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Soul Calibur III review
Can be pretty frustrating, but it has moments of glory


The soul burns on.
Soul Calibur 3 is the PS2-exclusive fourth installment in the Soul Calibur series. After the awesomeness that is Soul Calibur 2, how can Namco even think of topping it? Well, being honest, they didn't here. Sure, they added some more modes like an RTS sort of main game, they decided to make the arcade mode a bit more than just fight this guy and that guy, they added a create-a-character feature, they added some mini-game sort of things, and they put more effort into the storyline... So why doesn't this top Soul Calibur 2? Because Soul Calibur 2 is much more fun to play, that's why! Soul Calibur 3 is fun from time to time, especially with friends, but not on the level of its predecessor, and some AI blemishes and somewhat rough difficulty climbs really, really don't really help this.

A tale of the soul, burning on and on.
Okay, so now the Azure Knight, Nightmare, has been exorcised from Seigfried's body, and he longs for the body again since his spirit has been driven out of Soul Edge's by an immortal known as Zasalamel, so now Nightmare can go out and cause chaos while looking for Seigfried's body. All the while, Seigfried has to destroy the evil blade otherwise known as Soul Edge, and destroy Nightmare. Of course, there's also the race to the legendary blades Soul Edge, and Soul Calibur, and everybody gets involved in either protecting or destroying the blades, while stopping each other from accomplishing their missions.

The story itself sounds a bit confusing, but if you have basic knowledge of what happened in Soul Calibur 1 and 2 as well as Soul Edge (plus actually play the game), you'll have a better idea of what's happening. The way its handled is first through an introduction cutscene, then through the individual characters' Tales Of Souls storylines (which, for obvious reasons, I won't speak a word of regarding the storyline). The way its handled is done well enough to care for, and actually kind of epic. Oh sure, you have to view the same cutscenes in Tales Of Souls over and over, but that's no biggie... right? Okay, maybe it kinda is...

Shift to the other main gameplay mode, Chronicles Of The Sword... what is this!? Two countries wage war with one another. Typical. Been there. Done that. Don't care. The second half of the story sounded good on paper, but wasn't anything special either. The main problem stems from a lack of... well, the best way to put this is this - it suffers from whogivesashititus. It lacks any development, it's so insipid and plays it safe so much, it's best left disregarded. Thank god there aren't many cutscenes and the "story" sequences can be skipped. In fact, thank god for Tales Of Souls!

Round 3: Fight!
Once again, Soul Calibur provides the player with a good fighting engine, managing to let you really get into it. You can go through tutorials with individual characters via Practice mode, or get straight into it in the two main modes I've mentioned before (I'll explain later why that might not be such a good idea with about... half the cast). The fights play out like your standard fighting game, where you smack your opponent senseless until his/her health runs out before he/she does the same to you. The only difference is that you get weapons, which allow for some range in combat, and also allows for some versatility in the combos, which works well for the most part, provided you can actually perform them.

Soul Calibur, as a whole, has this thing where they have a few combos per character with a million buttons, and for some characters, most of their combos require some intricate button pressing and timings, which can be bothersome to those who just want to dominate the circuit. But hey, that's why there's a practice mode... to get used to combos.

An RTS? In MY fighting game!?
While Tales Of Souls is just a journey through a map with some text detailing a story before the fight and has that sort of "choose your own adventure" kind of presentation, Chronicles Of The Sword plays more like a sort of half-assed RTS game. Yeah, you heard me right; RTS game. You guide your troops from your fortress, through enemy fortresses which you invade and claim as your own, and then to the main enemy base to kill the boss and claim his fortress as your own. In the meantime, you have to keep an eye out for enemies going after your base, because if it gets invaded, you lose. Unlike typical RTS games, fighting occurs much like a normal one would - one on one, with swords clashing and all that stuff.

Half-assed? How so? Mainly because that's all there is to it. There's some basic fortification for your own bases, but yeah, that's it. No way to call for more troops, no supplies, no nothing; just destroy bases. For some reason, I still enjoy it. The satisfaction of destroying an enemy base after killing a soldier on a sort of weird battleground that randomly quakes... Yeah, that's just awesome.

Speaking of quakes, the towers have their own battlefields, some with their own little conditions that either push you two together, or make you guys slip around a lot. It didn't really add much except some aggravation, but this is stuff you should be able to overcome easily... This is because battles don't last all that long. It can be over in a matter of seconds, so it doesn't take too long for most of these to sink in (though some are just a pain in the ass). I guess this is their way of making up for the lack of supplies and whatnot in the RTS gameplay...

Up the steep difficulty and balance mountain.
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. While playing through this, I noticed some rough difficulty spikes. Granted that anybody who knows Soul Calibur 2 like the back of their hand should be able to overcome these humps, said humps can feel overwhelming when you first try to traverse them. Opponents can employ more cheap tactics or size you up while you're trying to analyze their movements to counter them - either way, as you progress through either main gameplay modes, you better be ready to step up your game and reflexes. In other words, it's a matter of "master the character, or get left behind."

But I can't help but feel that the AI is just... not that great. For every two battles with some tough but fair opponents, three fights will end in your entrails being devoured, for they will employ some cheap tactics like short and quick attacks, while blocking way more often than attacking (otherwise known as turtling). It gets quite bothersome, but with some practice and some patience, you can overcome the foe. Unfortunately, self-solution doesn't actually help much, since the AI needs to be at least a little fair. Most of the time, you'll just mash buttons against the cheaper boss characters, resulting in a hollow victory 9 times out of 10. It's not really fun to just use the same two or three attacks over and over and over again while fighting some turtle. Honestly, you can perform this wicked combo out of nowhere, but it gets blocked and then they mess you up with theirs! Sheesh! Add the lack of difficulty adjustment, and this will get rather bothersome after a while, unless you partake in one of the two out of five battles... oh... did I forget to mention that it's a question of luck, not an occurrence in the storylines? Oops...

Let's not forget that some characters are easier to use than others, and usually perform better. What shits me about some fighting games is that there are characters that are flat out useless, and then there are characters that can kick the hell out of everything that comes their way. I seriously never got why this issue is still around to this day, especially the way this game does it. Some characters, I have yet to touch after the first couple of times messing around with them on practice mode because their fighting abilities suck cow nads, yet there are some I use religiously whenever I play this game because their strong combos are easy to abuse. That's how bad character balance can be. Come on, Namco, this is annoying.

Check out my big breasted Valkyrie!
The main attraction was the ability to create your characters. This was intriguing at first, but with little-to-no way of figuring out what the hell that bar on the bottom left is, or with no online mode to show off your warrior to friends with (blame lack of online support for PS2), or lack of consistency for storage (how come the guy I created in the main menu isn't usable in Chronicles Of The Sword?), this got a fair bit annoying rather quickly. Didn't really see the big deal with it...

Penny for your thoughts?
As you progress through the game, you get gold which you can spend on weapons, costumes for your created characters and bonus features. Bonus features allow for some extra content - which is the entire reason you replay fighting games - and some additional slots and such for Chronicles Of The Sword. The other two shops are pretty self-explanatory... Anyway, you get gold by beating the Tales Of Souls storylines, beating opponents in Chronicles Of The Sword, or satisfactorily completing a mini-game. Since you need heaps of money to view everything that you don't get while beating storylines and traversing through Chronicles Of The Sword, you'll be spending a long time, and if the last few paragraphs didn't do it for you, this sentence should - I hope you have some painkillers!

Production values break the bank a little.
Multiple vibrant colors in the backgrounds and costumes give the player a lot of eye candy. Fighters move fluidly... Yeah, it's not much better looking than Soul Calibur 2, but you should admit one thing - It's truly a beautiful game.

As for sounds, the soundtrack is mostly recycled from past games. Not a bad thing, it's still an impressive soundtrack to behold, but it just feels a bit lazy. That's a minor complaint compared to the new songs - they may be good, they carry the same sort of epic atmosphere the old tracks did, but they're not quite as memorable. Not the best. Voice acting... oh god... Some voices are good, but some make my ears want to detach themselves from my head. It's mostly average, though, so it all manages to balance out.

This tale may be best left on the shelf.
Soul Calibur 3... It's a diamond that sparkles a few times, but it's covered in horse manure. It often shoves a victory up your ass with an opponent who is able to bend your spine in minutes, and with the fact that some characters are plain impossible to control while some are easy as piss and strong as hell at once, and then the save file corruptions when you mess with you memory card a bit, the game can feel unfinished at moments, and presentation isn't going to save its ass from being a "fan-only" game. The actual engine works well... just needs to sort out some AI deficiencies and balance issues.

How does the soul fare?
Story: 7.5/10
The main storyline gets fleshed out much more, even involving some captivating sidestories. Can't say the same for Chronicles Of The Sword, though, because it kind of had me asleep on more than one occasion.
Gameplay: 7/10
Fighting engine works pretty well, managing to provide some fighting fun. Chronicles Of The Sword might have been weak story-wise, but the gameplay wasn't half bad. Half-hearted and a bit boring at times, but it's still worth trying out. Mini-games are pretty cool for some quick and easy fun. Unfortunately, the AI, difficulty curves and character balancing issues can bother a lot of people.
Controls: 8.5/10
The one thing I have against Soul Calibur in general has to be some of the ridiculous combos they come up with. It's like 14 buttons for a fair few of the throws! Granted you'll probably use the significant amount of shorter combos and not care, it just makes you think "why?". In other news, the basics are still down pat and respond to their every command (barring guard at times), and is easy to learn.
Graphics: 9/10
Definitely looks impressive. The show of colors and textures is impressive and animation is damn fluid. Worth admiring.
Sound: 6/10
Soundtrack is either recycled from past games and still pretty good, or original and nothing special nor memorable. Voice acting is... shudderworthy, for a lack of better words.
Other: -13

Overall: 5/10

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