighting genre, with Soul Calibur II living up to and surpassing this high mark of quality. [GameCube edition reviewed here] 

Nearly two dozen characters battle one-on-one, maneuvering across a 3D arena, seeking to decimate the opposition or knock them outside the ring. Each warrior fights with a unique weapon or weapons, including swords, bos, nunchakus, and polearms. 

The GameCube controller, while not well-suited to many fighting styles, is easily configured to suit Soul Calibur's setup of two attacks, kick, and guard, with combinations of each, allowing for easy accessibility to and execution of a variety of actions. Combat can be as sloppy or as precise as one wishes. With dozens of moves and combinations for each combatant, mastering just a single repertoire can be taxing, but elevates the conflict to a work of art. There is an amazing rush of adrenaline as a bout nears its end; as swords clash and defensive postures are tested, the excitement of each landed and missed blow is addicting, no matter the outcome. 

Beyond the gameplay depth, the game's most engaging quality is its multitude of modes. Though fighting with a friend is often the main allure of fighting games — and Soul Calibur II offers several such ways to duke it out — a dozen one-player modes will keep the sole fighter occupied as well. The Weapons Master mode is the most detailed, pitting players through a series of plot-driven, single-round bouts, often with unusual goals or conditions, including time limits, odd physics, and the like. Gold won in these battles can be used to purchase new weapons, costumes, and other secrets for each character. 

Each console version of Soul Calibur II has a character unique to that edition: the comic book character Spawn on Xbox; on PlayStation 2, Tekken's Heihachi, and Link, the hero of Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, on GameCube. On the GameCube, adult Link (not the cartoonish, cell-shaded version) demonstrates all the moves he has acquired during his years on Nintendo systems, wielding sword and shield, boomerang, bow and arrow, and bombs, as well as whirling dervishes and various thrusts, all set to his trademark theme music. 

Music plays its vital role, setting the stage and emphasizing every physical exertion. A limited amount of spoken dialogue punctuates the opening and closing of each round — something which quickly wanes from inciting one to combat to something that is easily skipped. 

Despite the number of characters and attacks, all movements flow smoothly into each other, whether the player is vertical or horizontal, offensive or defensive. The backgrounds are panoramic but unadorned with unnecessary displays that would distract battlers from the action in the foreground. 

Gamers looking for a realistic-looking fighting game with an air of fantasy and mystery about it will find such a combination in Soul Calibur II. Its depth need not be fully explored by players deterred by such complexity, thus accommodating many styles and skill levels. If you decide to whet your blade with Namco's latest offering, the rest will be history.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Tech News, 07-Oct-03