Soul Calibur II updated impressions

We check out a new build of Namco's upcoming brawler.

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We recently had a chance to check out a 60-percent-complete version of Soul Calibur II. While the build we were shown was only a bit more complete than the build shown at AOU earlier this year, there was quite a bit more to it. Offering a bigger roster and more stages, the new build gave us a taste of how the sequel to what is arguably one of the best fighters ever released is coming along.

The character-select screen in the game was practically topped off with old and new faces, leaving just two open tiles that will likely be filled by time-release characters. The roster of returning characters was filled by Mitsurugi, Voldo, Taki, Xianghua, Ivy, Nightmare, Maxi, Kilik, and Astaroth. The veterans are joined by four new faces: Talim, a speedy tonfa-wielding Polynesian girl; Raphael, a French swordsman; Cassandra, who wields the same sword-shield combo as her sister, Sophitia; and Yunsung, a Korean who uses a scimitar-like sword.

The character design in the game is slightly different from the design in Soul Calibur. The art style has become a bit more stylized and anime-influenced in places, and as a result, the characters look a bit closer to the hand-drawn artwork for the game and the sketches used for their endings in the Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur. Fortunately, the style manages to incorporate the anime elements without being overpowered by them. For example, Talim's eyes are exaggerated a bit but stop short of venturing into Sailor Moon territory.

As we've noted in our earlier looks at the game , Soul Calibur II seems to be building on and refining the core gameplay of Soul Calibur. The basics of the Soul Calibur's excellent fighting system--the eight-way run and the four-button control scheme--are on tap, but the system has been tweaked, according to Namco. Given our limited time with the game and its 60-perecent-complete state, it was hard to pinpoint how much work has been done, as the fighters have also undergone some changes in order to better balance the game. New moves have been added and older ones have been tweaked. However, whatever Namco's done to the game so far hasn't had an adverse affect on how the game plays. If anything, the control seemed a bit tighter and more responsive. The tight control was complemented by Namco's new motion-blending technique, which allows for a great deal of variety in fighter animation based on the fighter's positioning when he or she attacks. The subtle effect adds to the fluidity of the character's movements.

Graphically, the game is probably sharpest fighter Namco has done on System 246 hardware to date, surpassing even Tekken 4. The clothing is extremely detailed and features quite a few mobile elements such as hair, belts, and ribbons. On top of the aforementioned new art style, many of the returning fighters look a bit more mature and sport some additional details, especially in their alternate outfits. One of the most dramatic is Mitsurugi, whose alternate outfit made him look like a cross between Haomaru and Jin from Tekken with out-of-control hair and a pair of wild pants. Taki also caught our attention, thanks to her new bouncy look and the fact that she was apparently very cold during fights. Astaroth's alternate outfit has been changed. He now sports two horn-like protrusions instead of one, although he doesn't look any less silly. Fortunately he's still as deadly as ever. Nightmare's alternate outfit is a human incarnation with some heavy scarring on his arm. The new characters fit in well with the old crew. Talim's midriff-bearing ensemble is detailed and features ribbons that move quite naturally as she fights. Cassandra's outfit is very much like her sister Sophitia's, although she's quite a bit thinner. Raphael's detailed outfit is showcased during his rather dramatic fencing moves, which incorporate sweeping motions that show off his coat. Finally, Yunsung sports a plain outfit.

The levels in the game were nearly as impressive as the fighters in terms of design and detail. We were able to see handful of new stages that showcased some very cool lighting. The areas ranged from brand-new designs to remakes of some of the stages seen in Soul Calibur. An Egyptian-themed level featured an arena set in the middle of tomb lit by torches. The texture detail was very impressive, as the walls were covered in hieroglyphics. An outdoor temple area featured trees with blooming flowers that dropped blossoms. A huge library stage featured a massive pit, and the detail level was so high you could see the grain of the wood of the bookcases. Our personal favorite was probably the Medusa stage, which placed the arena in the center of a water-filled room that was overlooked by a massive Medusa statue. The level reminded us of the impressive lava stage in Soul Calibur and featured some great detail in the Medusa statue.

Our all-too-brief time with the game left us wanting more. So far, Soul Calibur II seems to be shaping up very well. Namco's attention to detail in the graphics and gameplay seems to be having some positive effects. At present, it looks like the game will be released in the arcades next month, with home conversions to follow later on down the line. Look for more on Soul Calibur II in the near future.

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