It’s been a pretty strong year for fighting games, with everything from triple-A brawlers to small-scale showdowns showing there’s plenty of fight left in the genre. From the arcade crossover of Blade Strangers all the way to the technical submissions of EA Sports UFC 3, there’s been plenty of reasons to throw some virtual jabs in 2018.
So enter the next contender on that list. The sixth numbered instalment in a series that’s been swinging swords and staffs on a 3D plane since the days of the original PlayStation in the mid-‘90s, SoulCalibur VI looks to take a step in a slightly new direction by offering a much visually brighter experience. One that benefits from some important new gameplay changes, including a significant focus on story content.
SoulCalibur VI review: new engine and fresh mechanics
Much like last year’s Tekken 7 (which was also developed and published by Bandai Namco), SCVI is the first game in the series to utilise the Unreal Engine 4 and boy, does it show. Every stage and arena sparkles and shines with a personality that puts even the eye candy of SoulCalibur V to shame. Character models are also more detailed than ever, but that change in engine hasn’t messed with their movesets, and every returning fan favourite moves with the same sense of individual fluidity.
When it comes to the ebb and flow of play, the Reversal Edge serves as the biggest new addition. While the series has always made room for over-the-top arcade action, it’s also boasted enough systems to support much deeper and nuanced play. The Guard Impact has served as one of the most dynamic, enabling you to parry an opponent’s strike and turn it into a devastating reversal combo.
The Reversal Edge plays into the same mindset, but is geared more towards giving those suffering a beatdown a chance to turn the tide. It requires a single button press each time it’s initiated and places both players into a slow-mo rock/paper/scissors scenario and gives you a much fairer chance to breaking a combo and potentially turning a fight around.
And while it’s a mechanic that’s not going to appeal to veterans who come to SC for its intricate relationship between weapons and armour (something you simply can’t find anywhere else), but for newcomers it’s just the kind of mechanic that will make this the most accessible instalment in years. If you’ve ever wanted to give this bombastic fighting game a try, this is the best and most accessible entry yet.
SoulCalibur VI review: Soul Chronicle and Libra of the Soul
SC has always been known for the quality of its story modes, and this year sees Bandai Namco focusing more than ever on giving its narrative stories the space and time to shine. There’s now two of them, including Libra of the Soul (which lets you create your own character and take them through an RPG-esque journey via a gauntlet of rolling match-ups) and the classic Soul Chronicle (which takes all the members of the roster and weaves them into a timeline that follows the history of the series central weapon, the evil-ridden Soul Edge).
Soul Chronicle continues the series love for expansive storytelling, with a broad story that encompasses every major character on the roster. If you’re new to the series, or you just need a refresher on how each fighter feels, this is by far the best way to experience them. There’s a little too much dialogue set against some static character portraits - don’t expect the high-quality cutscenes found in Injustice 2 - but it embraces the silliness of its lore with so much enthusiasm it’s impossible not to be swept along for the ride. Many of the fights all come with special restrictions, which help make each encounter that bit different from the last.
Libra of the Soul offers something a little different, enabling you to build your very own warrior, from their wardrobe right through to their weapon, fighting stance and style of combat. From then on you’ll follow an RPG-lite story that takes you across the series’ fantastical take on 16th century Europe.
It’s something of a spiritual successor to the Chronicles of the Sword mode from SCIII and offers a similar experience where you’ll move across the map battling monsters and familiar faces, collecting food (to refill health in a fight) and making key decisions that will affect how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your character will become. It’s not the deepest of mechanics, but for a fighting game, having a story mode with so many branching paths is refreshing and a step up from the meager offering found in 2012’s SCV.
SoulCalibur VI review: new and old faces
Of course, it wouldn’t be a SoulCalibur game without some one-off additions to the roster, and while SCVI boasts one of the best ever - Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series - that’s about it for special characters. Still, while we’re not being treated to any more fighters from the Tekken series (or any other Bandai Namco-owned IP), Geralt’s brawling fighting style is far more well suited to SC than Ezio was in SCV or Darth Vader and Yoda in SCIV. And with new voiceover dialogue from Doug Cockle, this is probably the closest we’re going to get to new Witcher content for a long while.
The decision to lock certain mainstay characters, such as Tira, behind day one DLC pay walls is a clunky and completely unnecessary approach to additional content on Bandai Namco’s part, but at least you can play as Inferno, the boss from the original SoulCalibur, which is a pretty neat nod to the games long-running history. It doesn’t make up for game’s ugly DLC setup, but it’s salve on the wound at least.
SoulCalibur VI review: verdict
It’s been more than six and a half years since the last instalment in the series, but Bandai Namco has made the most of that time by producing the most accessible and content-rich SoulCalibur yet. The dual story modes of Libra of the Soul and Soul Chronicle write the wrongs of SCV’s poor offerings, while the introduction of new mechanics such as Edge Reversal make this a far more palatable 3D fighter for newcomers looking to dip their toes.
Yes, locking age-old favourites behind paywalls is just poor form, but there’s still plenty of revitalised characters on the roster to keep you swinging your blades for years to come. With a nice and stable netcode, you jump online safe in the knowledge input lag is relatively low, so you can show off your swordsmanship to the world's best.