For months gamers have been waiting for Soul Edge, 1997's hottest PlayStation import title, to make its way stateside. Even though the intro's psuedo-nudity has been toned down and the name has been changed to Soul Blade for the American audience, the game still remains a 32-bit fighting masterpiece. Like fighting titles before it, this game follows a group of fighters in their battles around the world. The twist: the combatants all wield bladed weapons - a welcome change from the hand-to-hand combat found in most other fighting games.
The storyline of Soul Blade is essentially an excuse for various showdowns over myriad backgrounds. Set in the 16th century, the title features warriors from various clans who are on a quest for the "Soul Edge," a magical sword some believe holds ultimate combat power. The warriors include those looking to use it for good and evil. The characters include Taki, a female hunter you wouldn't want to tangle with; Cervantes, a wicked looking pirate (you gotta love a fighting game with a pirate); Sophita, an emotional goddess (Namco's description - but how does one become an emotional goddess?); Voldo, hell guadian (we'll just leave it at that); Rock (the token slow-moving, "no one uses him" character); and others. The game also features hidden fighters, multiple endings and numerous costumes for each character, and other hidden surprises that flesh out the game.
Soul Blade is visually astonishing from the moment you turn it on. The cinematic introduction and non-gameplay graphics are THE BEST yet seen on the PlayStation - nothing else even comes close. However, the rest of the game's graphics don't reach that lofty mark: The backgrounds have an amazing look, but the fighters look only as good in action as their Tekken 2 counterparts. The game plays smoothly, but the animation suffers, thanks to the complexity of the backgrounds - that is to say, the game's frame rate slows down considerably. The sound quality, on the other hand, is nearly perfect. I don't usually care about game's soundtrack, but this is possibly the best I've heard - the three impressive orchestral soundtracks truly compliment the rich visuals.
Soul Blade offers a number of options: All the standard fighting game features are present (vs., arcade, team play, and so on), in addition to the very cool Edge Master mode that allows you to play any of the ten standard characters in a sword-quest throughout the world. Over the course of your journey you pick up new weapons (eight in all) and watch the story progress. These storylines, while a bit hokey, are detailed and develop the characters to a near Street Fighter-like level (i.e. you actually learn a bit about why they're fighting). Namco has also included its now signature Practice mode, which is being copied by just about every fighting game. Namco's, however, is the best: You determine how your drone attacks you (choices ranging from a full-on attack to the drone passively standing there and letting you hit him). As you attempt your moves, the depressed buttons display onscreen, making it easier to learn the moves and combos. When you turn on the command menu, almost all of the special moves and combinations are spelled out for you (not like the days of the original Street Fighter 2 - where you had to find your own by accident).
In one-player and two-player mode, Soul Blade presents quite a challenge with its mix of horizontal and vertical attack, block, and sidestep controls. It also provides a very entertaining feature - if both fighters swing at each other, their swords may clash and fly back. The combination moves range from the simplicity of Virtua Fighter's punch-kick combo to the complexity of Killer Instinct's multi-hit attacks. The fighting overall is quite solid and will engross you.
Soul Blade is a great fighting game with its share of flaws. If fast-paced weapon-to-weapon combat sounds like welcome addition to the ass-whooping arena, Soul Blade is just the game for you.