Soulcalibur has been in hiding for over five years. Considering that my favourite fighting game on PS1 was Soulblade, it has felt like an extremely long wait. With Soulcalibur 6 having released, the PS4 finally has a fighting game that I believe is eSports-ready. Despite the 5+ year wait, Bandai Namco has stuck to the foundations that made the franchise so popular in a heavily-crowded space. The action game takes pride in its weapon-based combat system and keeps things fresh with some new additions that will have veterans of the franchise satisfied. Story-wide, Soulcalibur 6 almost hits the reset button by going back and providing a different perspective of the events of the first Soulcalibur. Even if you played the original, it was so long ago that you probably have forgotten it. Luckily, you won’t miss out even if you hadn’t played the original. With two brand new story modes, Soulcalibur 6 will keep you preoccupied offline long enough for you to master the ropes of combat even if you’re a novice.
One of the main reasons why I have always loved this franchise over any other fighting game is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite the story being dark and somewhat twisted, the characters are generally fun and this is best portrayed in the way they fight. The best aspect of the series is that the gameplay is probably the most enjoyable out of any other fighting game, and SC6 is no exception. It takes an age to master, but I never once got bored learning the ropes with some of my favourite characters. It’s the type of fighting game where even if you’re playing locally amongst a large group of friends in a ‘winner stays on’ format, the game is just as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
There is no game better than SC6 in the weapons department. Simply put, Bandai Namco has done an incredible job making the weapon combat system so fluid and satisfying. They aren’t overpowered, and the range of attacks for each character seems perfectly balanced. Every character also feels unique, as the game doesn’t take shortcuts by giving multiple characters the same weapons or movesets.
With so many years behind the developers’ belts, it made sense that they would introduce new gameplay mechanics in addition to the familiar combos and special abilities. SC6 introduces Reversal Edge. Consider this almost as some sort of turn-based combat system where a mini-game against your opponent initiates. This decides who attacks next. The benefit of such a system is that you can essentially turn the tide of a fight in your favour by succeeding in Reversal Edge. Whilst I felt that there was some element of luck involved, really good opponents online were crushing me by using this system at the right time. If you win the Reversal Edge duel but only end up landing a basic kick, then you’ve wasted a lot of resources and left yourself vulnerable. There is a lot of strategy to the system – the higher the risk, the better the reward. Reversal Edge definitely adds something exciting to commentate on during an eSports fight. Different characters have different Reversal Edge outcomes.
The Soulcalibur franchise is known for character buffs obtained from the story mode. SC6 takes this a step further with Soul Charge. This is a meter that can be filled up as you attack your opponents. Once filled, you can activate a buff which may give you more damage, a bit of health etc. Again, all of this can help turn the tide of the game in your favour, but if you don’t time it well or your opponent manages to dodge you, it can leave you heavily under-resourced for the rest of the fight.
Fortunately, not much else has changed in the combat department for SC6, which is exactly what I prefer. The combat was already smooth and well-balanced. Too many tweaks would run the risk of making the combat unbalanced. Gamers who compete online are always abusing any mechanics that give them an unfair advantage. By keeping the combat system nice and simple, SC6 ends up being a great action game for novice gamers, but also makes it incredibly eSports-friendly due to the well-balanced nature of the combat.
As mentioned before, SC6 gives you plenty of content offline. The story modes, Libra of Souls and Soul Chronicle, both offer different single player experiences. Whilst they are both based around the same time, they are still very different. Libra of Souls was my personal favourite, as it allowed me to create a custom character and travel around the world carrying out quests. Surprisingly, this RPG-esque mode has a lot of depth to it. There is a complete levelling system, and you can upgrade your character’s abilities and gear. There are missions to carry out and to keep the fighting fresh, they even throw in environmental conditions that actually change the way the combat system works. It seems like the developers had a great time working on the mode, and this challenging experience will keep you busy for countless hours. For those who have been following social media, there is an influx of gamers who have decided to create characters with enormously large genitalia! I highly doubt that the creation system was intended to allow you to do that, but it just goes to show how sophisticated the create mode is!
Soul Chronicle is a separate story mode that also runs at the same timeline as Libra of Souls. However, unlike Libra of Souls, this mode is fully voice-acted and is a typical campaign mode that you’d expect in such a game. Here, the story focuses on Kilik, Maxi and Xianghua as they each journey to find Nightmare and the dreaded Soul Edge sword (which by the way, is probably the best weapon to grace any computer game). You can either play the entire campaign which contains all three characters, or even choose just to follow one of the characters and play their part of the story mode only. This campaign is basically a standard arcade mode with cutscenes in between. I wished that it was a little more story-driven (similar to what we had in Injustice 2), however it’s clear that the main focus in Soul Chronicle is the emphasis on combat, which always shines.
Online multiplayer works smoothly. Although I feel that the 30 second load times (despite playing on a PS4 Pro) are a little too long, the actual fights are very smooth. My only problem with online play is that most people only love playing with their boosted custom characters. Of course, many gamers have better abilities that my own character, which gives them an edge. The only way SC6 will gain traction in the eSports domain is by focusing on competition with just standard characters with no additional buffs. The sheer amount of times that I came up against an opponent with a custom character with a giant shlong made the online experience quite frustrating, especially if they also had overpowered abilities. At first it was funny, but eventually it got boring.
Soulcalibur 6 is most certainly an eSports-friendly game. As long as organizations focus only on allowing the core characters to be used in the eSports domain, the game has all of the required elements to make it on the competitive circuit; the combat is well-balanced, there is a high skill level and for us viewers, it’s extremely fun to watch. A lot of games that make it huge on the eSports front are ones where viewers can learn by watching the pros compete, and Soulcalibur 6 is certainly a game where you can learn by watching. Despite the six year wait, Soulcalibur 6 now stands as the best fighting game that the PS4 has to offer.