|Soulcalibur IV represents a number of new frontiers for the venerable Namco Bandai fighting franchise. Fans are no doubt eagerly awaiting the chance to try out the first proper entry on the current generation of systems and see how it has been changed by the inclusion of online multiplayer, finishing moves, and high-profile cast additions like Darth Vader (for the PlayStation 3 edition) and Yoda (for the Xbox 360).
Now gamers as obsessed with Soulcalibur IV as the game's protagonists are with the titular sword can finally mark their calendars. Namco Bandai today confirmed a July 29 North American release date for the game, which will launch in regular and limited Premium Edition packages.
Customers who pick up the Premium Edition will get an art book/comic that serves as a prequel leading into the story of Soulcalibur IV, a tournament kit, and exclusive access to "extra customization content." Exactly what the tournament kit entails is unknown, but Namco Bandai said it would "give fans the opportunity to document the battle amongst friends." The Premium Edition will come in metal packaging and retail for $79.99.
|Soul Calibur IV Hands-On
We went hands-on with both Yoda and Darth Vader in the latest playable builds of Soul Calibur IV.
By Guy Cocker, GameSpot UK Posted May 29, 2008 4:20 am PT
Soul Calibur IV made a surprise appearance at this year's Ubidays event in Paris thanks to Ubisoft's agreement to distribute the game in Europe. We'd already played the game on the PlayStation 3 prior to Ubidays, but this was the first time that we were able to play as Darth Vader, and it provided our first taste of the Xbox 360 version with Yoda. Both editions are shaping up fantastically--a good sign given the two months left until release-- and we're happy to report that the Star Wars characters are not only excellent renderings of Lucas' characters, but also great Soul Calibur fighters in their own right.
The critical attack promises to add a new twist to Soul Calibur's gameplay, especially for attacking players.
The demo that we played had four playable characters and stages on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. Siegfried, Mitsurugi, and new character Hilde made an appearance on both, while Yoda is exclusive to the 360 and Darth Vader to the PS3. Each version featured the same stages, though, some of which boasted new features, such as destructibility and moving walls. The Ostrheinsburg Castle Throne Room had a wall of armoured soldiers that gradually closed in on the fighters, while the Phantom Pavillion had walls that could be broken down by smashing an opponent into them. Thesmophoros' Imperial Garden was the sort of idyllic green location that's now standard for a Soul Calibur game, while the Star Destroyer Docking Bay was the token Star Wars level--complete with laser beam walls and Imperial Shuttles in the hanger. Even better, the Imperial March music played in the background, completing a dream stage for Star Wars fans.
The highlight for many people may be these Star Wars characters, and we're happy to report that they work superbly within the Soul Calibur universe. Darth Vader moves much quicker than he ever did in the movies, but his double-handed lightsaber grip and rough-and-ready throwing style feel authentic to the character. He's also got some great intros and winning animations, with such quotes as "Do not underestimate the power of the dark side" voiced by original Vader actor James Earl Jones. The graphics engine also allows for some nice visual touches, with cloth deformation effects on Vader's cape and his shiny helmet reflecting the environmental detail. The same cloth deformation is present on Yoda's cape on the 360, and as you'd expect, he's even faster than Vader. Yoda's quick, unpredictable movements have clearly been modeled on his fighting style from Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, and he has a great grab move where he jumps on an opponent's face and slashes it with his green lightsaber.
Yoda and Darth Vader are not only true to their Star Wars roots, but they're excellent Soul Calibur characters as well.
As well as new characters, Soul Calibur IV will introduce a couple of new gameplay mechanics to the series. The first is the critical attack, which can be used to break through the guard of a particularly defensive player. If you manage to land several attacks on a players while they're blocking, their defense will eventually become weakened and their health bar will flash red. If you land another powerful attack when this happens, the character will stumble backward--giving you a chance to hit all four face buttons and perform the critical hit. Each character unleashes his or her own particular finishing moves--in Siegfried's case, he strikes his opponent down with a highly charged slice from his sword.
But perhaps the biggest new addition to the series is online play. This isn't something that we got to see in action at Ubidays, but we did talk to the manager on the game, Namco Bandai's Katsutoshi Sasaki, about how it's shaping up. He conceded that while an online mode is an essential part of any fighting game these days, he still believes that it will help fighters of all abilities get into the series. The online mode will offer simple one-on-one ranked and unranked modes, but Sasaki-san described how players of similar ability will be grouped together to make matches fairer. There'll also be the usual leaderboards for the top players to track their overall standing. Speaking to the Ubisoft representatives at Ubidays, character customisation also seems like it will play a large part of the game postrelease. Characters can be adorned with various outfits and armour depending on taste, and these items can be unlocked by playing the game or buying them online.
Soul Calibur IV is looking very promising in the run up to release, with an impressive graphics engine and the unmistakable Soul Calibur gameplay both in place. There's little to choose between the two versions, and ultimately it may well come down to your choice of Star Wars character or preferred controller. The game is set to launch in the US on July 31 and Europe on August 1, so we don't have long to wait to start slicing each other up online.
|Soul Calibur 4 Character Spotlight: Hilde
We get up-close and personal with SC4's new warrior woman.
By Richard Li
Who is Hildegard?: To her enemies, she's Hildegard von Krome, protector of the commonwealth, the princess of the kingdom of Wolfkrone -- but let's just call her Hilde. A new character in Soul Calibur, Hilde's quite the departure from the rest of the female roster. Unlike other gals (we're looking at you, Ivy), Hilde feels comfortable with ornate armor covering her entire body, her vital parts -- arms, midsection, and chest -- fully protected in the right spots. Pragmatism over decadence? Clearly, Hilde wants to protect her greatest assets in times of distress.
Strengths: With a short sword in her right hand and a long staff in the other, Hilde's most attractive quality is her ability to fight at both long and close range. The A button controls the short sword, while the B button controls the staff. Combined, these give Hilde great versatility -- a decent close-range game featuring swift, low attacks capable of interrupting the enemy's attack, and an enormous range uncommon for a character who can move quickly and swiftly.
But what's even more interesting is Hilde's ability to charge her moves for bigger damage, just like the boxer Balrog in Street Fighter II. By holding the A or B button (or both!), Hilde charges for an attack until the button is released, after which she'll suddenly stab or slash her opponent. Interestingly, holding down the A button for more than three seconds triggers a powerful two-hit combo, ending in an unblockable attack that surrounds Hilde's body in flames. Abusable? Not quite. If the opponent blocks the first hit, the unblockable attack won't trigger, but the opponent's guard-crushed and placed at a disadvantage.
Weaknesses: For the uninitiated, the charge attacks represent a barrier to entry in learning Hilde's core strategy and tactics. Holding one or two buttons for a charge attack while guarding and kicking feels overly complicated, and it's naturally easy to be confused over the movements. Adept players, on the other hand, may move beyond the confusion and instantly adopt Hilde's challenging play style. In short, Hilde isn't the best character for the burgeoning Soul Calibur player.
|Soul Calibur 4 Character Spotlight: Mitsurugi
Soul Calibur's surly samurai swaggers back into the ring.
By Chris Jara
Who is Mitsurugi?: Growing up in the war-torn farming village of Bizen, Japan, Mitsurugi witnessed his parents' murder at the tender age of 14. Seeking revenge, he trained under a warlord's guidance, learning the strict code of the samurai and becoming a formidable swordsman. Throughout his life, he's constantly sought to find the world's most powerful weapons. Now, at the age of 29, Mitsurugi overhears rumor of a "hero's sword," one that would grant its wielder divine power. Enticed by the legend of this blade, he sets out to find it and live up to his reputation as the "rude samurai."
Strengths: Mitsurugi's classic Soul Calibur strategy remains intact, since he retains the majority of his move set from previous iterations. He's easy to pick up for beginners because most attacks are easy to pull off, but his play style balances high risk and high rewards -- whiff a powerful move, and you'll find yourself open for counterattack. He's still able put pressure on the opponent since he has a good range of short and quick attacks, and he excels at close-range combat.
Utilizing the Mist stance (forward+B+K) and Relic stance (back+B+K) are key to truly mastering Mitsurugi, since he has a nice array of powerful moves and throws from these positions. Cleverly mixing these moves and stances can confuse your opponent.
Weaknesses: Mitsurugi's got some very powerful moves that inflict incredible damage, but relying too much on this swordsman's might will get you into trouble if your foe reacts quickly. Don't forget that he's got speedy maneuvers as well, even though he lacks the variety of quick, low attacks that other characters possess.
Although Mist and Relic stances are integral to his game, transitioning between them becomes risky if you're not careful. Expect some possible punishment if the flow between moves isn't smooth. Also, one of Misturugi's best ground punishment moves (down-forward, down-forward, BB) is now only achievable from Mist stance.
|Soul Calibur 4 Character Spotlight: Siegfried
Soul Calibur's knight in shining armor returns.
By Shane Bettenhausen
Who is Siegfried?: This flaxen-haired German knight remains the primary Soul Calibur protagonist, and he's still desperately trying to fix the problems he caused by brandishing the accursed Soul Edge sword many years ago. The dark power imbued in that blade transformed Siegfried into a hideous monster known as Nightmare, but the power of the holy sword Soul Calibur was able to separate them into distinct beings. Now, our heroic knight is tasked with sealing both swords away for all eternity...but the newly independent Nightmare has other plans. Siegfried's quest in Soul Calibur 4 begins with the mysterious resurrection of his long-dead father, Frederick. But is this merely a trick concocted by his dark doppelganger in order to lure our hero out of hiding?
Strengths: Siegfried's versatile arsenal appears to be firmly intact for SC4, with nearly all of his familiar stances, combos, and special moves carrying over from SC3. He still benefits from having one of the longest available striking ranges and a decent selection of kicks and head-butts for close-quarters combat. Plus, his standard throws offer impressive power and range, and he's one of the only characters with a ducking throw -- perfect for defensive-minded players. He's great for beginners because basic mashing nets some deadly combos, yet also suitable for expert play, as learning how to properly link his various stances requires plenty of skill.
Weaknesses: With all that clunky armor and his comically colossal sword, Siegfried ranks among the slowest characters in Soul Calibur's roster. You'll simply have to get accustomed to his lethargic reaction times and plan accordingly. Also, use caution when experimenting with his various fighting stances, as most of them limit your ability to block, leaving you wide open for attacks from all sides.
|Soul Calibur 4 Character Spotlight: Darth Vader
Star Wars' Dark Lord of the Sith steps onto the Stage of History.
By Richard Li
Who is Darth Vader?: He was known as Anakin Skywalker. Now, he's known as Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, leader of the Emperor's army against the Rebel opposition. But you already knew that, right? An exclusive character for the PlayStation 3, Darth Vader seeks the power of the two swords, Soul Calibur and Soul Edge, in hopes of harnessing their power for, uh, soul domination. (Just like you, we're not too sure how Darth Vader fits into the Soul Calibur universe.)
Strengths: Besides the pirate Cervantes, Vader's one of the few characters possessing a projectile that extends his range of attack, a considerable advantage over fighters who rely primarily on close-quarters combat. The Force ability allows Vader to attack the opponent at a distance, grabbing them off the ground and throwing them into the air, or drawing them closer to his body. It's an incredibly useful move for pressuring opponents to attack or defend -- and at conditioning them for certain responses. For instance, Vader can immediately pick up an opponent off the ground by using the Force, then throw their body in the air for a combo. Fearful of being picked up, the defender may get off the ground as soon as they land in order to circumvent the Force. Vader, knowing the opponent has been conditioned to get up quickly, can capitalize on the situation by anticipating the opponent's reaction and setting up the appropriate mind game.
Weaknesses: Beware, though, that excessive use of the Force can be disastrous. Vader's Force ability, limited to the amount stock in the Force gauge, must be carefully used -- otherwise, you risk a temporary stun lasting several seconds when the Force gauge is fully depleted. But don't worry about being too conservative in executing the Force. Force stock refills over time, and any attack connected on the opponent refills the gauge much quicker than time alone. And for those who are too predictable, the opponent can guard-impact the Force attack. The Force isn't that strong, after all. Other weaknesses include Vader's slow movement and tall height. His attacks are slow to execute, his movement stiff, and his size creates a large target for opponents. But these shortcomings could be an attempt to balance the awesome power of the Force.
|Soul Calibur 4 Character Spotlight: Yoda
The pint-sized Jedi Master joins the cast of Soul Calibur 4.
By Shane Bettenhausen
Who is Yoda?: Seriously, if you're really not familiar with this lightsaber-wielding goblin...you're probably Amish. As the Xbox 360 version's exclusive Star Wars guest character, Jedi Master Yoda brings his sagacious wisdom and acrobatic combat style to the thoroughly incongruous "stage of history." No amount of lazily scrolling text can hope to effectively explain why he's here, so just be glad that he's not Jar Jar Binks or Elan Sleazebaggano.
Strengths: Luckily, the Yoda you get to control isn't the lethargic, curmudgeonly swamp-dweller from The Empire Strikes Back, but rather the insanely lithe and agile younger version from Attack of the Clones. He makes up for his tiny stature with blazing speed, mad aerial combos, and an array of special Force powers (that require you to tap into his special "Force Meter"). Learning how to best mix these souped-up hits, reversals, and special blocks is key to mastering the li'l guy's game. Plus, Yoda's short stature gives him a slightly unfair advantage -- most horizontal attacks simply pass over his scabby green head. Yoda doesn't feel quite as out of place and cheesy as Tekken 3's cuddly dinosaur, Gon, but he's just weird enough to throw off your opponent's game. Weaknesses: Yoda's teeny-tiny lightsaber has decidedly awful range, so you'll have to dart in really close to your opponent if you hope to do any real damage. Also, his light-side Force abilities don't seem quite as effective as Vader's, as they're largely defensive in nature. And it's unfortunate that he wasn't given a Force Heal ability, as his defense isn't so hot.
|Reviews: Soul Calibur 4 The newest Soul Calibur is also the best to date. Could this be the best fighting game of 2008?
By James Mielke 07/24/2008
> Reviewer's Blog > Review Crew Profile
As someone who's - as the years march on -- become less interested in how utterly hardcore a fighting game can be and more concerned with how a game can move the genre forward, I'm glad to say that Soul Calibur 4 achieves both. Balanced and feature-rich, SC4 improves on the groundwork of core fighting mechanics laid in the series' previous iterations while giving players a virtual fighting sandbox. Returning characters are tweaked so that they still feel familiar yet fresh, with new moves and chains to which you'll find yourself saying, "Wow, [character name] is a badass this time around" over and over again. All of the returning vets -- Mitsurugi, Voldo, Raphael, Taki, and so on -- retain their signature play styles, but each receives worthwhile adjustments. You can even tag-team characters now (SC finally catches up to Dead or Alive and Tekken in this respect), a feature that's long overdue.
Where SC4 really shines, however, is in its character-creation mode. The more you use your custom characters, the more options you unlock -- with a wealth of weapons and armor pieces offering boosts to strength, impact, speed, and more, while certain stat modifiers improve your chances to escape throws or reverse counters. By selecting attributes designed to compensate for your weaknesses or enhance your play tendencies (or both), you can craft the fighting-game character of your dreams, to a degree that games like Fighter Maker don't begin to approach. That you can use these characters in any mode --- and have their appearance reflected in things like cutscenes -- is just an extra layer of detail that you must see to appreciate.
Click the image above to check out all Soul Calibur IV screens.
I may be alone in this, but I also really enjoyed the new characters contributed by various Japanese manga artists. As someone with lots of games to play these days, I need something more to keep me coming back. So, if I ever get tired of playing as Taki or Kilik, I can always fire up one of my custom characters...or, for example, Shura, designed by Gantz creator Hiroya Oku. What I'm saying is, beyond the niceties of an updated Soul Calibur, I'm looking for variety -- and, of course, an overall high-quality experience. In those respects, SC4 delivers in spades.
As of this moment, the PS3 version has the technical edge, since it allows you to install to the hard drive for faster loading times -- but with the upcoming Xbox 360 update that allow gamers to similarly install any game they want, it's almost a moot point. The Xbox 360 version's advantage rests with its exclusive guest Star Wars character, Yoda. The PS3 version is saddled with Darth Vader, but Yoda is the better character of the two, as he's sprightly and nimble, as opposed to the slow and lumbering Vader. Their Force powers are good for yanking people in and setting them up for combos (à la Mortal Kombat's Scorpion and his "Get over here!" spear), but the Jedi masters' move sets are pretty bland overall, reeking of missed opportunity. Why, for example, wasn't one of Darth Vader's hold moves an invisible dark side chokehold? Why doesn't Yoda calmly drop an X-wing on your head with his throw move?
Click the image above to check out all Soul Calibur IV screens.
The Apprentice (from LucasArts' upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed -- and present in both versions of SC4) is ridiculously annoying to unlock, too, as you must first defeat him during the story mode with either of the Force users. He's an all-blocking, all-dodging, supercombo, jerk-a-thon of a character to beat with either Yoda or Vader (although he's much easier to beat with the standard SC characters)...but once you unlock the cheap bastard, he's sure fun to play.
SC4's new Critical Finish feature might, at first, seem like a cheap addition as well, resting somewhere between Mortal Kombat's fatalities and Guilty Gear's overpowered Overdrive moves -- but in actual practice, it's primarily used to punish players who turtle too much (overzealous blocking makes the Soul Gauge meter deplete, eventually rendering offenders susceptible to the newfangled fatalities). In all of my versus playtime, I rarely saw Critical Finishes, as the very notion of the Soul Gauge turning red enough to invite these supermoves kept my mind on offense -- and blocking to a minimum.
The long-requested online mode is probably SC4's most worthwhile endeavor. Characters level up with successive victories, and leaderboards reflect the most accomplished combatants. You can brawl using standard default attributes -- or, if you're feeling ballsy, you can enter an arena with your turbo-boosted character and see how he/she stacks up against the competition. The online mode could use a quick-rematch option, though; postfight, the game boots you back to the matchup screen, which seems just a little clunky here in 2008. Still, this mode looks like it received a lot of thought, with options to reserve space for friends in four-player battles or invite people on your friends list into a match (in the PS3 version, anyway -- Xbox Live already has that functionality built in).
Click the image above to check out all Soul Calibur IV screens.
Only time will tell whether people will accept SC4 into the pantheon of timeless, classic fighting games, but it looks great, plays extremely well, and has countermeasures for nearly any perceived exploit you may stumble across (like unlockable final boss Algol's slow-moving ranged attacks). The create-a-character mode is amazingly deep, allowing you to assemble your own bionic man, while the new manga-designed fighters add plenty of fun new looks and personalities to play. The Tower of Lost Souls mode is a much better attraction than Soul Calibur 3's Chronicles of the Sword, as it ditches that game's real-time-strategy-lite load-a-thon with more straightforward combat challenges (and rewards). Ironically, as complete a package as SC4 is, the recent release of the original Soul Calibur on Xbox Live actually feels faster and more nimble than its newer brother; that doesn't make it a better game, but it's an interesting observation. So with the classic, new-school, and infinitely customizable character roster at the ready, and with online play fully operational, it's not a stretch to say this might be 2008's best fighting game. Some other hot fighters -- notably Street Fighter IV, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and Battle Fantasia -- are on the horizon, but considering how fun Soul Calibur 4 is after a month of nonstop play, I think it'd be hard to top what Namco's accomplished with what is unquestionably their best fighting game to date.