Soul Calibur III Update: Character Creation and Chronicles of the Sword

Series creator and producer Hiroaki Yotoriyama gives us an updated look at the third entry in the PS2-exclusive fighter.

We've been lucky enough to try Namco's third entry in its top-notch weapon-based fighter after the game was announced earlier this year. But while our look at the playable demo for E3 was cool, it really only let us get a taste of the core fighting mode. Since then, we've been left wondering just how the other single-player modes, especially the character-creation mode, are going to play out. Thankfully, a recent visit from none other than Hiroaki Yotoriyama, creator and producer of the series, shed some light on what to expect from the two key modes in the upcoming sequel: character creation and chronicles of the sword. The enthusiastic and well-spoken creator even let us try out an updated version of the game, which went a long way toward winning our affections. So what are the new modes like? And how does the game handle now? Although you can probably guess some of these answers already, Soul Calibur III managed to surprise us nonetheless.

Soul Calibur III is looking like the best entry in the series yet.

Our demo of the game began with the feature Yotoriyama is most excited about: character creation. The concept behind the mode isn't anything new per se, because these days character creation is popping up a lot across most genres. However, Soul Calibur III's is looking like arguably one of the deepest we've seen yet. The mode features two ways to go about getting yourself a custom fighter. For players that like to keep things simple, the mode offers a "character color edit" feature that lets you take an existing character and mess around with his or her coloring by adjusting three different areas. For folks looking for some real fun, the character-creation option is where it's at.

You'll start out by picking a gender, male or female, and choosing an occupation for him or her. The occupation you choose will affect your character's fighting style and proficiency with weapons. Furthermore, occupations come in all manner of variants that lend themselves to your fighter specializing in specific weapon types. So, for example, you'll find different types of specialties in the ninja occupation, each favoring a type of weapon such as the sai or katana. Though you'll start out with a handful of occupations and their individual variants, as you go through the game you'll unlock more than 10 subsequent variations.

Once you've settled on an occupation, you'll be able to move on to customizing your fighter. The options open to you when tweaking your fighter are staggering. You'll be able to play around with more than a dozen options, since your fighter's body is broken up into specific areas. As a result, you can change everything from the type of hat he or she wears to the specific elements of his or her face, such as eyebrows, lips, and eyes, to name just a few. You'll even be able to pick his or her voice from a selection of sound samples.

The character creation mode offers a ton of depth to explore.

Once you've put the finishing touches on your custom character, you can take your polygonal alter ego into the game's other modes. The only slight catch right now is that it appears you may have to remake your custom character if you want to use him or her in the chronicles of the sword mode. However, the character creator is easy to use, so it shouldn't be that huge of a deal if that turns out to be the case. So just what is this chronicles of the sword mode all about? Is it like mission mode from the previous games, or is it like something else? Turn the page to find out.

Fighting Strategically on the Stage of History

So just what is the chronicles of the sword mode? When Soul Calibur III was originally announced, the assumption was that the mode would be akin to the "AI" mode in Virtua Fighter 4, wherein you let a custom-created and programmed fighter loose while playing spectator. This actually hasn't turned out to be the case with the chronicles mode. Instead, the mode appears to be a unique mix of real-time-strategy and role-playing elements. The mode's story is an original tale set during the time of the main single-player game. Though your original character isn't directly involved with the events of the main game, your adventure will cross paths with more than a few familiar faces. You'll be tasked with going out and exploring different areas that are highlighted on a fully 3D world map, which will invariably find you in fights against a wide variety of enemies. While this may sound like mission mode--and it certainly shares some characteristics with the mode seen in previous games--the chronicles mode looks to be considerably more expansive thanks to its nonlinear progression and gameplay.

The new chronicles of the sword mode puts a real time strategy twist to the action.

Although you'll still be engaging in traditional 3D fights during the mode, the scope is considerably different, as you'll come to command a stable of fighters that will grow as its members earn experience. One of the key factors to your success is the makeup of your fighters. In this mode, fighter occupations will have a significant impact on how you play. So, for example, the ninja-profession fighters are the fastest units, while barbarians are the most powerful. Getting the right mix of professions in your crew will ensure that you're ready for anything.

Your main focus will be on completing different mission objectives, which will send you and your forces to explore the world. The objectives will include conquering specific areas, helping non-player characters that are being menaced by evildoers, or engaging in other tasks that will require you to kick some butt. As you complete objectives, more missions will become available to you. The nice thing is that you can find more to do than just meet your objectives if you explore the world map, which holds more than a few rewards for intrepid players, such as random encounters while you travel that will help build up your crew.

You'll be able to command a squad of fighters.

When you do get into a brawl, fights will play out exactly the way they do in the single-player game. You'll be put in control of your fighter or fighters, depending on the size of your group, before taking on your foes. If you emerge victoriously, you'll earn experience and become stronger. All told, the mode is an interesting change from the venerable mission mode we've all come to expect from the series. The mode has a stronger emphasis on strategy and planning, which gives it quite a bit more depth (not a bad thing at all). Plus, it's the perfect excuse to have fun with the character creator and make yourself some unique and useful fighters. Speaking of fighting, you may be wondering how the game is shaping up in that area. Not too badly, actually. Read on to find out how things are looking.

Umbrella of Doom

While we weren't able to try out the chronicles mode, we did clock in some time with some single-player bouts using some of the returning characters. Though the 50-percent-complete version of the game is still undergoing hefty tuning, it still handled pretty well and gave us a taste of the changes being made to returning characters. We tried Ivy and were pleased by what we saw overall, although we'll admit to being a bit dismayed at how differently she felt. There seems to be a greater distinction being made to her different sets of attacks when her weapon is in blade or whip form, which continues the evolution that began in Soul Calibur II. Some of the other returning characters we tried were in various states of completion, which didn't necessarily reflect how they'll play in the final game. However, they were still responsive.

Voldo returns to hiss fiercely at you.

We also took the chance to try out Setsuka, the umbrella-wielding, clog-wearing fighter of the big cleavage, who's one of the new additions to the cast. Yotoriyama was quick to point out that she was undergoing a good deal of fine tuning, as the team works to lock her unique handling down. The busty female fighter is fast and makes good use of her umbrella sword. Her attacks chain nicely into one another, and they let us set up more than a few combos. So we're hoping she doesn't change too much. We do expect her power levels to come down some, as, at the moment, she's death in flip-flops.

As far as the look of the game goes, Soul Calibur III's presentation continues to sail down the promising road of hotness traveled by its predecessors. The character models have been refined some since we last saw the game, and special effects continue to be added to give combat a winning visual flair. The effects have actually come to benefit the environments, which are gorgeous and are complemented by rich lighting and assorted effects used to bring them to life. One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the character animation, which is especially noteworthy this time out thanks to the character-customization feature. The various professions and their variations have let the team throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the game, resulting in different animations that help distinguish them. The audio is still of the work-in-progress variety, resulting in some hilarious sound bites for some of the incomplete characters. As a result, there's nothing like hearing a dainty female fighter bust out with some deep Mitsurugi-cum-Barry-White inflections.

So who do you think is going to win this one?

Based on what we've seen, Soul Calibur III is polishing up very nicely. The character-creation mode seems like it has an impressive amount of depth to explore. Chronicles of the sword is an interesting mode that should hold your attention for at least as long as the mission modes in previous games have, if not longer. Once you factor in the rest of the single-player modes and the stunning visuals, you've got a must-have game for fighting fans this fall. Look for more on Soul Calibur III in the coming months.

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