There is an interesting term that exists to describe experiencing a far more in-depth type of déjà vu – déjà vécu.
It is an uncanny sense of experiencing something with such a heightened familiarity, you can hardly believe you have never experienced it before – like meeting someone for the first time, but feeling like you have known them your entire life. For some reason you have this robust knowledge of what is going to be said or happen next.
This is how I felt about Soulcalibur VI.
All baddies need to stylishly pose together at least once
The series as a whole is an amazing tale of souls and swords, with a hearty dose of goofy anime antics, evil pirates, screaming mountain men and the occasional immensely busty woman with a whip sword. At its core, it’s a super arcadey weapon-based fighter that can destroy friendships with a single ring-out, but as a whole it’s bloody good fun.
I am an oldschool Soulcalibur fan, emphasis on ‘old’. I still fondly remember the OG Soulcalibur on Dreamcast (I actually bought the console to play it) and have now depressingly realised that was released all the way back in 1999. I poured myself into the more straightforward sequels, such as Soulcalibur II and III, but felt my interest waning as further series entries took on questionable gameplay gimmicks and an increasingly crazy array of guest characters – not to mention a 17-year time skip that completely changed the game’s roster, leaving a poor old salt like me lost and confused like an elderly man escaped from aged care.
So to say Soulcalibur 6 was off my radar would be an understatement. I had almost forgotten that the series existed! But now here I sit, a familiar pole in my hand, feeling almost 20 years younger.
Firmly grasp your powerful shaft and ready yourself for a beat down
Of course this pole is none other than the Kali-Yuga, Kilik’s weapon of choice – and by extension, my own. My first order of business after nerding out over the story intro, is to dive immediately into the game’s arcade mode and see just how rusty I am. Familiar faces greet me, and work to defeat me – my withered 30-year-old hands somehow dredge up ancient memories of buttons and flashy moves. I am playing on hard to see myself get wrecked, but somehow I am not just scraping by – at times I am winning convincingly! Kiliks length and girth are as familiar as they ever were and it really does take a moment for me to grasp that I am playing a new Soulcalibur title in the year 2018.
Eventually I meet this title’s guest character, Geralt (of The Witcher fame) and prepare to beat him down. He quickly annihilates me with his counter attack gimmick and a range of crazy magic attacks.
This albino bastard caught me well off guard
Soon I was comfortable enough to step outside of my comfort zone, to discover the newer mechanics that have been seamlessly interwoven into the base gameplay. I felt my craggy nostalgic exterior crumble, and I quickly adopted these new tools into my gameplay. Where other SC titles in the past had rocked the boat to the point of instability, systems like Reversal Edge don’t feel jarring or intrusive, instead it effortlessly lives alongside the core experience.
Reversal Edge is a quick-fire parry opportunity, used to effectively counter an opponent’s strike and retaliate. When successful, it actually prompts both fighters to take a step apart and then launch an attack in slow motion – during this time you choose if you want to strike High, Mid or Low. Depending on your choice versus your opponent’s selection, the outcome is determined rock/paper/scissors style. It’s a fantastic little defensive tool with amazing visual feedback; it made me feel like a fighting game rockstar when I pulled it off correctly.
The fact that I could finish an entire arcade mode on the ‘Hard’ difficulty, with only basic knowledge dating back more than five years, is a testament to how intact and faithful the core experience is. The game itself feels like an ultra HD Soulcalibur 2.5 (the setting for the plot is actually during the SC2 period) and captures that delicious arcade-y feeling that Soulcalibur games of old nailed. Many modern fighters have a plethora of mechanical customisation options for fighters, creating this near limitless depth of mechanics for the ultra hardcore – whereas SC6 embraces its rock solid core and allows a player to truly master it. It’s easy to familiarise yourself with the game’s roster and enter every bout with a confidence of what to expect, minimising the guesswork that may be present in more expanded fighting titles. It’s a strange situation where you praise the ‘less is more’ approach – not because it’s detrimental to have that depth, but it’s nice to have a title that provides an alternative for a change.
Soucalibur VI embraces its rock solid core and allows a player to truly master it
For your fantasy storytelling needs, the game’s ridiculous story is vast and covers every possible character match up you can imagine. Featuring a fantastically goofy continuation of how evil swords corrupt good people, you can have a glimpse of the Soulcalibur world through each character’s eyes, with a massive amount of voice-over work and the odd in-game cutscene. They even throw in the odd gameplay element to add some flavour, like having an unlimited super meter or starting the fight with lower health after the storyline had you ambushed.
Truthfully, some of the dudes have a bigger chest than Ivy (Hello Astaroth)
Even the game’s optional narrative create-a-player effort, Libra of Souls, is a brilliant throwback to Soulcalibur 3s ‘Chronicles of the Sword’ mode. Presented as an adorably dorky pseudo RPG, you create an original character and embark on a journey to discover how evil you may be and whether or not you will die at the end. Traverse a huge map and tell your story by way of violence and dialogue options – there is even the occasional chance to make a moral choice. The truly charming part of all this is the ability to completely customise your character’s cosmetic look in-between fights – not just by changing what you are wearing, but massive overhauls like your character’s gender as well. Want to take a break from playing as a petite girl with pigtails and instead play a massive bulky muscular man with pigtails? Go right ahead. There’s even a reasonable swathe of cosmetics unlocks, with a few cheeky nods to the more risqué among us as certain items of the skin-tight and/or latex variety do ask that you cough up some in-game coin.
Maxi does not approve of Kilik’s Dragonball Z cosplay
A concern I do find myself dwelling on is a simple one – in a market where ‘modern’ fighting games have a vast amount of bells and whistles, will a laser-focused experience such as this satisfy today’s gamer? The added glitz and glamour beyond your average biffo may have skewed the appetite of the average joe to the point where something as simple as “Oh, the characters talk to each other during the battle” being absent could well be a detractor. For me, the true meat of the game is of such a high quality that I do not miss the extra gravy – it has gravy enough and it suits my needs. But as a ‘feature tide’ rises amongst its peers, it could be perceived as shallow.
Solid as stone and as faithful as one could hope for, Soulcalibur 6 represents a pseudo-reboot that re-establishes itself right where it needs to be – with a bright future for the crew at Project Soul to continue this tale of swords and souls… eternally retold.
Reviewed on PS4 | Review code supplied by publisher