SoulCalibur VI’s penchant for weapons-based combat gives it a more grounded, visceral punch than any other fighter; its characters are extravagantly designed, their sartorial choices complemented by the fineness and elegance of its combat. It all looks and plays very nicely. Still, like any brawler worth its salt in a fury of fists and feet, it really boils down to the fact developer Project Soul’s medieval-flavoured series is just a remarkably solid fighter. 

SoulCalibur VI’s bread-and-butter brawling – combining vertical and horizontal slashes, kicks, and grappling – feels as polished as any of its contemporaries, and best of all extends its battered, callous-ridden hands to both newcomers and veterans alike. Regardless of whether you’re nicking foes with the ballet-like precision of dexterous ninja Taki or wielding an exorbitantly large sword as the hulking Nightmare, SoulCalibur VI never feels like it tips the scales in any one character’s favour. The eclectic roster feels balanced and accessible. Except Killik. He’s a total wanker, prodding me with his large rod from half a screen away. 

The basics can definitely suffice for a while, but it’s when you dabble in SoulCalibur VI’s more intricate move set that it becomes obvious just how much there is to unearth in Namco’s muscular scrapper. Movement and execution become paramount in tighter battles as opposed to flailing around like a fish out of water, with new gameplay wrinkles a further layer of strategy into the mix. Chief among these include the Reversal Edge, a slow-mo mechanic that sees you countering and then entering into a game of rock, paper, scissors with your opponent. Mind games come into play here; the right move can help or hinder you. It’s a solid addition, and because it’s possible to cock things up and take damage yourself, it doesn’t feel like a cheap tactic. Meanwhile, Critical Edge gives you the ability to unleash a super-powered attack, or beef up your existing repertoire with extra damage using the Soul Charge, adding further tactical patchwork to an already rich tapestry. After all, the gauge must first be charged, and it doesn’t last long when you’re using it – whiff a move and all that stored energy is effectively flushed down the bog.

Combined with your meat-and-potatoes moveset, these abilities add an extra dimension to bouts; you never feel you have to use them, but when done right, they become invaluable tools. Plus, there’s an inherent satisfaction when you land a meticulously-timed Reversal Edge, or shove your opponent back with a punchy Lethal Hit or Guard Impact. A good offense is sometimes defence, and SoulCalibur VI offers a wealth of options for parrying and countering your opponent’s strike if you are willing to master the necessary timing. Furthermore, the very cinematic nature of these moves keeps fights free of monotony, lending bouts a bombast that’s easy on the eyes and rarely distracting. One of the best things about SoulCalibur is how it just gets better and more rewarding with each complexity you discover – you’ll just want to keep digging for more, and it’s all the better for it.

Something you’ll also want to do is dip into the story, seeing as how Project Soul has thrust its sprawling narrative to the forefront of the action. While at first glance it may seem superfluous to have two story modes, they’re surprisingly compelling time sinks. Soul Chronicle is a revamped telling of the original SoulCalibur plot, and sees you hopping between leads as you trace the origins of the eponymous blade and its spreading curse, scrapping with most of the cast along the way. Yes, the voice acting’s more wooden than an EastEnders extra at times, but this lengthy tale is illustrated by some gorgeous artwork, weaving numerous threads that are made all the more digestible thanks to its bite-sized nature. You can also scrutinize each character’s personal journey, giving further context to the sword-slashing shenanigans. Plus the brilliant Geralt of Rivia feels right at home with SoulCalibur’s melee-based antics. 

Libra of Soul meanwhile offers a different take on the core story, as it’s told from the perspective of your own cobbled together creation’s perspective. Gender, voice, body type, are all tweakable, as is the type of fighting style and gear you want to wear. If you want to be a weird-looking demonic thing in spandex with a horse head mask, then go mad. The meat of the action sees you venturing across a huge map, beating the snot out of cookie cutter foes, all the while attempting to hunt down bizarre fissures to feed your soul. There’s actually a lot of content to be had here: you can level up your character, buy new gear and items to buff your combat prowess with gold earned from scraps, and pick responses and shift the balance between good and evil in your chosen warrior. The text that’s used to nudge the story along is a bit wank and packed full of more cliches than a US daytime soap opera, and the whole thing is peppered with intrusive loading screens. Having said that, the incentive to hoover up rewards combined with its RPG-lite trappings will keep you plugging away for a while, probably long after you get bored of the story itself. 

SoulCalibur VI’s most egregious omission is the lack of old staples like Time Attack, Team Battle, and Survival. Yes, Soul Chronicle is surprisingly enjoyable, but those who want to just crack some heads free of the shackles of any story guff are left a bit wanting. Fortunately, Arcade, Versus, and Training Modes mix things up a bit, particularly the latter, which comes packing some comprehensive learning tools. 

SoulCalibur is pretty much a complete package. At the time of writing we weren’t able to test the network functionality, but online punch-ups aside, its elegant, satisfying scrapping is some of the best you’ll find, and Soul Chronicle – despite waffling on a bit and suffering from dodgy acting performances – is one of the better attempts at a fighting game narrative out there.

Developer: Project Soul

Publisher: Bandai Namco

Available on: Xbox One [reviewed on], PlayStation 4, PC

Release date: October 19, 2018

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