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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (399)

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Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
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King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5

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Soulcalibur VI   PC (Steam) 

Welcome Back, O Stage of History    4.5/5 stars

The ‘SoulCalibur’ series has a long and storied history in the world of 3D Fighting games. Starting with “Soul Blade” on the original PlayStation, the first game with the official title “SoulCalibur” hit arcades and the Dreamcast in the late ‘90s, knocking off our collective socks with its gorgeous visuals and tight gameplay. ‘SoulCalibur’ continued to spawn sequels, with the multi-platform “SoulCalibur 2” introducing the concept of ‘guest fighters’ to the series’ roster. One thing that never changed all the way from “Soul Blade” to “SoulCalibur 3,” however, was the fact that this series always featured a strong single-player element, with lots of content for those who weren’t interested in PvP.

But then the 7th Generation happened. Consoles gained online functionality and PvP matchmaking. Even worse, Japanese developers struggled to adapt to the new world of ‘high definition’ gaming, even as more and more of the Japanese market was consumed by handhelds and (eventually) mobile gaming. When “SoulCalibur 4” appeared on the PlayStation 3, it marked the beginning of a rapid downhill slide for the series, as it adopted rapacious microtransactions, even as it shed the wonderful single-player modes that had made the first 4 games so popular on the ‘standard definition’ consoles of the past. With “SoulCalibur 5” following the same basic paradigm, “SoulCalibur Legends” – a Wii spinoff – featuring atrocious gameplay, and “SoulCalibur: Lost Swords” moving into the wholly-microtransaction-driven Freemium/Free2Play economic model, by 2014 the one-time premier weapon-based 3D Fighting game was a shell of its former self and on its absolute last legs.

In 2018, the ‘SoulCalibur’ IP holder, the huge Japanese corporate publisher Namco-Bandai, decided to give the development team, Project Soul, one last chance before putting ‘SoulCalibur’ on ice indefinitely. The result of this effort was “SoulCalibur 6,” the first entry in the series to appear on PC (outside of emulators) and a more-than-welcome return to form in every respect.

Presentation
“SoulCalibur 6” is not only the first multi-platform release in the series to appear on PC as well as consoles, but is the first entry in the series developed in a non-proprietary engine, instead opting for Unreal and Criware in order to reign-in development costs. These canned-engine shortcuts do little to bring the game down, since the visuals look just as clean and stylish as they did in the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 releases… but those older games were from 2008 and 2012, and the graphics engine used in the newest entry doesn’t really feel very evolved. The Create-A-Soul character customization mode is where this lack of graphical evolution is most apparent, as there are far too many costume pieces that visibly float away from the character’s body in order to avoid clipping… yet there are also a huge number of costume pieces that have absolutely atrocious clipping (wearing a pirate hat over a giant afro is NOT a good idea). It feels like a lazy but of shortcutting when these kinds of small annoyances – which were tolerable in 2008) are still omnipresent over a decade later.

A large portion of “SoulCalibur 6’s” narrative, however, doesn’t employ the 3D polygons of the Unreal Engine at all, instead opting for hand-painted, but static, portraits and backdrops highly reminiscent of a Visual Novel. It’s certainly a unique approach to illustrating a Fighting game, but not particularly well-suited for the task, especially when there are detailed 3D character models and environments just sitting there, begging to be used in cutscenes.

Audiowise, “SoulCalibur 6” is just as strong as all its predecessors. An excellent soundtrack is backed-up by solid vocal performances by your standard array of anime dubbers (yes, Wendee Lee is back because Xianhua is back) plus everyone’s favorite Doug Cockle as guest fighter Geralt of Rivia. Of the two single-player story modes, one is fully voiced, while the other is not.

Technically, “SoulCalibur 6” is rock solid and as polished as one would expect from a Japanese console game. There are no bugs or glitches or crashes to speak of, and it supports Xinput out of the box. However, there are a few ethical issues to take note of: First, “SoulCalibur 6” uses Denuvo Anti-Tamper as DRM. There’s no reason for this when Steamworks by itself would be enough. Second, as with all ‘modern’ ‘SoulCalibur’ games, there’s a lot of DLC available for purchase… and I mean a LOT! I bought the Deluxe Edition of the game, which included the base game and the First Season Pass. Yes, that’s right, there’s more than one Season Pass. Currently, Season Pass 2 has almost released all of its content, and we’ve already got rumors (and demand from the playerbase, because apparently they ‘like the idea of giving the game long term support via extra monetization’) of a Season Pass 3 in the works. In general, each new Season Pass includes 4 new characters for the roster, 4 bundles of Create-A-Soul costume pieces (of wildly divergent quality) and a handful of new background music tracks dredged up from past games. In general, though, these DLC packs don’t contain ‘new’ content, but ‘legacy’ or ‘returning’ content from previous games that would have been included as in-game unlockables or bonuses in “SoulCalibur 3” or earlier. With the base game weighing in at $60, Season Pass 1 at $30, and Season Pass 2 at $34, this game can get expensive real quick.

Story
‘SoulCalibur’s’ plotting and narrative threads have been something of a trainwreck since… “SoulCalibur 2.” While “SoulCalibur” was a direct follow-up that built upon the canonical events in “Soul Blade,” ever since then, the series has struggled with shoehorning a handful of new characters into the same basic story from “SoulCalibur” or – disastrously in the case of “SoulCalibur 5” – dropping the entire original cast, replacing them with clones, and never really developing any new or interesting plot threads.

“SoulCalibur 6” aims to fix all that by positioning itself as a retelling of the events of “SoulCalibur” through “SoulCalibur 4,” only in an alternate universe where the events aren’t so garbled and the puzzle pieces fit together in a way that actually makes sense.

A big part of why ‘SoulCalibur’s’ plotting has been such a disaster for so long is the fact that the earlier games followed the by-the-book Fighting game storytelling technique of pushing each character through a series of Arcade Mode battles in order to see them come out on top and, in the case of this series, claim the cursed sword, Soul Edge, for themselves. Of course, in an ongoing continuity of storytelling, this simply can’t happen. Only one person can hold Soul Edge and only one person can hold its non-cursed counterpart Soul Calibur at any given time. “SoulCalibur” tried to canonize a lot of the mess left over at the end of “Soul Blade” – and did a stunningly good job of it, providing the series with its iconic villain, Nightmare, and giving numerous supporting characters ongoing development – but ever since, the desire to maintain the status quo for the cast as well as the seeming need to give each member of the cast a conflicting Arcade Mode story has seen the series’ overall plot spinning its wheels and going nowhere.

Fortunately, in “SoulCalibur 6,” this has all been fixed. Arcade Mode no longer has a story tied to it. Instead, all of the plot threads and narrative functionality are attached to two large, sprawling story modes: “Libra of the Soul” and “Soul Chronicle.”

Libra of the Souls is a vast pseudo-RPG mode where the player creates a Mary-Sue in the Create-A-Soul customization system – taking on the role of ‘The Conduit’– then moves from location to location across a map of the Eastern Hemisphere, interacting with a large cast of minor characters, crossing paths with the main cast of heroes and villains, making decisions about whether to embrace good or evil, and – of course – getting into lots of fights. Libra of the Soul is exactly what was missing from the last three ‘SoulCalibur’ games, and provides an excellent learning curve for the game’s mechanics.

The other story mode is “Soul Chronicle,” in which the player follows the main roster of heroes and villains through their own story threads. The ‘main’ story follows Kilik and Xianghua (the heroes of the original “SoulCalibur” on the Dreamcast), but every other character (even the DLC characters, thankfully) gets their own thread that may-or-may-not overlap significantly with the others. Each Soul Chronicle story has a completely different structure, which, for the first time in the series, allows the characters’ stories to have different, non-conflicting endings, in most cases not involving the cursed sword at all. Soul Chronicle not only irons-out and untangles the spaghetti of the series’ plot for the first time ever, but also tees-up the inevitable sequel better than ever before in series history. (And, yes, there will be a sequel, since “SoulCalibur 6” has been a great success and redemption for the franchise.)

Furthermore, Libra of the Soul and Soul Chronicle interact with each other in interesting ways, with player activities in one often unlocking new story threads in the other. I was really impressed with both modes, as they provided exactly the type of content I want and expect out of this series. Still, Fighting games are Fighting games, and, like most martial-arts themed media, the writing can get a bit cheesy at times.

All told, Libra of the Soul clocks in at around 30-40 hours, while Soul Chronicle clocks in at around 10-15. Thus for solo players like me who wouldn’t touch the online PvP with a 100-foot pole, “SoulCalibur 6” provides roughly 50 hours of really solid action, which is nearly unheard of for the genre.

Gameplay
‘SoulCalibur’ has always been a 3D weapons-based Fighting game, and that’s what it still is. However, aside from the weapons, one of the things I primarily appreciate about the ‘SoulCalibur’ fighting engine is that it’s generally light on complicated button inputs and/or ridiculous strings of combos. This also has not changed.

At its core, ‘SoulCalibur’ is about vertical attacks, horizontal attacks, and knowing when to dodge (the former) or block (the latter). Each character has a unique style, and a dedicated player could spend hundreds of hours attempting to master them all. I just stick with good old Cervantes-style, which I’ve been ‘learning’ for two decades at this point.

On one hand, returning ‘SoulCalibur’ players will find that very little about the game has changed. On the other hand, the things that have been changed have… actually been changed for the better! *GASP!* While playing “SoulCalibur 6,” I felt, for the first time in my long relationship with the series, like I truly understood all of the mechanics. Sure, I’m not particularly good, but at least I was able to engage with the entire gameplay system instead of just ignoring a large part of it like I used to.

The new central gimmick in “SoulCalibur 6” is a Soul Charge meter. This is a little gauge that fills up by dealing damage to the opponent and can hold up to 2 full charges. A player can either spend a charge to temporarily power-up their character, dealing extra damage and unlocking some special attack options that aren’t normally available, or they can spend a charge to perform a ‘finisher’ style move, which is just a highly-damaging cutscene.

Outside of the fighting engine, the Create-A-Soul mode allows players to customize the existing fighters with new costumes or create their own custom hero from scratch. I was slightly disappointed by the fact that the ‘generic’ fighting styles from “SoulCalibur 3’s” Create-A-Soul system are still absent, but I wouldn’t put it past Project Soul to bring them back in a future DLC pack. One of the most foolish things to happen to Create-A-Soul in the past was the tying of RPG-like stats to different costume pieces in “SoulCalibur 4.” This required players to use high-stat pieces in nonsensical combinations for the best performance. Fortunately, “SoulCalibur 6” has no stats tied to Create-A-Soul costumes.

Instead, the only stats in the game exist in Libra of the Soul, the pseudo-RPG mode, and are tied 100% to randomly-obtained weapons that the player can win in battle. These weapons can be customized to an extent, with each one coming with 0-3 enhancement slots, which can be filled with a mindboggling variety of perks, ranging from damage increases for specific types of attack to health regeneration to movement speed increases and more.

Libra of the Soul is an incredibly beefy mode, in general. From the humble beginning where a truly competent tutorial explains the gameplay systems in detail, the player is free to follow the story where it leads or venture off the beaten path to ‘grind’ some randomly-occurring battles to build-up money and – hopefully – acquire some new weapons. Money in Libra of the Soul can be spent either on static weapons from shops (which aren’t very good, especially compared to the random weapon drops) or on food items that provide a passive buff for the duration of a single encounter. It’s also possible to hire mercenaries, which are AI controlled companions who will go into battle ahead of the player’s custom hero and fight to the death (probably not winning, but possibly softening up a really tough opponent to make them easier for the player to take-down). Finally, money earned in Libra of the Soul can be exchanged for Soul Points, which can be spent in Create-A-Soul mode to unlock a handful of locked costume pieces and in the Museum mode to unlock concept art, soundtrack lists, etc.

Overall
“SoulCalibur 6” was Project Soul’s last gasp chance to keep the series alive, and they pulled it off with great aplomb. I haven’t enjoyed a Fighting game this much in many, many years, but thankfully, “SoulCalibur 6” if a glorious return-to-form, with large quantities of high-quality single-player content. If the presentation wasn’t quite so lazy or the DLC quite so greedy, this would be the pinnacle of the series.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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