Game of the Year 2003

(Namco, August 26, 2003)

It has been a crazy 2003 for video games but Namco was able to delivery a great game for all the big three gaming consoles. Here is my personal pick for Videogames101's Game of the Year for 2003!

After over years of waiting Soul Calibur II is here and now the famous series arrives for the Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox, and Sony Playstation2. The original Soul Calibur won very high acclaim and it sure helped to sell a lot of Sega Dreamcast systems way back in 1999 but not even a great game like that could not save the old dream machine from the grim reaper in 2001. Because so many fans and critics loved Soul Calibur, Namco is making sure that nobody misses the experience this time around and here we have the big sequel for all three game consoles. Each version of the game is virtually identical upset for one exclusive character not found in the other copies. So who do we Cube fans get? If you haven’t already heard, the Nintendo edition has the popular Legend of Zelda hero Link! For Xbox owners they get everyone's favourite soldier from hell: Spawn of comic book fame. While Playstation2 gamers will get the original Tekken boss: Heihachi Mishima. Can the new Soul Calibur be a cut above other fighters like Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance and Dead and Alive 3 or is the game doomed by its own hype?

The Soul Calibur II universe takes place in the late 16th century and the story focuses around a powerful but very cursed weapon called the Soul Edge which currently being held by the German man simply known as Nightmare. Nightmare originally wanted the sword to aid him on a mission to save his people from war but the sword turned him into an unholy monster and now he hunts down souls to please the hungry of the blade’s eerie powers. Some of the warriors want the legendary sword to help them become even stronger; some want the glory of defeating the world’s best fighters, while others just want to destroy Soul Edge to end its evil path of destruction. What you do with Soul Edge after you completed the game depends on the character you pick.

Most of the original Soul Calibur cast returns in this game.  Characters like Matsurugi the samurai, Voldo the blind sentry, Xianghua the royal guard, Maxi the master of the nun-chucks, and many more come back with added moves and designs. The only one missing is the once secret guy Rock but I bet no one will care about that generic loser anyway. There are a few new warriors joining the line up as well like Raphael the fencer with a technique new to the series, Tamin the young priestess with twin blades, Necrid: a man poisoned by Soul Edge’s shards, Cassandra the younger sister of the missing Sophitia, and finally there is Hong Yunsung, a young man who wants the Soul Edge to earn respect. Once you picked one of the 15 default fighters (don’t worry, Link, Spawn, Heihachi don’t need to unlocked first), you then must fight the other seekers of the cursed blade in one on one combat until you finally get the chance to fight the owner of Soul Edge. What makes Soul Calibur II different from other fighters like a Tekken or a Virtua Fighter is that all the characters use their own pacific weapon during the bouts.

If you’re also a fan of Namco’s Soul Calibur then chances are you were also a fan of Namco’s earlier Soul Blade for the Sony Playstation. That game was the prequel to Calibur if you didn’t already know? Soul Calibur was a great game and all but Soul Blade had many Playstation exclusive features I had wished were in Calibur. One example of this was that Soul Blade had an awesome ‘Master Edge Mode’ where all 10 characters battle in a cool story mode and earn new weapons on their journeys. Fortunately, Namco added a new ‘Weapon Master Mode’ to Soul Calibur II to please all us Soul Blade freaks now. On the surface, Weapon Master may look just like your standard Arcade game but there are several more things you do in here than in the other standard play modes. Weapon mode let’s you fight various quest-like sceneries on a world map so it’s possible to gain experience, earn gold, buy new weapons, and unlock secret features or new characters. Don’t expect to breeze through this quest mode either because each mission may have a catch to the match like limited time, multiple opponents, booby traps arenas, poisoned weapons, and lots more. Although the story is the same for all the characters, the Weapon Master mode is still very addictive.

OK, Namco was kind enough to give us some decent modes like Arcade, Versus, Survival, Practice, and Weapon Master but how well does the game control? Unlike other fighting games out there you use your Dpad or Analog stick to circle around your enemy instead of using it to jump or duck in the traditional sense. This is called the 8-way run technique and it’s a great way to surprise or confuse an opponent. If someone uses the 8-way run too much then cut them off by hitting them with a Horizontal Strike and if some one uses the Horizontal Strike a lot then try a Vertical Strike or Kicking Attack. The game has an ingenious control system and it works fine on the controller too despite some problems with the tiny Nintendo controller now and again but that can easily be solved by buying an unlicensed one if you like. Once you learn this set up you’ll be ready to go in no time.

One of the main reasons people loved the first Soul Calibur so much was because of the spectacular graphics. Soul Calibur II doesn’t disappoint either for any system. If you loved the beautiful girls in Dead or Alive 3 wait till you see the females in this game. A good example of the sexiness of this game: Ivy Valentine’s main costume is a very revealing dark purple dominatrix outfit (why she wears it I don’t know) plus I love the ninja Taki and her very skin tight red number which I’m surprised got by the censors. Some of the guys also fight without shirts so there is something here for the girls too, I guess. The Cube version also has cleaner textures in the background then the Playstation2 game but it's still a small step below what you would see on the Xbox. It's nothing major though and the still of the best looking games for each respective system today.

Although Soul Calibur II looks very realistic, there is very little, if any, blood to be found here at all. Even though you’re doing many deadly manoeuvres and strikes that would easily cut or decapitate somebody for real, you will not see anything overly gory here. The game still isn’t very kid friendly though especially when a vicious 6 foot monster like Astaroth is fighting away at a half naked 15 year old girl (Talim) who is only 5 foot tall but at least there isn’t as much unnecessary over-the-top violence in other games like in Midway’s popular Mortal Kombat series.

Although I love most of the traditional medieval style music here and some of the voices seem fine in the Arcade game, there are moments however when the spoken dialogue feels out of place like in the Weapon Master game. This is because the renamed opponents like an Edgar or Leana are still announced as the character they are copying. We also don’t need an announcer describing your opponent in every match do we? It’s just a little weird that’s all. I also thought personally that the original Soul Blade has a better sound track then the newer Soul Calibur games as well but you still get some good stuff here and that includes the Zelda theme too.

Soul Calibur II is a great game but it would have rated even higher if it didn’t look so similar to the first Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast which was an awesome game to begin with but some more evolution would have been nice. I also didn’t like how the endings were just a couple of cheap looking pieces of non coloured artwork with a short story instead of a Computer Generated movie or even the real time endings like in Soul Blade (a game that was released way back in 1997 btw).

Bottomline: What version should you pick up? Link himself is a good reason to pick this game for the GameCube because he can still perform all those crazy moves that you would see his other games like bomb throws, arrow shots, and lots more. Link is now part of two great fighting games for the Nintendo GameCube (Super Smash Brothers Melee being the other)! Heihachi Mishima for the Playstation2 edition is unfortunately the worse character of the three original characters, he doesn't even carry any weapons (just some stupid hand guards) to his fights. Heihachi's just a carbon copy of the original Tekken 4 character which is good if you are use to him there. Unfortunately I think it looks really bad when somebody with no weapons beats up someone skilled with a weapon don't ya think? Talk about bringing down the main theme of this weapon based game, eh? To make up for the Heihachi Mishima character the PS2 game has exclusive Namco Demo disc but overall the PS2 is still the weakest looking version of this beat em up and of the additional slower load times don't help matters either. Some gamers may prefer the versatile PS2 controller compared to the competition though. Xbox owners get the more adult oriented character with the comic book anti-hero Spawn. Spawn himself has a cool looking axe with eerie glowing green eyes. I think this is the first Spawn video game that doesn’t suck, eh? To break it down: Soul Calibur II is still an simply amazing Fighting/Role Playing game with so much going for it. This weapon based title is easy to learn, the game looks incredible, the sounds great, it has a cool story, and most importantly its fun to play with lots of replay value. You get it all in Soul Calibur II and it not only makes for one of the greatest games to come out in 2003, it’s easily one of the best fighting games ever!



overall rating: 96/100

For 1 or 2 players
Rated (T) for Teen

graphics: 9/10
sound: 8/10
gameplay: 10/10
replay: 10/10

(Ryan Genno) 2004

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