Six months ago, I would have said SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny was the best reason to own a PSP — perhaps even cause to run out and buy a PSP — outside the portable God of War title and numerous vaguely enhanced ports of celebrated J-RPG titles. Today, we have quite a few more good, even great, games in the PSP library or soon on the way, but Broken Destiny still stands high in the catalog's rankings. Bear in mind that I'm a fighter fan, and I'm particularly fond of the SoulCalibur series, but then again, that's the expected target audience for this game.
Broken Destiny provides in compact, mobile form the pure essence of SoulCalibur games, with few compromises. The detailed, sometimes stunning stage environments; the wide selection of playable fighters all with special moves and particular fighting styles; the great character models and solid animations; delightful special effects for various moves; the distinctive ring announcer and frequently wry character witticisms; the exceptional in-game musical score; the clang and crash of outstanding sound effects; numerous modes and a virtually endless combination of fighting scenarios. They're all here.
Beyond the PSP's excellent but small screen, Broken Destiny's graphics and overall visual presentation stand up to any of the previous generation of full-sized consoles, the capabilities of which the PSP essentially emulates. If you've been playing SoulCalibur for a while, you won't be at all disappointed with this graphical translation to PSP. The visuals don't suffer from the usual problems of miniaturization, either. Text is presented large enough to be easily read. As for your character and opponent, all their tricks and moves are easily discernible as they are animated on screen. There's no squinting required, and the game is blessedly missing the frustration of trying to defend attacks that you can't make out until your opponent is flogging the life out of you.
Speaking of flogging the life out of you, God of War's Kratos is immediately available in Broken Destiny, both as a selectable character and an opponent. What a formidable foe. Per SoulCalibur gameplay mechanics, some care in selecting your preferred character goes a long way, as many fighters are clearly more suited to battle the various fighting styles of opponents. Since you're required to go against whomever the game throws at you in Trials mode, it's best to practice and learn the highlight skills of each playable character, no matter their individual fighting styles. I think that Broken Destiny is the SoulCalibur game in which I can least get away with button-mashing my way to serial victories. Right from the start, in Trials mode, you're expected to have trained well and played The Gauntlet mode with the characters you'll favor when playing Trials.
The Gauntlet is a very, very basic story mode really intended to force you to practice fundamental moves, styles and combos by requiring success at each level under fairly strict completion requirements on a short timer. Completing each stage within each mission will unlock further, more difficult missions. The only problem with The Gauntlet mode, besides pure repetition, is that there are some moves you'll just have problems pulling off. In Trials or Versus mode, it's not such a big deal. Miss a block or a particular attack, and you're not out yet because you can recover and gain the advantage with moves at which you do excel. Not so in The Gauntlet. You do it the game's way, or you don't progress. Ultimately, this strict set of progression rules is beneficial, as you'll be compelled to learn the attacks and defenses requiring the most lightning-fast reaction times and button combinations. You'll probably often put down The Gauntlet mode and then come back to it later as you run through all the playable characters.
Trials mode is what players are accustomed to in console fighting games: the advancing complexities of fending off foes from the playable character inventory. Trials mode presents three levels of difficulty based on your preferred style of fighting, attacks of course being the easiest approach. However, there's benefit and fun to be had in playing all three levels.
Versus mode is where Broken Destiny clarifies itself as a companion title for fans of the franchise, rather than the only SoulCalibur game you'll presently wish to own. The PSP version of the venerable Versus mode has no option to pit the player against a CPU opponent. That's covered in the Quick Match mode, allowing you to pick your fighter and stage, matching skills with CPU-controlled opponents. Broken Destiny's Versus mode is also limited to ad hoc wireless multiplayer for two players, so you'll need to have a PSP-toting friend in Wi-Fi range, with his or her own copy of Broken Destiny running in Versus mode. This is where the portable version of SoulCalibur breaks down ever so slightly: The relative simplicity of one console, one game disc, two controllers and a sofa is not available here.
Unfortunately, Broken Destiny doesn't support infrastructure multiplayer, either, a mode that would allow you to battle friends or random opponents across the Internet. Most PSP titles I play alone, or in rare circumstances against, or with, one other PSP gamer in the same room with me. I always wish for infrastructure support in game specs but soon realize with almost every title, I'd seldom use it if it were there. The pick-up/put-down nature of portable games doesn't lend itself particularly well to engaging faraway players while you're wiling away spare moments throughout the day. I quit the match because my lunch hour was over or my class started, or I spilled my triple-shot mocha — most of these are a reasonable excuses — but abruptly dropping out of a game remains no less annoying to the still-available opponent on the other end of the Internet connection.
Because of the inherent multiplayer nature of fighting games, I'd have loved to see a good, lag-free infrastructure mode built into Broken Destiny's Versus mode; however, the real value of working the feature into this title is questionable. It's still far more fun to beat down someone with a flurry of combos and special attacks when they're in the same room to observe your signature victory dance firsthand.
SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny garnered several E3 2009 awards and nominations, and having played the final release, I can say that it deserved every one of them. About a year ago, Sony avowed better focus on PSP releases and promised that it had some great games in the pipe. We've started seeing those promised titles hit shelves, and Broken Destiny certainly ranks among the best. It's not only a fitting portable iteration of the classic series and a credit to the new and improved PSP catalog, but it's also a fine game in its own right. Without question, if you own a PSP and you're fond of fighters, you must own Broken Destiny. It's rich and deep, and it's outfitted with enough quality content and engaging challenge to keep you at it for months, at least. Even with several flashy, promising new PSP titles on the way this gaming season, Broken Destiny should be near the top of your must-play list.
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