Release Date: October 26, 2005
Buy 'SOUL CALIBUR III': PlayStation 2
Namco has been making 3D fighters for a long time, and over the years, we've seen them grow worldwide franchises out of simple titles such as Tekken and Soul Edge. We've seen them come to dominate the 3D fighter market, producing what expert gamers agree are the best fighting games on the planet. They've been at this for a long time, always releasing arcade hits and then porting them to home systems. Now we have Soul Calibur III, which finally breaks the trend of arcade to home, but is it a clean break?
I loved Soul Calibur 2. There was a period when I gave that game more of my life than most people work during a week so when I play Soul Calibur III, I lament that they didn't do more to improve on what they already had. The core of these games has always been that there was a fantastic, balanced, fighting system, with an interesting and diverse set of characters. The actual fighting in Soul Calibur III feels like a dumbed-down version of Soul Calibur 2. Freedom of movement, the hallmark of this series, has been diminished severely. It's much harder to dodge attacks in this game and more difficult to get some distance between you and your opponent. Moving just doesn't have that same free feeling that it did before.
In many ways I see SC3 as Namco attempting to copy Dead or Alive, of all things. Most characters are stuck using canned, flashy-looking combos over and over. Just about every character has a ton of single-hit moves that, when hitting or getting a counter-hit, remove control over the game from both players while one character does something wicked-looking to the other. This is flash, smoke, mirrors, whiz-bang, ooh and aah, but it is not the makings of a better fighting game – just a better-looking fighting game.
The irony is that if they were looking to make a shallow but impressive-looking fighter, they picked the wrong console for it by far. The PS2 shows its age in this title, which honestly does not look much better than SC2. If anything, I'd say that SC2 in 720p HD on the GameCube and Xbox are more impressive than SC3. Of course, the PS2 can't do HD, which is a real shame, and all the more reason to drop this dinosaur and get with the times. The backgrounds look much better, but the character models are simpler, which makes sense since the character models in SC2 overtaxed the PS2 and caused slowdown problems. There still are slowdown problems, except that Namco masks them with a blur effect to attempt to make it look like the game is going into slow motion or something. It reminds me of the Superman game for Nintendo 64, where fog had to be used to limit view distance because of technical limitations on the hardware. The developers made the fog green and claimed it was "Kryptonite fog" being used by Lex Luthor. Right.
The game system is riddled with bugs. Some infinites have already been found, and there is a glitch that players can do which makes Guard Impacts completely pointless (and by pointless, if you successfully GI your opponent, they can throw you for free). Balance is a bit flaky – some characters can take off half your life with a single hit, while others ... can't. On top of that, Namco willy-nilly went through and changed the input commands for just about every move in the game. Think you know how to play your favorite characters? Think again. Their moves are all there, with a few exceptions, but you'll have to relearn how to do just about all of them. If you've played SC2, that means you'll likely spend the first few days playing the game getting very frustrated by having the wrong moves come out. Again, this makes no sense to me, as it only serves to annoy loyal players and does nothing to help new players learn the game.
It is hard for me to objectively review the "extras" for SC3, meaning all of the extra modes and side-games that Namco has added. They're good for one play just to see what they're like, but who is really going to play the Will o' the Wisp or Coin modes over and over again? This is just extra fluff that doesn't add anything of value to the title.
Their strategy game should be called "Chronicles of the Bored." It's better than the rancid "Devil Within" game in Tekken 5, but that's not saying much. You control a team of create-a-characters and send them along a variety of paths, where they slowly bumble around, engaging computer-controlled enemies when they run into them. You can jump in and fight the battles as a SC3 fight.
There isn't much strategy involved, it's kinda slow, and it just isn't that entertaining. The only reason anyone would waste their time on this is to unlock everything in the game. Since when should players be forced to spend hours doing completely unfun, repetitive activities just to be able to access fun content? Namco, this is a fighting game, not an MMORPG.
You can unlock a lot of items in SC3 to further tailor your custom characters, but unlike Tekken 5, you can't outfit the main characters at all. Each main character only has two costumes, and you can only edit the costumes' color palettes. Frankly, I would have gladly traded in the entire custom character concept for the ability to better control the look of the main characters.
The story mode for each character is pretty weak. You get a short text blurb at the beginning which looks like it was written by a junior high creative writing class, and then you start fighting battle after battle with short text interludes. Occasionally, you're given a choice of two options, but 90% of the time, this does nothing. Is the illusion of choice as good as actual choice? Only if you can't tell. Every character has the same interlude about halfway through, where you have to hold "right" on the controller to not get crushed by a gear. Fun. The last boss is always the same. The endings aren't CG, but that's to be expected (only Tekken games get CG endings).
SC3 can be a lot of fun to play with your friends, and the casual gamer will have a blast with it, since the balance deficiencies and bugs are only a problem if you choose to abuse them. I don't see it as being a better fighting game than SC2, but it is a newer one, and to some, that's all that matters. It's still way better than most anything else out there.