GameCentral plays the long-awaited return of SoulCalibur, and talks to its producer about the chances of a Switch version…
SoulCalibur reaching its 20th anniversary somehow seems more shocking than any other recent milestone. We think that’s because, unlike something like Final Fantasy or Street Fighter, the first SoulCalibur was a modern-looking 3D game. At the time it was a revolution in both graphics and gameplay, with a unique weapons-based combat system and a single-player mode that, almost uniquely amongst fighting games, was actually worth your time.
The series really began in 1995 with spiritual predecessor Soul Edge (released as Soul Blade on Western consoles), and then continued in 2002 with the excellent SoulCalibur II. But since then the series has seemed to lose it way. Making the third game a PlayStation exclusive was clearly a mistake, and while all of the sequels were of a good quality the fourth and fifth ones began to rely too much on their guest characters, while inexplicably failing to take advantage of the originals’ innovative single-player options.
If you’re not familiar with the franchise it shares a lot of DNA with stablemate Tekken, with its most obvious departure being that everyone is armed with various 16th century weapons. In the demo these were limited to swords, but past games have included characters armed with staffs, nunchaku, sai, metal claws, and more. Which immediately makes it very different to any other 3D fighter.
SoulCalibur VI was announced earlier in the month, and on Friday we were amongst the first in the world to get a chance to play the game. This was at a Bandai Namco event in Paris, which showcased a number of their upcoming games, including Dragon Ball FighterZ and Code Vein – which we’ll have separate reports on later.
Bandai Namco also had a wide range of other games on display, including Ni No Kun II (which looked great but wasn’t showing anything new), One Piece: World Seeker (an open world adventure that was surprisingly reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, and will likely have a much wider appeal than usual in the West), One Piece: Grand Cruise (a newly announced VR game), and Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 for Switch (complete with a fun new co-op mode).
On top of this was a variety of anime-based role-players including Black Clover: Quartet Knights, Little Witch Academia: Chamber Of Time, My Hero Academia: One’s Justice, and Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet (although this was primarily a third person shooter).
But while many of these games were interesting, SoulCalibur VI was easily our favourite. The demo was very simple: just the two characters from the reveal trailer, plus the same Roman temple arena and another one based outside an icy cave. It was all clearly meant to be reminiscent of the Dreamcast original, except with modern Unreal Engine 4-powered graphics.
Although nothing was said about the story mode the time frame has been rewound back to that of the original game, further implying that this is a soft reboot of sorts. Part of that involves dialling back some of the inevitable complications that have been introduced over the last two decades, and at the basic level the game is very straightforward, with just three attack buttons (horizontal, vertical, and kick) and a guard.
Although combos are very easy to pull off they’re not at all necessary to ensure tactical depth, as more than any 3D fighter SoulCalibur emphasises movement and position. Although by default you’re locked onto your opponent and just circle round them, the series’ signature ’eight-way run’ system allows you much more freedom of movement than usual. You can end up facing completely the wrong way if you mistime a move or, most famously of all, end up falling off the side of the arena with a ring out.
The eight-way run is for more experienced players though, and so the game puts a heavy emphasis on something called Reversal Edge. This is activated by one of the trigger buttons and is similar to systems in other recent fighters, like Injustice 2, where you can trigger a mini-cut scene and have to quickly input an attack at the same time as your opponent – in what is essentially a high-tech game of rock, paper scissors.
Along with the Critical Edge attack, which is different for each character, this works on a power meter. So the idea is that even a novice player can reverse their fortunes by activating it at the right moment. Or end up digging their hole even deeper. We found it all worked extremely well, with a very streamlined, old school feel that’s both very accessible and yet seems to avoid any accusations of being dumbed down.
Even with just two characters their abilities are very different, with samurai Mitsurugi being a powerful distance fighter but Sophitia specialising in close attacks and defence. SoulCalibur VI currently has no release date more specific than next year, but as producer Motohiro Okubo implied in our interview there are many more revelations about the game yet to be made…
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Project Soul
Release Date: 2018
GC: I don’t know how I always end up being everyone’s last interview of the day, it always seems to happen. A tale eternally retold, as it were…
GC: I was surprised when you announced the game at The Game Awards, that you appeared on stage alongside Harada-san [the director of Tekken 7 and long-time producer of the series – GC]. I thought you guys were meant to be rivals?
MO: [laughs] Harada-san is someone that has always worked on the Tekken IP. And he’s worked on SoulCalibur before. I’m still a newcomer to the consumer division, it’s been just four years now. So we are in totally different positions. But there is a small, friendly rivalry between the development teams of SoulCalibur and Tekken. But me and Harada-san have no rivalry! [laughs]
GC: Were you personally pushing for this sequel to be made? Is this your passion project?
MO: I have been involved from the beginning of the planning, for SoulCalibur VI. But how it started was that first of all [developer] Project Soul was at a crisis of survival. So the team members of Project Soul had a great passion to want to do it. Personally, I was aware of the strength of SoulCalibur as a brand, so the correct way to say it is that I made a connection between the two… [in English] between the market and the passion from the fans.
GC: I have very fond memories of the first two games – and Soul Blade, actually – of Dreamcast tournaments at lunchtime where even non-gamers would join in. But that feeling of being something new and exciting seemed to fade by the third game, as the series failed to make the most of its earlier innovations. Do you think that’s a fair summary?
MO: In order to start the SoulCalibur VI planning we all looked at all the titles in the series and reviewed what was good and how people played them. So we want to realise the feel good factor of waving the swords in the air and also movement using the eight-way run system, going front and back.
I think that the unique battle system, using eight-way run, was achieved at a very high level in SoulCalibur V. So how to merge these two elements together in SouCalibur VI is our focus.
GC: Well, I’ve kept going back to it today, more so than any other game. And I appreciated the way it melded the newer elements, like destructible armour, with the feel of the earlier entries.
MO: [laughs] I’m very happy to hear that!
GC: You’re in a difficult position though, because you have to attract back the old players but also try and make it accessible to new players. What kind of difficulties does that create in terms of balancing the level of depth in the combat?
MO: I think it’s the fate of fighting games to have this challenge. But SoulCalibur is in a particularly difficult position in terms of its IP, so first of all we want to make sure that our existing fans will be happy. But by using the new battle system, such as Reversal Edge, we hope that beginners will quickly begin to feel like they are a Soul master.
GC: One of the things I liked is that you could end up turned around so you’re facing the wrong way. It would be easy to imagine a game not allowing that, to keep things simple, but you kept it in.
MO: We have to think about how we want people to feel when they play, and how they can become a sword master. When you’ve just avoided a sword by a hair’s breadth, or when you’ve just managed to parry at the last possible moment. You have to have the possibility of failure in order to appreciate success. So I want to allow players to experience these kind of moments in the game.
GC: I asked a similar question to this when I spoke to Harada-san about Tekken 7, but what do you feel is the general health of the fighting game genre at the moment? It’s a long time now since the renaissance brought on by Street Fighter IV, and it does seem as if the market is narrowing again. How will you avoid SoulCalibur VI being a victim of that?
MO: Of course Tekken has to stay in the central position of the market, as the best-selling 3D fighting game, so it has to compete with every other fighting game. But I think SoulCalibur is a pioneer for using swords, and is unique that way. So with SoulCalibur VI I want to make sure that we reflect upon who we are first, and then present this new game to the fans and launch it to the market.
GC: SoulCalibur actually has a number of unique factors: the use of weapons, the strong single-player, and the very distinctive characters. Is that what you see as the three most important pillars?
MO: Yes, I think so. As you said, SoulCalibur is unique in the sense that it uses swords. But also, I think that the uniqueness of SoulCalibur comes from its view of the world – it’s these 16th century stories and the design of the characters that is very unique, and also the backbone of SoulCalibur.
GC: The guest characters are also a major selling point, but it did seem as if they’d begun to overshadow the series.
MO: I do understand that the guest characters presence is quite big in the previous SoulCaliburs. In that sense I’m hoping to be able to introduce guest characters in this game, and to be able to surprise everyone… but I cannot say any more. [laughs]
GC: [to PR person]: Am I okay for five more minutes?
PR: This will have to be the last question.
GC: Maybe just two more?
MO: Okay, sure!
GC: Can you say whether the guest characters will be different for each format?
MO: [in English:] Sorry, I can’t say that! [laughs]
GC: Is there any chance of a Switch version, so we can have Link again? [Link was the guest character in the GameCube version of SoulCalibur II – GC]
MO: SoulCalibur VI development started more than three years ago. And nobody knew anything about Switch back then. So, as a matter of fact we are not working on Switch, as of now. But of course, personally, I’m interested in the platform. So if the Unreal Engine can adapt to Switch, and evolve itself, then maybe the possibility will be more.
GC: Can you say anything about the single-player?
MO: As I said earlier, the character design and the usage of swords are the big points of SoulCalibur. But of course, I understand that the previous versions’ appeal came from not just the design, but having a story. And what is going to happen in this new version? You’ll have to wait and see! [laughs]
GC: I know you can’t talk about other characters in the game, but the design and attire of a character like Ivy – whether she’s in the new one or not – are a lot more problematic today than they were when the series began. Is that something you intend to address?
MO: [long pause] I understand that there are different opinions about such characters. So I think what’s most important is how you want to express and design such characters, and not just the female characters. But I still want to keep the body shape and the atmosphere of each character to be the backbone of each character.
GC: Do you have female designers working on the team?
MO: Of course!
GC: Okay. One, last tiny question…
GC: Are you confident you can better the intro to Soul Blade? Because that’s still the best intro ever to a video game.
MO: I always think that my latest work is the best! [laughs]
GC: That’s going to be a hell of a theme tune then.
GC: Thank you very much.
MO: Thank you!
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