The Makuhari Messe convention center in Japan is the site of the 2002 AOU show, a convention devoted to upcoming arcade products. Judging by the look of the show floor, upcoming arcade products consist mostly of slot machines, pachinko machines, and dogs with gigantic rainbow-colored Afros. But aside from all the redemption prize nonsense, there are, in fact, games on display at AOU. The most important game here at the show is Namco's Soul Calibur II, which is being shown publicly in playable form for the first time. The overall game is about two-thirds of the way complete, but the demo created specifically for the show contains maybe 50 percent of that completion, according to Namco representatives. The game, which runs on the PlayStation 2-based System 246 arcade hardware, uses the same control scheme as the original Soul Calibur, keeping intact the eight-way run system and the game's four-button configuration.
Due largely to its identical control scheme, Soul Calibur II plays much like the first game. Many of the same moves and combos still work for the returning characters, though there are new moves as well. The characters aren't in their final state just yet, so there are still some moves to be added and some balancing to be done. The version on display at the show contained returning characters Mitsurugi, Taki, Ivy, Astaroth, and Nightmare. Mitsurugi now sports a goatee and, in his first-player outfit, flame pants that look like they were stolen out of Jin Kazama's closet. The new characters on display were Cassandra, who looks and plays like her sister Sophitia, and Yunsung, who looks and plays like Hwang, though some of his moves--like Maxi's--have a lot of wind-down time.
The game's main new feature is a subtle one, at least in the version shown at AOU. The new feature is a motion-blending technique that makes the game move more fluidly by animating parts of your character's body differently, depending on the different things you are doing. For instance, a horizontal strike might look different if you're walking forward, backward, sidestepping, or running. Moves will also take on different properties depending on when they are used, so a move may have a higher or lower priority depending on how you are moving when the attack is executed.
While the home versions will surely have a wide selection of modes, Namco is also putting a few different modes in the arcade version. When you first select a one-player game, a small menu appears, giving you the option to play the standard arcade mode or time attack mode. There are also three empty slots on the menu, though Namco was unable to reveal anything about what these additional modes might be. We expect that these modes, like the game's hidden characters, will work on a time-release basis.
Graphically, the game has similarities to Namco's other recent System 246 release, Tekken 4. The Soul Calibur II characters, however, look much more detailed than Tekken 4's, and the animation, quite possibly helped by the motion-blending technique described above, seems more fluid and natural than Namco's other fighter. Backgrounds include a mostly open field and what appears to be a library full of bookshelves built right next to a gigantic open hole. The ring-out system here works exactly like the one in original game, making it difficult to knock someone out of the ring unless they play carelessly.
While it still needs some tuning before hitting Japanese arcades later this year, Soul Calibur II appears to be shaping up quite well and will likely satisfy fans of the original game. We'll have more information on the game as it becomes available.