It's time for a set change on the stage of history. SoulCalibur: Lost Swords, the upcoming free-to-play game from developer Namco Bandai, is retooling the very core of this long-running fighting franchise. In brief, Lost Swords is not a one-on-one fighting game. Instead, it's a mission-based, single-player experience with a heavy emphasis on character customization. At least, that's what we know so far. Thankfully, at this year's Tokyo Game Show I was able to get a little face time with the developers to clear up some of the questions surrounding this game.
Let's start with weapon affinities. In the early images for Lost Swords, you likely noticed Mitsurugi or Siegfried using some very colorful attacks. That's not because they're fighting at a rave; those colors represent a weapon's elemental affinity. Each weapon has an affinity, such as water or fire, and there are five affinities total. Affinities are also balanced against each other in a rock-paper-scissors fashion, such that each is stronger against one type and weaker against another.
While affinities offer a fixed benefit, individual weapons can also be upgraded through weapon forging. As you defeat enemies in Lost Swords, you will be rewarded with various weapons and pieces of equipment. If those items aren't to your liking, you can melt them down and use them to increase the capabilities of your more preferred items.
Earning items means diving into one of the game's many dungeons, battling a series of opponents, and finally defeating the boss lying in wait at the end. When pressed on how these encounters would play out, and whether they were comparable to the missions in SoulCalibur II's campaign, all the developers would say is that they're exploring such options.
One area they were very definite about was player-versus-player combat. Since the SoulCalibur series is built on competitive play, I was stunned to learn Lost Swords isn't being designed as a one-on-one fighter. However, there is player-to-player interaction in the form of support characters.
As you battle through Lost Swords and customize your fighter, you can choose to upload that fighter online. This is more than just a bragging tool; other players may download your fighter and use him as a support character in battle. The best way to think of these support characters is like an assist attack in Marvel vs. Capcom: when called upon, your assist character will pop into battle, use his attack, and then leave--possibly followed by a witty catchphrase.
While SoulCalibur: Lost Swords' loss of competitive play is likely to turn off more than a few series veterans, Namco Bandai is ready to take the hit. In fact, it's counting on it. Similar to fellow free-to-play fighter Tekken Revolution, Lost Swords hopes to draw in some new blood for the series by drastically altering its mechanics. Whether or not these changes will be enough to help novices see past SoulCalibur's long-running (and intimidating) legacy, however, is still undetermined.