So I got the import of Soul Calibur 2, and I started calling people to come play it with me.
First guy I talked to, I say, "I've got Soul Calibur 2, on Gamecube, the one with Link!"
He says, "Is it cool?"
I had to stop and think about that for a minute.
I mean, Soul Calibur is the best 3D fighter there is, and you could make an argument for it being the best fighter there is, period. Its sequel is being anticipated like Christmas morning, and anyone with a Freeloader disc imported the Japanese release. The home version of SC2 even comes preloaded with some exclusive characters that weren't in the arcade version—all versions get Sophitia and Seung Mina back, but we on the Gamecube tip get Link—and a new Weapon Master mode, which includes the option of purchasing and using a variety of new weapons for each character.
The graphics are, of course, uniformly excellent: no slowdown, no anti-aliasing, no problem. The sound's remarkable, and, oddly, most of the game's in English even in the Japanese release; call it a bone that Namco threw to the import market, or something.
The play balance seems all right; as with the first one, the characters who seem to dominate the game change dramatically as your skill at the game increases. When you first pick up the controller, you may come to dread Nightmare and Kilik, but once you master guard impacts and the eight-way run, neither of those two are as scary as they used to be. Now you get to dread people like Ivy and Cervantes! Yay!
Link's a weird character. He's got the Zelda II upslash as a juggle, the downslash as a pursuit, and his roundhouse spin from Super Smash Brothers Melee. He's even packing his boomerang and bow, and his bombs work a lot like that one trick Taki's got where she slams the ground and you hit the ceiling. For all that, though, he's not horribly overpowered. If you pick Link and intend to shoot your way to victory, please note that while you are shooting arrows at someone, they will probably eight-way-run around you and, if you're lucky, settle for simply landing a side throw. Picking Link is a bone thrown to the Zelda fans, not a license to dominate.
Sophitia and Seung Mina have been reinvented visually as extra serious bonus fanservice—the last time I saw this many panties, I was doing my girlfriend's laundry—but aside from that, they seem to be almost unchanged from their Soul Calibur incarnations. It's nice to have them back, but both suffer from small problems involving the game they're in; the focus of SC2 is a bit changed from SC, and both characters have to work harder to compensate. The other new characters on consoles include Charade, who's a floating selection of demon parts and fights like Edge Master used to, changing weapons every round, and Necrid, a sadly typical Todd McFarlane design. Our boy Necrid is probably headed for a sad fate as tournament-illegal, since he's the Ogre of the game; he's got a random selection of the best moves in the game, and materializes weapons as needed to perform them.
If you're not playing endless Vs. matches, then you'll probably spend a lot of time on Weapon Master mode. Via winning single-player matches, many of which have handicaps—you're poisoned, you have to land a juggle, the floor's explosive, you have to face three to six characters in a row, etc.—you earn gold, which can be used in shops across the game map to buy new game modes, character costumes, extra weapons, and features. Each character even has a "gag" weapon they can use, such as Mitsurugi's bokken or Xianghua's giant paintbrush.
So is it cool? Well, yeah. It's Soul Calibur. I don't pretend to be any kind of deep, technical fighter; if you want the in-depth lowdown on that sort of thing, go to guardimpact.com, four doors down and listen for the sound of clashing metal. For my money, though, we're talking about what Namco does best, and that's tweak things just enough that the sequel feels fresh while simultaneously serving up something that plays just about the same, if not better. That sounds like a slam on the face of it, but it's not meant to be. Namco caught on to a good thing with the first game, and they're being smart and not changing it dramatically.
Soul Calibur 2 is another run through one of the best fighting games in history, with more characters, more moves, more secrets, more playtime, and really, just more of everything all the way across the board. It is here to break all lesser fighting games in half, and to revitalize the somewhat parched fighting genre. It's not revolutionary, but a really good game never has to be.
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