Friday, June 1

The Soul Still Burns

Even with the PS3 at The Sanctum, I still find myself playing some retro classics from the old PS2 (and even PS1 on occasion). One of my favorite fighters in the Last Gen of fighting games is Soul Calibur III, a complete package of sword-fighting fun, adventure and fantasy from Namco Bandai. Continuing the 'Tale of Souls and Swords', SCIII saw the return of pretty much every character that has appeared in the title, as well as the debut of three new fighters- Setsuka the Geisha Assassin, Zasalamel the scythe-wielding mystery man and Tira, the circular blade-twirling psycho-girl. The battle for the elusive and evil sword Soul Edge and it's good mirror image Soul Calibur continued in earnest.

The graphics, animation and sounds of Soul Calibur III are top-notch, the best of the series. A lavish CG intro gets you into the mood, while a long-winded choose-your-own-adventure Tales of Souls Story Mode details every character's search for the sword, complete with realtime cutscenes that often involve an interactive element. The flaw though was that most characters share the same scenes, and you can't skip these parts... so after a while of playing you'll probably find yourself droning the charaters' lines of dialogue along with them hypnotically.

Then there's Chronicles of the Sword, an enhanced Quest mode with delusions of RTS grandeur. You basically create and take the role of a young cadet-turned commander in the military forces of the Grandall Empire, which is locked in war with several other countries. Divided into about 20 chapters, you have to battle your way through conspiracies, betrayals, plots and counter plots in this high-stakes war of empires. If that sounds epic and awesome, then scale your expectations down. It really just boils down to you sending your 'army' of four or five units all across a map, capturing enemy strongholds by first hacking these buildings to rubble and then fighting any enemy soldiers stationed inside. Even if a station is unmanned, you still have to hack the place down, which makes your characters more demolitionists than actual warriors. Though the story is told through a few pivotal realtime cutscenes and talking heads with text, your success is really based on your fighting skills. Still, even with all the tedious bits, it's an interesting way of unlocking tons of stuff, and does get involving after a while. You just have to be a little bit OC and patient to enjoy it.

If just the main fighting modes aren't enough for you, you can try your hand at various mini-games in the Soul Arena mode. These range from Fighting the End Boss or a Giant Statue to Sudden Death or Survival matches. It's pretty convenient and fun to have these in a single place. Some of the modes are fun, some are good for a try or two- but all are appreciated.

Finally, there's the Character Creation mode, which was much touted by the producers. To be fair, the mode is pretty awesome, and you'd wish that every fighting game from here on in has this feature. You create your new warrior from scratch, selecting sex, occupation and outfitting them with armor from head to toe. Aside from the skill-sets of the main cast, there are about ten or so new occupations like assassins, gladiators and samurai to assign to your new creation. While some are similar to already-existing styles, all are different and new in a way, so it's interesting to see them in action- even though some are quite overpowered and broken, and even bordering on ridiculous (yeah, tambourine-carrying dancers wreaking havoc is a bit wild). My only wish is that the mode had even more stuff to use- more variety of clothing, armor and accessories. You just can't have too much stuff in something like this. Even so, it's a pretty robust offering and the best one of it's kind so far in a major fighting game. I can't wait to see how Character Creation will turn out in the next game.

With all these stuffings, Soul Calibur III is one fighting package loaded to the rafters with modes, secrets, unlockables and stuff to do and find. It's great to be able to play this in an upscaled, smoother look in widescreen via the PS3- and with what may be a long wait till Soul Calibur IV, it looks like I'll be playing this for a while yet.

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