Release Date: TBA
"Transcending history and the world, a tale of swords and souls, eternally retold … Soul Calibur 3!" Hearing those words almost brought me to squeal with glee in the midst of the thousands of people brought together by the twin loves of gaming and profit at this year's E3. I'll admit it, playing SC3 was possibly my greatest motivation for attending this year's show, and I, for one, am not disappointed.
By way of introduction, I'll say that my handle on the official Soul Calibur forums is Reldan, and I've been an avid Soul Calibur fan (Ivy, Yoshi, Cervantes) since a bit before Soul Calibur II came out. I played the previous games a lot (first place SC2 MLG Seattle, second place SC2 VGames New York, among other tourneys), and feel fairly knowledgeable about the game system in general. What I can talk about here are my impressions of the game from one hardcore gamer to another (and even you more casual guys might get something from this as well, so feel free to join us for this conversation).
For those who don't know, I'll make a quick note about Soul Calibur naming conventions here:7 8 9 u/b u u/f 4 5 6 = b n f 1 2 3 d/b d d/f
Numbers are used to represent directions. The easiest way to think of this is to pretend you were using a keypad to control your character, and your character is facing towards the right.
A means horizontal attack
B means vertical attack
K means kick
G means guard
K~B means hit K then immediately hit B right afterwards
[A] means hold A down
Guard Impacts (GIs) have been switched back to the original SC1's style, where there are four different types. 6G is a high/mid parry, 3G is a low/mid parry, 4G is a high/mid-repel, and 1G is a low/mid repel. There are two different types of GIs now as well, the standard green one that works the same as how it did in the previous Soul Caliburs, and a new red GI that seems to be based on perfectly timing the GI. The red GI does not allow the opponent to re-GI, and leaves them stunned and knocked back long enough to guarantee some follow up hits. The overall frame window for pulling off a GI felt smaller than it did in SC2, but there is no 2G crap here (in SC2 you could hit 2G when someone GI'd your attack and it would allow you to block during the GI stun even though you shouldn't have been able to).
Throws now have variable recovery when broken, depending on how good the timing of the throw break was. It is possible to actually gain frame advantage from a throw break. The range of throws seems to be shorter than it was in SC2.
Cleaner system overall. Much like Tekken 5 did for the Tekken series, Namco has put in an effort to eliminate some of the bizarre wackiness that happened a bit too often in SC2 where moves would hit that shouldn't have, or would whiff when they should have hit for no apparent reason. Tech crouches always go under highs now, and jumping moves always go under lows.
Multiple wall types. From what I've seen, there appear to be three different types of ring edges: an empty ring edge where ringing the opponent out is fairly easy, a half-wall where only attacks that knock the opponent up and over will cause a ring out, and a full wall where ring outs are not possible. I have seen some very powerful hits actually knock players through the half-walls, breaking them and sending the unlucky fighter out of the ring anyways.
Stationary Soul Charging. The Soul Charge (A+B+K) makes your character stand still, unlike in SC2 where you could still move while charging. You can still cancel in instantly by hitting G just like in SC2.
I would say that those are the most major changes to the game system as a whole. From a design perspective, I would say that it feels like they are trying to make soul charging and guard breaks have a more prominent role in the gameplay. In SC2, soul charging was only useful to a couple of characters, and even then was used sparingly, as it typically did very little. Already in SC3, I've seen a powerful SC lvl. 1 SCUB (Soul Charge Unblockable) with Mitsurugi's 66A+B, and the second hit of Mitsurugi's K~B is a SC lvl. 1 Guard Break. Moves that charge up into guard breaks take less time to charge than they did in SC2 as well.
Other than that, the game feels like a Soul Calibur, with better graphics than ever before. It really feels like a fusion of the best from the first two games, along with a cleaner game engine and a chance to fix a few of the lame bugs that plagued SC2 (such as the 2G shenanigans).
The playable demo contained only Mitsurugi and one of the new characters, Tira, but they had another version of the game for the special E3 SC3 promotional tournament ('grats to CrazyJ for the win), which additionally had Cassandra, Kilik, and Astaroth as selectable characters. I was able to play on this version only briefly, but Astaroth and Cassandra seemed very similar to their SC2 incarnations, and while I've heard Kilik was changed a bit, I didn't get enough of a chance to play him to really say one way or the other. Mitsu seems beefed up if anything (his 2K,B does about 25% life), and Tira just felt a bit too slow. Her bladed hula hoop fighting style is actually kind of cool, and was way better than I had initially thought, based upon the early preview footage.
Overall, I must say that I can't wait until October to see this game in action in its entirety. While I'm a bit eerie about a straight-to-console release (mostly because the track record for Namco not having a couple of major bugs in the first-released versions of their fighting games is about zilch), I remain hopeful. The best explanation I can give about SC3 is that it's a refinement of the series, and while it may not have the flashiness and gimmicks of some of the other fighters out there, it has the best gameplay, and in the end, that's what matters.